When we're writing about painful memories it's important to take care of ourselves. Here are some tips and resources which can help you build a safe and sustainable writing practice.
This post is second in a three-part series. In the first one I wrote about why self care matters when we write about challenging material. And in the final part we'll look at sharing our stories with care.
How to approach writing about trauma
It's important not to rush into writing; make yourself a self-care plan. There's more detailed advice in the sources below, but running through are several common threads:
- Create a 'container' for your writing time and the difficult emotions that will come up by choosing a safe, comfortable, and private space to be your writing 'room' and creating simple writing rituals to begin and end your session.
- The intensity of the feelings we may encounter as we write can be overwhelming. Before, during, and after you write assess your level of distress. If it gets too much, stop.
- Pace yourself. Go slow, take breaks. Write for short periods of maybe 15 - 30 minutes just a few times a week.
- Make sure you have some grounding techniques and self-soothing activities to hand to help you re-connect to the here and now and to help you feel safe and calm.
- Think in advance about where you can turn for support if you feel lost or overwhelmed. This could be your therapists or counsellor, a writing buddy, a friend or partner, or even a support group, online forum, or helpline.
While writing can support healing, it's not a replacement for therapy or other treatment. Though the reality is that sometimes writing may be all that is available to us, psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman cautions against recreating your trauma without professional support if you are experiencing PTSD symptoms.
Writing about trauma resources
- Lisa Cooper Ellison - 3 Things to Ask Yourself Before Writing about Trauma
- Yolande House - Write About Trauma In A Safe(r) Way
- James W. Pennebaker - Writing To Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering From Trauma and Emotional Upheaval
- Louise DeSalvo - Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives
Other self care resources
- Meg-John Barker and Alex Iantaffi - Hell Yeah, Self Care!
- Margeaux Feldman - Carescapes Newsletter
- Emma McAdam - Therapy In A Nutshell YouTube channel
Professional support (UK)
Psychotherapy and counselling
- UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) - How to access therapy and Find a therapist
- British Assocation for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) - Therapist directory
- Pink Therapy - Find a therapist
- Gendered Intelligence - Therapists and counsellors network
- Black, African and Asian Therapy Network - Find a therapist
Helplines and Listening Services
You deserve care
It may feel strange or unfamiliar to set and hold boundaries with yourself, or to think actively about meeting your self-care needs, but the best self care is preventative.
Creating space to write, setting time aside before and after writing, and asking for help might feel selfish, but telling our stories, even just to ourselves, is important. Self care strategies like these can make it possible.
The next post in this series is about how we can take care of ourselves and others when we share our stories.