One of the books I’m currently reading is Turning Memories Into Memoirs: a Handbook for Writing Lifestories by Denis Ledoux.
In the second chapter is a section called “Dealing With Pain”. The author acknowledges that:
The very act of writing about a painful experience can generate relief from pain. In a sense, your paper or notebook becomes a confidant, an ideal listener. Writing is an effective way of assuaging your pain and sometimes freeing yourself of it once and for all.
Perhaps you can begin to approach your pain by writing around it. For instance, if the death of (a loved one) is still too difficult for you to write about, you might try writing about when your first became aware of the signs of illness….Eventually, like peeling an onion layer by layer, you will come to the center of your grief–and of acceptance and understanding.
Writing your lifestories is not intended to be emotional or psychological therapy or a substitute for such work under the guidance of a professional psychologist. Yet lifewriting sometimes conveys benefits very similar to therapy.
When I worked at the halfway house, journaling was encouraged as a major coping skill when dealing with difficult issues. I would tell my clients that their journal was their “cheap, portable shrink”. I would also offer to allow them to shred anything they had written, if they had privacy concerns, as the process is the important part, not necessarily the product.
Ledoux continues with a writing exercise for painful memories:
- Identify a past experience that is painful to you–either because it was a loss, or an unresolved interaction, or because it caused you shame. Try writing a few sentences about the experience. Write for as long as you feel comfortable.
- Now switch to writing a few sentences about what you will gain by exorcising this painful experience. Write about how it would feel to have your pain gone.
- When it feels right, continue writing about the painful experience until you feel you need to stop again. Allow yourself to return to this subject whenever it comes up for you until you have laid it to rest.
These are good guidelines for dealing with painful memories. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the process, though, it would be better to put it aside until you can continue under the guidance of a licensed counselor.