A 4-step process for writing trauma from a place of hope
Shawna Ayoub Ainslie (Writing through Trauma to Truth) offers guidance on how writing responsively, not reactively, about difficult experiences can bring about healing as well as better writing.
Many of us write to understand and work through difficult, even traumatic, experiences that have shaped our lives. In order to keep that process from miring us in bad feelings that originated in the past, we need to be responsive, not reactive, to our memories.
It can be harder than it sounds.
Facing past traumas when writing make non-reactivity a challenge for me. I am sometimes easily overwhelmed and struggle with sorting my thoughts—not regularly, but often enough that I have had to work hard to create coping mechanisms for myself from becoming reactive.
Reactively writing difficult memories can be re-traumatizing, and not just for the writer. What we share also impacts our readers. We are doing a great service to them if we can manage to write from a place of hope and healing rather than a place of anger and fear. Doing so requires dedication to staying “in the moment,” even when the moment is triggering, because our authenticity builds trust with the reader. But because I want to be a person who can understand and be understood without causing harm or internalizing violence, I also need to check in with myself to make sure I’m separating my trauma mind from my healthy mind.
I strive to write with my healthy mind through this four-step process:
I ask, “What is happening right now?”
When I ask the question, I ask it of my environment, of those around me, and of my body. This reminds me of who and where and when I am, factors which can be consumed by reactivity. Taking a few moments to respond to our present environments is a practice in grounding.
I take a breath.
Conscious breathing forces us to pause and move further into my body during grounding work. When we are reactive, we are likely reacting to a memory or a possibility rather than the present. Breathing, along with stretching and moving around, deepen the impact of our grounding practices.
I assess my situation.
Am I in physical danger? The answer to this is most often no. Even if my memory was one of physical danger, I can remind myself that what I am writing is not right now: It is not active. I am outside it. I am safe.
I make a decision.
Some memories require more preparation to engage than others. If you feel unsafe when writing one, consider saying to yourself, “I need to take a step back from this topic right now and write about it later.” You can even add, “when I feel safe.” Those words are a reminder for you that you are going to do self-care by calming down and working to understand why you are reacting the way you are. This awareness will later translate to clarity on the page for both you and your readers. In the meantime, keep writing—about something else. It is often helpful, when experiencing any kind of block in your writing process, to switch topics or projects for a bit.
Good luck, and be safe in your writing.
Do you struggle with reactivity with your writing? How do you ground yourself? Will you try this three-step process? Share with us in the comments!
Related reading: Your trauma, your truth: Overcoming resistance to trauma writing
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