Breaking the Cycle of Shame: The Healing Power of Vulnerably Sharing Your Trauma StoryMay 22, 2023
Trauma can significantly impact our lives, shaping our beliefs and behavior. Sometimes, traumatic experiences can leave us feeling ashamed, powerless, and disconnected from ourselves and others. Toxic shame can gain strength by remaining concealed; we must not allow it to grow in secrecy. To live our most authentic life, we must acknowledge our inherent worthiness and deservingness of love and acceptance. One way to do this is by writing a narrative and sharing our story to process trauma.
Writing a narrative allows us to explore our experiences and feelings, gain insight into our thoughts and beliefs, and ultimately reframe our story. It can be a therapeutic tool to process trauma and move forward with our lives.
Research on Trauma Narrative Writing
Research studies have consistently found that trauma narrative writing can significantly improve mental health outcomes. For example:
- A meta-analysis of 17 studies found that trauma-focused writing interventions were associated with a significant reduction in symptoms of PTSD and depression and an improvement in overall psychological well-being (Maheux et al., 2016).
- A randomized controlled trial of 64 female survivors of intimate partner violence found that those who participated in a trauma-focused writing intervention significantly reduced PTSD symptoms compared to those who did not receive the intervention (Kim et al., 2018).
- A study of 103 individuals who had experienced childhood abuse found that those who participated in a trauma narrative writing intervention showed a significant reduction in depression symptoms and an improvement in overall psychological well-being compared to those who did not receive the intervention (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986).
Benefits of Trauma Narrative Writing
Studies have shown that trauma narrative writing can help individuals:
- Reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD
- Improve overall psychological well-being
- Increase positive emotions and decrease negative emotions related to the traumatic experience
- Enhance cognitive processing and problem-solving skills
- Improve interpersonal relationships and communication
Here is how to use writing to process trauma
Grab a journal, paper, or computer, and let's start transforming your story! I am going to walk you through the process.
Step 1: Begin Writing Your Story with a Focus on Facts
Start by choosing a narrative you hear in your head and recall a memory associated with it. Write about it in detail, describing the surroundings, your involvement, and the participation of other people. Focus only on the facts and write in the present tense as if it were happening now.
I recommend skipping a line or two, so you have space to go back and fill in emotions in the next step.
Step 2: Focus on Adding the Emotions
Go back to your narrative and fill in the emotions associated with the experience. Write about how you felt emotionally and physically and your thoughts during the experience, and use positive and negative expressive words. Use the feelings wheel I have provided to help determine the emotion experienced.
Use the lines you skipped and a different color pen to write about the feelings and emotions associated with the memory you are exploring.
Step 3: Write a Final Draft that Combines the Facts and Emotions
After a day or more, come back to your writing, and finalize a draft that strings together the facts and emotions of your experience into a cohesive story.
Step 4: Telling Your Story
When you are ready, share your story with someone you trust. Speaking it out loud can help you release the power it has over you.
Sharing your trauma story vulnerably can be an essential part of healing from trauma because it helps to break the cycle of shame and secrecy that often accompanies traumatic experiences. Trauma can leave us feeling isolated and alone as if we are the only ones who have experienced such pain and suffering. When we share our stories with others, we often discover that we are not alone and that others have experienced similar struggles. This can be incredibly validating and help us to feel less alone and more connected to others.
Step 5: Write the Story You Want to Tell
In this final phase, you get to write the story you want to live out due to this experience. Rewrite your story in a positive light.
Questions to Explore:
- How do you want to move forward in life?
- How will you use it to empower yourself and others?
Vulnerably sharing our trauma story can also help us to make sense of our experiences and to find meaning in our suffering. It can help us to put words to the pain we have experienced, process our emotions, and to integrate our experiences into our larger life narrative. This process can be profoundly cathartic and help us move towards a sense of closure and resolution.
Step 6: Finding Purpose in Your Pain
When we experience trauma, it can be easy to feel that our pain is pointless or meaningless. However, when we see our pain as a catalyst for growth and transformation, we can find a sense of purpose and direction in our lives. By reframing our pain as an opportunity for growth, we can use it to deepen our understanding of ourselves and others, cultivate resilience and compassion, and positively impact the world around us. Finding purpose in your pain is not about denying or minimizing your suffering but rather about acknowledging it and using it as a springboard for growth and healing. Doing so allows us to find a sense of empowerment and meaning in our experiences and move towards a more fulfilling and purposeful life.
Things to Remember
- Have someone you can call if your emotions become overwhelming Engage in mindfulness and self-care
- Store your writings in a safe place
- Only share when ready
- Take your time
- Keep going one memory at a time
Once you have completed the entire process of writing and telling your story for a specific experience, put it aside for at least a week, then return to it and reread what you wrote. You can then begin processing the next experience to write another chapter in your book.
In addition to the feelings wheel, I have provided two other resources to help you work through this process.
- Download the Inner Child Healing Guide, which will give you insights and worksheets to complete.
- Sign Up to get blog posts delivered to your inbox and get a gift of a video on Self-Awareness and Personal Responsibility, the keys to starting your transformation journey, and use the "Finding Purpose in your Pain" journal.
Your story is worth telling!
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