According to author James W. Pennebaker, holding back our thoughts and feelings can make us sick. When people speak or even write about traumas, healing begins.
A college professor, Pennebaker has conducted experiments with students and others that illustrate his points. Surprisingly to him, most people have experiences in their past that they’ve buried in their minds. Yet even childhood traumas can seriously affect the health of adults.
A study he conducted on the deaths of spouses, either by accident or suicide, indicated that the more people talked to others about the death, the fewer health problems they experienced. Thus, grief recovery programs can be extremely helpful as people learn from each other that the emotions they feel are real and normal and that it’s all right to feel such pain.
Any expression of inner turmoil is helpful to our health. Pennebaker found that people who confided through prayer following the loss of a loved one experienced better health. The less people confided in one way or another, the more health problems they experienced.
If you don’t want to confide in a person, Pennebaker suggests writing about any issues you are experiencing, anything you don’t want to tell others. But don’t just write facts; write about why you feel like you do. Pennebaker encourages continuous writing for at least 15 minutes a day for several days. If you don’t like to write, talk into a tape recorder. And if you don’t want your writing to be read, destroy it.
By writing about events, we better understand them. And participants in his studies found that after writing about something that had been occupying their minds, their minds seemed free to think of other things.
According to Pennebaker “ . . . translating our thoughts into language is psychologically and physically beneficial.” And he goes on to suggest we apply the same practice to education. If we want to remember what we’re taught in a lecture, write about it. He encourages teachers to use essay questions on tests.
Published in 1990, the book includes 26 pages of notes and an index. Although written by a college professor, I liked the readability of the book and the way Pennebaker backed his premises with interesting studies he personally conducted.
So if there’s something in your past that you’ve never talked about but still think about, consider discussing it with a trusted friend or counselor or sit down and write about it. You’ll be healthier for it.