Accessing Emotions through Writing

Writing as TherapyIt was a typical spring morning in Emporia, Kansas on May 11th,1921, when Mary White, daughter of noted journalist William Allen White, mounted her horse for a morning ride. Across the country in Atlantic City, Mr. White himself was having a typical morning when he picked up a telegram at his hotel where he was staying while on one of his frequent political trips. As a political journalist, he was accustomed to messages throughout his day; so when an urgent telegram came, he took no pause. However, his world changed as he read what his wife, Sallie, had written: “I need you…”

Mary had been knocked off her horse. Two days later, Mr. White would find solace from that distinction. She had not fallen from the horse. A low-hanging branch had stuck her in the head, knocking her from the horse. She died from the blow to her head. On the day of Mary’s funeral he sat at his typewriter, pounding out an editorial, an epitaph of sorts, which would run not only in the Emporia Gazette, but would be reprinted in hundreds of newspapers across the globe. In his sorrow he confronted his grief, “The Associated Press carrying the news of Mary White’s death declared that it came as the result of a fall from a horse. How she would have hooted at that!” Years later William Allen White would reflect, “If I have any fame beyond my death, it will come from the Mary White editorial.” He continued, recognizing the verisimilitude of what he had written, years before, in his grief, “I shall go as far as I go along the path where Mary’s hand may lead me.”

William Allen White was a journalist. Writing was his profession, but I doubt that his journalistic prowess had much to do with his need to write about his daughter’s death. You don’t have to be a writer to achieve the positive therapeutic results that writing has to offer. Frank Beck, a fictional character in my book, The Parallax, discovers this secret. Participants in my workshops and readers of the book have discovered it as well. They tell me that they had never previously thought of themselves as writers and yet, after being presented with the idea of writing as therapy, have experienced the positive benefits from their writing. I urge you to do the same. Discover the secret. And when you do, I invite you to share this experience with me, becoming an inspiration and a model for others.


21 thoughts on “Accessing Emotions through Writing

  1. The Parallax is an intriguing story that provokes the mind into a different way of thinking. A way of thinking that actually involves writing; writing about your feelings, thoughts, and actions. Each of the characters in the book discovered the healing power of writing. As an author, William Allen White used this “power” to grieve over the loss of his daughter and to come to the understanding that life in words has so much meaning. I found it very interesting that such a simple thing as writing down the thoughts from your mind could be so powerful. Many people keep journals but who really lets their mind take over and allows themself to write continuously? For me, this was a hard concept to grasp. Today, most people, including myself, have a million things on their mind every minute. Letting my mind just relax and to try and forget about my worries for the day provided much more of a challenge than I thought it would. A challenge that I am ready to take on so I can feel for myself the benefits of the written word. I have only partaken in this adventure a few times so far and already I am feeling the healing benefits of it. When I sit down to write, I let all the thoughts in my head flow onto paper and instantly I feel better. Somehow, seeing all my worries and thoughts on paper make them seem less daunting to me because my mind is no longer exaggerating them into concepts that are bigger than reality. I feel refreshed and like the characters in the book, a weight is being lifted off my shoulders. I strongly encourage those of you contemplating starting this adventure to go with your instincts and take on this initiative. Without a doubt, I believe you will feel more connected with yourself and with others around you.

  2. I have always been told that writing is a great way to show your creativity and can be therapeutic in helping you figure out some problems. I think that writing is very therapeutic because you can write down whatever you have on your mind and then can analyze the situation and move on. For me, I always thought of writing as something you can do to help you explain your emotions, and maybe as something you can do if you have something on your mind that you don’t want to say out loud. However, after reading The Parallax, I realized that with writing you cannot only write about your emotions, but you can try to write from the viewpoint of someone else and that can in itself can help someone deal with their grief. For example, at the conference Nicole said that her grandfather had just died from multiple myeloma. Nicole was dealing with the pain, but when she wrote from the viewpoint of her grandfather she realized just how much the diagnosis changed his life, she was able to better cope with her grandfather’s death. We are always told to analyze situations from someone else’s shoes, but what I have realized is that writing may be one of the best ways to be able to look at a situation with a “fresh pair of eyes.” The same is true for Mr. White. After his daughter, Mary, died he wrote because writing provided him with an outlet to share his emotions in a logical way. Mr. White may not have written from the viewpoint of his daughter, but he was still able to find some therapeutic relief from writing. I have realized after reading The Parallax writing is beneficial to everyone.

  3. Writing therapeutically has always made sense to me. I kept a journal when I was younger and wrote constantly, filling book after book. When I talked to friends who were very upset about something, I used to tell them to write about it. Everything seems more real when it is written down, and when you see it all laid out on paper you can analyze yourself better. It becomes easier to determine your emotional reactions to events, and once you identify a reaction you can decide if it makes sense and what to do about it. You can develop a stronger internal locus of control when you write like this because you will learn more about yourself.

    Now that I’m an adult and have more responsibilities I don’t write as much as I did before, but when I am feeling overwhelmed I invariably start writing again.

  4. I always found it meaningless to keep a journal of daily activities like most kids did. I had tried to keep a diary of my everyday life without success. I would have a few entries from week to week but that didn’t seem to interest me. Now that I have read The Parallax, I see that I was forcing my thoughts onto paper. I experienced a life-changing event about eighteen months ago and I immediately turned to writing. There were so many feelings and things I wanted to say but didn’t want to have to talk it out with people. I feel like writing has been my saving grace. I have been able to let myself freely write and that has allowed me to see things in a new light. It has allowed me to see how I’m feeling but what I’ve written has also allowed me to have insight into other’s point of view. Unlike my childhood journal keeping, I just put whatever comes to mind on paper without overthinking it. Like Mr. White, I feel like writing gives me an outlet to where I can say whatever is on my mind.

  5. I do not have a daily journal, but I do have a notebook in which I record thoughts of general nonsense; lists mostly. It certainly does clear my head at times, and occasionally I like to go back and look at previous entries to see what I thought a few months ago. The Parallax has reinforced my understanding that writing my lists is a needed outlet of self-reflection. Yet, I am a little disappointed that the Parallax did not explore other outlets of expression and self-reflection such as music, painting, or photography. Sometimes while listening to a song (written and sung by someone else), I can understand it without analyzing its meaning and learn something about myself just from its lyrics. The same can be true about photographs. We all have our favorite photo that may not have the clearest focus, best exposure, or even most interesting subject; yet we love it because it inherently means something even if we may not know what.

  6. I’m the kind of person who is interested in everything, but only in phases. At one time or another in my life, I’ve been interested in art or music or writing etc. I would learn to play a musical instrument for a couple of years and then move on to the next one when I got bored or it got too complicated. I think in this way, I thought that I could avoid any hardships that would come my way even as small as something like a complicated chord on the piano. It was the same thing when my grandmother passed away a couple of months ago. I couldn’t deal with it and thought that if i pretended that it never happened, somehow the world would right itself again and I would once again have a full set of grandparents. I wish I knew that writing about a life-changing event like this would have helped me in those difficult days and sort out the emotional state that my family was in. I remember that I kept a journal in one of my “writing phases” and looking back, I really do see that there is an impact on oneself to write without inhibition about anything that seems out of their control. The Parallax gave me this realization and a new appreciation for writing. I will recommend this book to everyone who is going through any life changes, big or small.

  7. When I started reading The Parallax I thought of it as just another assigned reading. However, as the story went on I found myself reading for my own enjoyment. The story got me thinking about how I could incorporate writing into my life. I’ve always heard that writing is therapeutic but always thought – eh, I don’t have time for that. I should really make time for something like this and just give it a try. The characters in the story really seemed to benefit from the writing, even the cynics like Kyle.
    As a child, I tried to keep a diary like all of my friends. I always seemed to misplace the diary or lose the key to the little lock that came with those girly diaries. I often wish that I had adopted the habit of writing everyday as a child – it would have made the habit as an adult much easier.

  8. I can definitely relate to Ashley and her feelings about writing. After reading this book I really think writing would be a great way to put your feelings on paper and you may learn things about yourself that you would not have otherwise confronted. Even though writing is such a simple act it can be very powerful and create self awareness. Creating this self awareness can create a better understanding and help promote self effectiveness.

  9. I can definitely relate to Ashley and her feelings about writing. After reading this book I really think writing would be a great way to put your feelings out there and you may learn things about yourself that you would not have otherwise confronted. Even though writing can be thoughtloss it can be very powerful and create self awareness. Creating this self awareness can create a better understanding and help promote self effectiveness.

  10. I think writing is a really great way to express your emotions and get the thoughts down on paper that just won’t leave your head, and in turn keep you up at night. I got into the habit of writing in a journal when I was in the second grade or so. Most of my first entries were about my every day life and friends, but as I grew older and the challenges I faced became bigger, the diary really became an outlet for me to express my emotions and create a picture of what I was feeling. It helped me figure out myself and my personality, and really helped me to create a sense of self-awareness that I otherwise would not have gained had I not started to write down my feelings. In turn, I took that “picture” of myself that my diary entries had created and used it to increase my self-efficacy, and my desire to help people and be the best that I could be flourished. The Parallax really helped justify that it’s not just me that gets therapeutic benefit from writing, it’s a proven method to help people sort through their feelings and to use as an outlet for situations out of their control. I loved this book and would recommend it to everyone.

  11. I have hardly used writing as a way to express my feelings. This post about Mr. White, and Frank, the main character from The Parallax, made me think of the one time that writing brought about emotions helpful to my healing. A little over a year ago my grandmother passed away. Being so close to her, I told my family that I wanted to write the eulogy. I wanted to highlight all the fond memories I had. While writing, I was full of raw emotion. It was an experience that led me to cry, then laugh seconds after, an emotion I never thought I would experience at such a difficult time in my life. Writing about my grandmother really helped me get past all the sadness and hurt at the time; I put her life into perspective and thought of all the good times we had together. Sure it is still difficult today without her, but having written such great memories about her was the best therapy I could have ever received.

  12. After reading The Parallax, it has become apparent to me that writing is one of the best ways to express emotions and keep them from bottling up inside. This is evident in The Parallax as each of the people in the story comes to terms with their emotions through writing. Although I have heard of this method before, I found it extremely interesting how this book suggested adding fictional elements or taking on the perspective of another person when writing. This is something that was really interesting to me and something that I could see being extremely beneficial in expressing emotion. Often times what upsets us is how we perceive the impression that we had on others. In the story, Ryan explains that he experiences a lot of emotional turmoil in response to blaming his late sister for his lack of ambition and accomplishment. After taking on her perspective in his writing, Ryan is able to come to terms with his guilt and find peace. I feel that many people could benefit from process as the people in the story do and is something that I will keep in mind for the future.

  13. Previously to reading the Parallax, I have never considered writing as a way of expressing my emotions. To me, writing was always something that I had to do for classes, monotonously writing paper after paper, and despising every minute of it. I have never been one to particularly like writing, but maybe writing about something that I could be able to relate to or writing of my own free will would help me to realize the benefits of writing that seemed so clear as I was reading this book. During times of emotional distress, whether it be stress or sadness, I have always turned to thinking about the situation in my head, constantly flowing with ideas but never really expressing them the way that I felt was necessary. I think that instead of just turning to my thoughts, I could really benefit from writing down what I was thinking to help organize my thoughts as well as reflect on them in a better manner. Through my writing I could more effectively express my emotions and understand them better.

  14. I can definitely identify with some of the things mentioned in this post. Whenever I am upset at someone, I find that writing a letter to the person helps me process my thoughts, and it makes me feel a lot better, but I will not send the letter immediately. I will go back to it and edit it over and over again until I feel that it conveys my point without attacking the other person. Sometimes I don’t even have to send the letter, and it makes me feel much better. Writing is definitely therapeutic because it helps me organize and understand my thoughts and emotions.

  15. This book really made me re-think how powerful writing can be. I have never been much of a writer. I have several friends that keep journals, and write in them daily. I never understood it to be honest. When it comes to writing I typically have a blank page for hours, deleting and re-writing over and over. This book helps you realize that writing can help you through times of stress, difficult situations and even a sense of reflection.

  16. I think as a practitioner, it is important to reflect on both your triumphs and failures no matter how trivial they may be. It is from this type of reflection that you can truly learn from and appreciate the value in your experiences.

    While I have always found the idea of writing to be appealing, I have never found myself eager to write. I understand the value in self reflection and desire the personal growth that can result from that reflection. Like many other students above, I find that I am too critical of my own work. Editing and writing have always gone hand and hand for me. Writing turns into a cycle of trying to perfect something that is not yet complete. As you might guess, this is usually counterproductive and my papers both in high school and college have always felt forced. The task of writing is too frequently accompanied by feeling of frustration.

    The idea of fictionalizing parts of one’s own experiences had never occurred to me before reading the Parallax. I find the idea of separating myself from my emotions and experiences to be very comforting. As a future practitioner, I think fictionalized free form reflection may be the most productive way to reflect on my experiences

  17. Reading this post and the subsequent comments made me realize how important it is to find a positive outlet for your emotions. Writing is one of them. For me, I have always abhorred writing and would try to avoid it as much as I possibly could. I tend to have trouble expressing my thoughts and forming words and descriptions about them to put down on paper, so creatively writing most often frustrates me. I have found, however, that I enjoy another form of writing, and that is in creating lists. Making lists come easier to me than having to sit down and think about what I want to write. To me, it is therapeutic and extremely stress-relieving, much unlike writing in a journal.

  18. It is really easy to be skeptical of the Parallax- writing to alleviate difficult emotions? Pffft. Hooey, silly stuff. A bunch of folks would probably rather swallow a Prozac than face their troubles head on with pen and paper. Or some would think “Nah, I don’t have anything traumatic to write about, so what’s the point of this?” In my opinion, the point I’ve gleaned from both the book and other writing courses, is that any event you’ve been through that has elicited strong emotion can benefit from being re-examined. That time you blew up at your mom over something, then felt guilty about it? Take a look back to see why you blew up, and why you felt so strongly. It’ll help you know more about yourself, and help you process some of that guilt. The use of writing to access your emotions and understand them isn’t just limited to death or loss, but to any time in your life where you’ve felt like you struggled or had troubles.

  19. I can relate to Chelsea’s post above from February. Writing has always seemed like a chore. Through high school and some of college, I felt like I was writing paper after paper. When I write something that others will read, my anxiety kicks in. It was, and still is, so agonizing for me to find the “right” words to say in a manner that made sense and was grammatically correct. The backspace button often becomes my friend in my writing endeavors. Even now, I find myself wondering if I make sense! The times where I just sit, and let my fingers do the typing or my hand do the writing, I find that I am most successful. For a while I had kept a prayer/thought journal. Most days I would write down my prayers, joys, concerns, feelings…whatever was on my mind. There wasn’t the pressure to write correctly and in a way that made sense to others. That is the type of writing I can enjoy. I do think it is beneficial to write out feelings, to get them down on paper. It is one way to deal with them. Some people do it privately, while others make it public. Blogs are all over the internet now…many about people’s daily struggles or a huge life crisis or a way to encourage others. Writing connects people.

  20. The Parallax is an excellent display of how reflective writing can be used therapeutically. Not only as a method for coping, but also as a means of personal development. The book provides us with a multitude of situations that are reflected upon in this manner. Each participating individual learns something about them about themselves, helping to improve their self-awareness. Therapeutic writing is something that I have found beneficial in dealing with the loss of loved ones for many years. I now feel encouraged to utilize its benefits in my daily life. I am hopeful that it will bring about positive changes in myself that will lead to improvements in the workplace, and thus patient care.

  21. I’ve tried keeping a journal before and there’s definitely something to the writing process as advocated in the Parallax that helps clarify and develop one’s emotions and thoughts. It can help crystallize and bring into awareness sensations and feelings that may have just been vague notions or that one didn’t fully realize before. Having a greater self-awareness is truly the starting point to making progress on any challenge one is facing – because if a person isn’t even conscious about how they feel about something, or where exactly they’d like to go, how can they bring to bear the proper resources of their more rational side in planning how to get there?

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