The Mighty Logo

5 Tips on Writing About Trauma When It Feels Too Hard

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Writing about trauma is useful in two big ways.

• What is PTSD?

One is that it can help your therapist understand what happened and how you’re feeling about it.

Another is that it’s cathartic to write something down and get it off your chest.

Many times, therapists will recommend writing it down or journaling it somewhere private.

While to some, this sounds like it’s not a big deal, to others it’s a Herculean effort.

Imagine not being able to say the words, much less write them for all to see. Somehow, putting it down on paper feels like admitting a regretful or embarrassing secret. It can be painful.

If you’re approaching the idea of putting onto paper your feelings and experiences, but having a hard time actually writing the words, here are some tips that may help.

1. Substitute Words

Substitute creative words for words that are sensitive to you. If you can’t write the actual words or names, create a euphemism or use another name to get it down on paper. You can work up to using the actual words later but for a first attempt, just getting it down is the most important thing.

2. Do Not Disturb

Make sure you have privacy for this exercise. There’s nothing worse than having grandma or baby come barging into your room when you’re writing about something that makes you want to cry buckets of tears. Others need to know not to disturb you while you do this work, just as you would need a lot of focus to perform other jobs. The goal is to get this done as best you can in one shot, so having to take a break in the middle of it only makes it more of a challenge.

3. Don’t edit.

Don’t bother editing your writing at all. It can be a useful tool to see an unedited free-flowing version of your consciousness on paper. Insights are often gleaned from language used to describe events since language is so often loaded with emotion. Plus, the most important thing isn’t going to be your proper (or improper) use of commas. It’s going to be the words that matter the most.

4. Screw Chronology

Oftentimes, when a person recalls a traumatic event, it’s remembered in fragments or bits and is often not recalled in a way that is conducive to figuring out what happened before what lead to one thing or another. Once the points, feelings and events are all down on paper, you may be able to piece together different things in your timeline. You may also be able to see the wide list of things you felt, experienced, sensed and lived through.

5. Be Brave

Taking the steps to address trauma is difficult. It’s hard emotional work and it can be time consuming because of that. To get one idea or experience down can be a five minute or five hour ordeal, depending on your situation and current circumstances as well as many, many other things such as your stage in therapy and recovery.

Doing this work is draining. There’s no doubt about that. By helping yourself and being willing to dig down and open up your emotional vault, you not only help to break your own limitations down, but you’re in turn helping your community of supporters like friends and family. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is a great gift you give yourself and your loved ones.

So, although it’s tough and intimidating, the task of writing down your thoughts and experiences is a proven way to help work through trauma and challenges, as well as a way to communicate all these things to your therapist. #Trauma

Getty image by Prostock-Studio

Originally published: April 29, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home