How to write a healing narrative

Pain, loss hurt, suffering and grief. These are very human experiences, the kind we do our best to avoid, no matter how inescapable they are. I have found that writing about the experiences that wrought these emotions help me to tolerate them and also bring about a shift in the perspectives I’ve had on the situations. For our writing to bring about healing, we must understand that we need to recognize and honor those emotions. We have to go through the emotions, observe them, examine them, journey through them to come through them. It an be hard; but we understand that in order to address and honor our feelings we cannot avoid, silence or deny them.

“The only way through pain…is to absorb, probe, understand exactly what it is and what it means. To close the door on pain is to miss the chance for growth…Nothing that happens to us, even the most terrible shock, is unusable, and everything has somehow to be built into the fabric of personality.”

May Sarton, Recovering: A Journal 1978-1979

So we must become present to the pain by letting ourselves feel it and we must also record it truthfully. We refrain from being sentimental and refrain from idealizing persons and events that are part of the story.  In this post, I want to share with you five features that are essential to a healing narrative. We’ll look at the transformative qualities we aim for when we write to heal.


 A healing narrative reflects our experience concretely, with authenticity and details

When we write our narrative in a vague way, we often do this to avoid pain. In so doing, we censor our memories and write in an overgeneralized way that makes situations seem bigger than they are. It tells what happened with accuracy and we describe when and where it happened. We describe all who were involved and we refrain from vilifying or idealizing them, but portray them with objectivity. When writing our healing narrative we must use our own words and ways of expression. It must sound authentic to us, like we wrote it. And we do this even when our topic is difficult. So, we must avoid expressions like, ‘it was the worst time ever’ or ‘I’m such a fool’ because they aren’t helpful or healing. Instead, we recount details, such as what happened, when it occurred and who was involved.

A healing narrative links feelings to events

It will go into detail about how we felt at the time and how we feel presently. It also tracks how we feel overtime.

A healing narrative is balanced

The negative and positive words used to describe words and feelings are used moderately. We honor both the positive and negative aspects by recording them accurately. One may argue that it is not possible to write positively about painful experiences, but we can. We do this by writing about the things that sustained us during those periods. One study found that the more people described their positive emotions in writing, the more likely there were to be healthier afterwards. However, describing negative emotions excessively or too little was linked to poorer health.

A healing narrative reveals the insights achieved from painful experiences

A healing narrative goes beyond narrating and incident and delves into what happened and how we feel about it. It provides us an opportunity to consider the significance of those events and help us to understand why things may have happened the way they did. However, we must be careful when we explore the cause and effect relationship as we hope to gleam some insight. We avoid delving into questions like ‘why me’, ‘what did I do to deserve this’ – because they indicate self-blame, which is harmful. Instead, we look at our experience in a wider context.

A healing narrative is complete, complex and coherent

If a stranger were to read our narrative they should be able to fully understand it. While most of us write for ourselves and not to share with others we must understand that if our writing has to take on a therapeutic effect, there must be no gaps in it. When we write fully we begin to understand the things that weren’t clear before.

The above points are gleamed from my reading of Writing As A Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo. It’s a great book and a powerful tool in my arsenal of resources as a Story Midwife.


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