The Science of Resilience and Writing

Evidence proves writing about trauma makes you stronger. That’s the science of resilience!

Are you a little skeptical on whether or not writing about traumatic events builds strength?

The “proof’s in the pudding” with evidence indicating resilience develops and grows from writing about trauma. 


How do you find resilience by writing about trauma?

You have a story to tell, and instead of that story controlling you, you have the power to take control of it. Just like a car, don’t let the car determine where you will go. Take hold of the steering wheel, and YOU control the direction. When you begin to write about your emotional pain and trauma, you’re controlling it instead of it controlling you.

We’re going to “open the books” and dig into some evidential information on the connection between writing, trauma, healing, and resilience.


Research on Converting Emotions into Words

Dr. James Pennebaker (Professor of Psychology and Liberal Arts with the University of Texas) researched how writing about trauma has both physical and mental benefits. Dr. Pennebaker’s publications on his findings offer insight on breakthroughs for victims of trauma. Through expressing themselves about their traumatic experiences, individuals in the studies had a remarkable improvement in their overall health and well-being. Those who wrote or talked about their trauma visited the doctor less.


expressing trauma


Dr. Pennebaker notably acknowledges writing about trauma, enables the victim to transform their emotional pain into words. These words are given a space to land (on paper, in a computer, etc.) where they no longer remain intertwined within the mind. Victims begin to feel safe, allowing healing. This is the point at which you’ll find resilience starting to build.

The research that Dr. Pennebaker has done finds that daily writing has biological effects.

  • Enhances the immune system
  • Reduces anxiety and stress
  • Helps to combat sleeping problems
  • Reduces chronic pain 
  • Improves focus
  • Boosts overall mood
  • Improves body and mind connection

Don’t be afraid to connect with yourself…describe the experience!

Only then will you be able to begin healing and be able to have power over the emotions that have held you back.


The Power of Writing From a Doctor’s Perspective

Now we’re going to flip things and look through the lens of a doctor concerning writing and trauma.


Dr. Kathryn Montgomery (Professor of Medical Education, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University) researched the impact of writing with medical students. She required the soon-to-be doctors to write a short composition with a deliberate character (themselves, someone they know or a patient,) tone, beginning, and end. All was to be done within the context of exactly 55 words. 

She indicated that writing for medical students teaches them several things.

  • Experiences (good and bad) would have an order that they could understand.
  • They gain clarity about the experience.
  • A new memory will be made.
  • They will develop resilience.

Because of her research and findings, many other medical schools are adopting this practice. Resilience for the doctors of tomorrow is being cultivated so they’ll be able to draw on past experiences to be the best practitioner they can be!


Educators Write About Their Traumatic Experience

One example of how writing about traumatic experiences builds resilience includes educators who formed a common way of telling their stories through various essays. They all brought together their individual stories of trauma with the tears and pain attached. Each learned that they had power over their pain.

Charles Anderson (Professor of Writing, University of Arkansas) and Marian MacCurdy (Retired Professor of Writing, Ithaca College) co-edited a publication of stories written by educators who were victims of trauma. Both Professor Anderson and MacCurdy explored the theory of healing from trauma through the practice of writing. 

They go on in their book about how you can gain control over your experiences through writing. Writing enables you to “exert” power over the trauma through the manipulation of words. Resilience and this power are interconnected.


Holocaust Survivors Finding Healing through Writing

Dr. Dori Laub (Former Professor Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine and Co-Founder Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies) experienced one of the world’s most traumatic events. As a child, he and his parents were victims of the Holocaust. Dr. Laub not only wrote about his trauma but went on to help others find healing through sharing their “witness” of the tragic event. Holocaust survivors who wrote about their experiences found the capacity to distance themselves from the trauma because of writing. Although the horror of their trauma remains in their memory forever, they’re no longer held prisoner by the emotions. Writing built strength (resilience) and promoted healing, allowing them to move forward in life.


The Formula is Quite Simple


So, how do you find resilience by writing about trauma?

There’s nothing complicated about using writing as a tool to find healing from a traumatic experience. Whether you’ve suffered the loss of a loved one, financial loss, health issues, divorce, abuse, etc. YOU have the formula to unlock the power to heal and move forward in your life. 

  1. Please don’t keep your trauma a secret or stuff it way down deep inside. It won’t go away and only festers, causing more emotional pain.
  2. Tell your story! Once you write about it, you’ll feel free from any hold it has over you. There will be a distance between you and the event/pain. You’ll see things differently!
  3. Healing then begins.
  4. resilience begins to build, and before you know it, you’ll be strong and on top of the world again!

When it’s tough, don’t stuff.

Tell it like you’re selling it.

Resilience is gained, replacing the pain!

I’ve personally experienced trauma in my own life. It was when I discovered the healing from writing about it that I became passionate about writing. The resilience and freedom I gained by writing is something I want for others like me. If you’re ready to let go of your pain, I’d love to help you take that first step!

If you’re interested, check out the Lifestory Laboratory course where I take you through the four steps to writing the tough stories to gain strength and resilience!

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