The Write Stuff: A Mind-Body Narrative

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Writing is a cathartic exercise that demands the energy of the mind and the body. Professional writers, recreational writers, poets, novelists, journalists- anyone who writes experiences the physical experience of writing. Writing is not simply a mental activity. After intensive writing- the kind of writing that requires creativity, critical thought, investigation, introspection- there is exhaustion. Mental and emotional engagement is lethargic, releasing stress, tension, and more. A perfect piece of prose or a successful dissertation elicits the relaxation of accomplishment. The physical release the writing causes is not beneficial only when the writing is complete. During the writing process, the body and the mind are being both connected and healed. Writing is an active form of therapy which creates long standing changes, greatly benefitting the writer.

James Pennebaker was a psychology professor who discovered the benefit of lethargic writing on the mind and the body. In one of his classes, he conducted a writing experiment to find who emotional writing could inspire or progress students. His students were separated into two groups. The variable group would spend fifteen minutes for four days writing about the most challenging time of their lives. Rather than describe these events in a “What I Did Last Summer” fashion, Pennebaker encouraged the students to dive deep within themselves, writing as vulnerably and authentically as possible, giving words to the thoughts which may never have been given form. Writing about more uninvolving subjects, the control group wrote about their everyday lives and the objects within it with no particular instruction. Four days of this writing activity went by. What Pennebaker discovered was groundbreaking.

Purging their deepest, darkest memories, the students tasked with emotional writing struggled to get through. Pennebaker reported students crying. Despite their obvious discomfort and internal struggle, something in the malignance was creating magic for them. Though they protested the immediacy of their experience, they continued to progress and carried on through the assignment. For the next six months, Pennebaker watched the amounts of times his students went to the health center. Students who had written about their life difficulties visited the doctor less often. Writing emotionally wasn’t just beneficial for emotional processing, gaining writing skills, or passing a class. These students gained physical health.

Since Pennebaker’s study, the science of emotional expression has developed tenfold. Beyond the science of physiology as associated with writing is the science of the writing itself and the changes it makes in the writer’s world rather than their physical form. Pennebaker found that the writing changed from the “I” perspective to the “he” or “she” perspective. A change in perspective is a change in life. A change in perspective can change the body. Words change perspective because words have meaning, words have weight, and words have energy. Dr. Masaru Emoto found that the crystallization of water changed according to the written word placed on a pitri dish of water. Positive words crystallized beautifully. Negative words were murky and muddled. Perspective changes indicate a drastic development in cognitive awareness, empathy, compassion, and universality. Removing the ego-based self from the urgency of experience creates enough separation for observation, introspection, and ultimately, healing. Pennebaker found that the students healed these traumatic events through writing. According to Emoto’s theory, a change in emotion can cause molecular change. Stress, which is often related to difficult emotions caused by traumatic experiences, lives in the body. Writing changes the perspective, changes the mind, changes the body, thereby changing a life.

Your life can change. Tree House Recovery, a men’s addiction treatment center in Portland, Oregon, is freeing men from addiction by creating sustainable change for sustainable recovery. Call us today:  (503) 850-2474

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