Life Writing - A Path to Inner Guidance

Life writing refers to the practice of writing about our lives in many different forms such as autobiography, memoir, diary, journal, blogs, letters and fiction based on fact.  Primarily it is about writing for oneself, for the purpose of greater understanding of the story of one’s life.

Why Write?

“Writing has helped me heal. Writing has changed my life. Writing has saved my life”. These words were written by Louise de Salvo (1999). I came across this book by accident shortly after it was published and it has had a profound influence on me.  De Salvo wrote what I knew to be true; writing was powerful, healing and accessible.  For over 30 years I have kept a personal journal writing most days. My journal has been my confidant, friend, and therapist. It is cheap and available every day including Christmas Day; it never answers back or judges me. 

Reading De Salvo’s book gave me the answers to why I had found writing so helpful. It fleshes out exactly how writing helps; it gives examples of writers who had used writing to help them deal with life’s vicissitudes, to heal from traumas, and overcome physical and mental wounds.  De Salvo shows that writing is also a creative endeavour and can bring great joy and happiness.  While I knew intuitively that writing was a powerful force in my life, now I had evidence to back it up. I then began reading everything I could on the benefits of writing and to facilitate writing groups and these are some of the things I found out. 

  • Research over many decades has shown that writing has a positive effect on one’s health and wellbeing. James Pennebaker began researching in this area in the 1960’s. He was interested to know if writing about painful feelings would offer the same relief as talking. His initial study was done with college students. What he found was that those who wrote about painful subjects had fewer visits to their doctors and general improvement in their health compared to those who wrote about routine events such as their plans for the day or lists Pennebaker (1990). Since then he has done numerous studies which have backed up his original findings.
  • Writing can damage your health if all you do is vent and complain. In his research, Pennebaker found that in order to benefit from writing, we need to link events with feelings in the past and now so that we can get a perspective on events.
  • We need to write using positive events as well and achievements. When we write about times of joy we relive them. 
  • When we write we are no longer suppressing - this relieves stress and makes us healthy.
  • Research by Laurie King has shown that even when we write about other people’s trauma we can have improvement in our own health and wellbeing. This means that even if we write fiction it may help us.
  • Recent developments in brain MRI imaging shows that certain words have an effect on the amygdala (the fear centre) which reduces the stress response. Of course Shakespeare knew this when he said “Give sorrow words”.
  • Writing can connect us to our inner wisdom and guidance.
  • Writing can give purpose and meaning  to our lives, it can be a chronicle of our life and how it unfolds.
  • Writing can be fun!

Elizabeth Hickey, MIACP (March 2015)
PCI College Life Writing Facilitator

Elizabeth will facilitate a one-day personal development workshop to explore the theory and practice of Life Writing on Saturday 21st March 2015 at PCI College, Dublin West. Places are limited - you can book online now by clicking here.

DeSalvo, Louise 'Writing as a Way of Healing: How telling our Stories Transforms our Lives' Boston Beacon Press, 2000
King, Laurie 'Gain without Pain? Expressive writing and Self-Regulation'
'In The Writing Cure: How Expressive Writing promotes Health and Emotional Wellbeing' Eds., Stephen J. Lepore and Joshua A Smyth, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association 2002
Pennebaker, James W. 'Opening Up : The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions' New York: The Guildford Press,1990 

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