Healing Sexual Trauma through Expressive Writing 

By: Maralize Carreon 

What is Expressive Writing?

Expressive writing is a form of writing that is both personal and emotional. It focuses on working through emotional responses to situations that affect your mental health. Moreover, expressive writing pays no mind to punctuation or grammar, but instead is meant to provide clarity for the writer on things that are both negative and positive. In a study mentioned by Merin Reinhold and her colleagues, expressive writing has been proven to be beneficial in tracking “mechanisms of therapeutic change” and appears to be useful when applying to posttraumatic stress disorder treatment. More specifically, the aforementioned researchers found that the longer you engage in expressive writing, the more effective it is in remedying symptoms of depression and anxiety. This type of journaling can help with self-regulation and dealing with negative feelings more effectively (Lowe 60). Respectively, expressive writing has also shown to make individuals more willing to disclose sexual trauma experiences (Greenberg et. al). 

Sexual Trauma and How it Affects the Brain

Many individuals often fall victim to different forms of sexual violence. Tracey Shors and Emma Millon find that “more than 30% of women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence.” A majority of these assaults occur during early life experiences and leave long lasting psychological effects on the brain. Experiencing these distressing events can lead to PTSD and differ from other types of trauma. Expressed by Shors and Millon, victims of sexual assault “often report negative thoughts about the self, including self-blame and shame” and take on a negative outlook on the world. The implications of sexual trauma leaves a mark on survivors over the course of their lives.

Sexual trauma follows victims long after the instance of assault. Studies have shown that victims of sexual violence can incapacitate themselves into a state of “tonic immobility” that serves as “an involuntary response to inescapable threat” (Shors & Millon). This state can last for days to weeks after the initial event, which can also lead to the survivors’ hesitancy to disclose what has happened to them. Flashbacks of the traumatic event can interrupt and plague survivors’ thoughts and can even lead to increased self-blame.

Sexual trauma has proven to change the chemistry of the brain to develop disorders, much like PTSD. Victims of assault suffer from self-image issues and can experience memory distortions as a coping mechanism to repress the traumatic event. It is evident that sexual trauma is damaging to the victim during and after the incident. This type of stressful experience can be remedied to some extent through expressive writing.

The Benefits of Expressive Writing in Terms of Sexual Trauma

As mentioned before, expressive writing can provide relief for survivors of sexual violence. In their research, Jennifer Ann Morrow and her colleagues found that participants used expressive writing through poetry and journalism to cope with their feelings. Some engaged in this activity on their own and others did so under the instruction of their respective therapists. Expressive writing gives individuals a space to write about how they are feeling without facing judgment by others. Discussing abusive situations can be incredibly difficult to address amongst others. Writing and journalism provide a safe place to let go. It can have a positive influence in overcoming trauma (Morrow et. al). Expressive writing for trauma survivors has resulted in fewer healthcare visits to providers for mental illness and supports the numerous findings that it has beneficial health effects, as proven by Melanie Greenberg and her team of researchers. This form of writing has shown to relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD, which are all closely related to the after-effects of experiencing sexual violence of some sort. Survivors of sexual violence can start their road to healing by attending The Love Story’s journaling sessions. You can work through life’s mental hurdles through self-expression and self-reflection. Embark on your journey of healing now.

Begin Journaling Here

References

Greenberg, Melanie A., et al. “Emotional Expression and Physical Health: Revising Traumatic Memories or Fostering Self-Regulation?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 71, no. 3, 1996, pp. 588–602., https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.71.3.588.

Lowe, Geoff. “Health-Related Effects of Creative and Expressive Writing.” Health Education, vol. 106, no. 1, 2006, pp. 60–70., https://doi.org/10.1108/09654280610637201.

Morrow, Jennifer Ann, et al. “In Their Own Voices.” SAGE Open, vol. 2, no. 1, 2012, p. 215824401244000., https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244012440002.

Reinhold, Maren, et al. “Effects of Expressive Writing on Depressive Symptoms-a Meta-Analysis.” Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, vol. 25, no. 1, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1111/cpsp.12224.

Shors, Tracey J., and Emma M. Millon. “Sexual Trauma and the Female Brain.” Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, vol. 41, 13 Apr. 2016, pp. 87–98., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yfrne.2016.04.001.

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