No Fight, No Flight . . . Just Write!
Many people lose their emotional balance when overwhelmed with fear, pain, sorrow, anger, even joy! Writing can be a way of straightening out emotional knots, a way of achieving balance in our lives so that a sense of well-being emerges. Within each of us there exists a “self-righting” mechanism. Just as surely as a plant will turn toward the light, our creative imagination helps us recreate ourselves. Writing therapy is also called poetry therapy, bibliotherapy or journal therapy. It is the intentional use of the spoken and written word for healing and personal growth.
While a facilitator of a transformative writing session may be a bibliotherapist, a journal therapist, or a certified/registered poetry therapist, many people naturally seek to vent their feelings with pen and paper on their own. After 9/11, newspapers across the country were surprised to receive poem after poem penned by people moved to write about the traumatic event. When confronted with crisis, scientists tell us there are three responses to stress: fight, flight or freeze. However, poetry therapists recognize another option — No fight, no flight, just write!
Expressive writing gives the writer a sense of mastery and control. This aspect is extremely important for people coping with change and experiencing stress. In my experience, creating a “play space” with words helps to anchor the writer to the here and now, strengthens boundaries, stimulates creativity and builds self-esteem.
Here are a few suggestions for getting started:
Let your hand move freely across the page — or let your fingers dance on the keyboard. Do not censor or try to organize. Free yourself of all judgment. Silence your inner critic; there are no grades in the school of life. If you can’t think of anything, write, “I can’t think of anything” until that thought changes. You may be surprised.
These are easy and fun to do. You don’t need complete sentences: Five Things I’m Grateful For, Three Things That I Don’t Want to Think About, Seven Things That Make Me Smile, Four Things I Look Forward To, Five Favorite Foods, Seven Things That Annoy Me.
Complete these sentence stems:
I used to ______________, but now I ______________. Repeat several times.
My life changed forever when ____________________.
It’s hard to admit, but ___________________________.
I need you to understand that _____________________.
The 5-Minute Writing Jog
Set a kitchen timer and write about your thoughts and feelings or recent events. Include sensory details (sights, sounds, smells, tactile sensations, taste). After you re-read your writing, reflect on it with, “When I read this over, I realize that _____________.”
Sherry Reiter, PhD, LCSW, PTR-MS is author of Writing Away the Demons: Stories of Creative Coping Through Transformative Writing (North Star Press, 2009). She is director of The Creative “Righting” Center and facilitates writing therapy long distance and in New York City. Her husband survived a stroke at 38; he is now 70.
See our feature, The Poetry of Survivors for the stories and poetry of five survivors across the world.