Third-person expressive writing is a powerful self-help technique. If you are troubled by the past or you have intrusive memories, writing can offer a therapeutic outlet. Journaling has been a popular form of psychotherapy for decades, but recent research shows that a particular kind of writing may be very beneficial in treating past traumas, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Writing in this way has been the subject of recent research because it shows promise in offering relief from troubling past experiences.
Third-Person Expressive Writing Is Easy
If you recall a high school or college creative writing class, you'll remember the third-person point of view. Essentially, you write about the characters in an objective way. For example, you might say, "He went to the car dealership and crashed his car into the picture window." Or, you might say, "She ate at a small cafe', had a glass of wine and went next door and robbed the bank."
If you want help dealing with a past ordeal, or an experience that caused your PTSD, and you'd like to try the third-person expressive writing technique, simply write about your experience as though it happened to someone else.
A client of mine was trying to overcome a traumatic experience where she was assaulted by a drunk at a bar. Instead of writing in the first-person point of view ("I'll never forget that night in New Orleans..."), I asked her to write as if she were a reporter or observer of someone else going through the experience.
So, she wrote, "The young woman left the bar and was pushed down on the ground by a man who stepped out of the shadows. She was shocked and afraid."
It was easier for my client to talk about the sordid details by not writing in the first person, and it helped her to get some distance from the traumatizing event (externalizing). She liked writing in the new way, whereas writing in first person had been much more difficult for her.
A study conducted in early 2014 revealed that third-person expressive writing provided valuable relief from intrusive thinking related to traumatic events, reducing the amount of time study participants spent suffering from the effects of their past traumas.
I believe writing gives us a wonderful opportunity to stand back and make sense of trauma, allowing us to revisit the traumatic event in a safe and protected manner.
If you are trying to get over a traumatic past experience, try keeping a journal, and writing about your experience a little every day. Write about the parts you feel a need to talk about. You may want to begin with the less traumatic aspects of the experience, and work up to the more challenging ones. Take your time and stop whenever you feel like it.
You may take your journal to a therapist for further discussion. Your therapist may want you to do additional writing exercises. You may also write about ways you've overcome your PTSD or past troubles, and brainstorm more ways of putting it behind you.
The important thing is to deal with it, one step at a time, and to simply move forward. Healing takes time. And it's a process. But expressive writing can reduce the time it takes for healing.
If you're suffering from PTSD or a stressful event that has left you dwelling on the past, why not try third-person expressive writing as a way to create meaning and to help you move on, so you can spend less time dealing with intrusive thoughts?
And you can enjoy more time having fun and doing your normal activities.