Our stories help others find hope. But, before we share them, we often encounter inner battles that can prevent us from writing about them— whether in a book or a journal. It’s hard to acknowledge trauma. If you’re like me, you may have compartmentalized a few bad things and operated on “fight or flight mode” for many years. Now, I’ll admit this is a defense mechanism I have used, and I’m thankful for a great therapist that has helped me address and unpack my issues. Believe me. I understand the challenge of speaking about what you’ve encountered. If you’re considering writing about your traumatic experience and have feelings of apprehension, you’re not alone. There’s still that one book I have only begun to write that I have yet to complete. So, as I’m writing this, I may be experiencing the same internal battle you are feeling. However, after helping so many women share their stories, I witnessed true bravery in its purest form. The desire to help someone else despite your inner struggle is remarkable and selfless.
According to Harvard Business Review, research suggests that trauma damages brain tissue. Still, when people translate their emotional experiences into words, they may change how it is organized in the brain. Being mentally prepared to write them is the challenge.
There’s something special about the readiness that’s required to step forward. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have “made it” or “gotten over it.” Instead, it means you’re thinking of a greater purpose despite where you are. It takes bravery and intentionality— for your self-healing and the mission to become a beacon of hope for someone else.
When writing about trauma, it is important to approach the subject with sensitivity and care. I can’t stress this enough. You’ll feel many emotions, and some can become challenging to address as you write. Here are some recommendations as you consider writing about your traumatic life experiences.
- Be very specific about what you want to discuss. You may want to talk about only some things. Some parts are off-limits, and that’s ok. Decide what you’re willing to share. You have complete control of what you communicate.
- Research and understand the topic. I mention this because many topics are not “one size fits all.” There are complexities and, often, lots of layers. And while your story is unique, the topic is likely common. Gather as much factual information as you can from a reputable resource, if you are ready, and decide what you’d like readers to learn. Take time to research the causes and effects of the trauma you are writing about. This will help you write with accuracy and sensitivity.
- Be mindful of language: Use respectful language. Avoid triggering language. Avoid sensationalizing or minimizing the trauma.
- Consider your audience: Consider who you are writing for and how your writing may impact them. Be aware that some readers may have experienced trauma themselves and may be triggered by specific topics. Ask yourself, “How would you want someone else to communicate their similar experience?”
- Include resources: I highly recommend including interviews from trained experts and professionals or trusted resources that readers can read. For example, when I wrote my first memoir about my experience of having multiple miscarriages, I sought professional guidance from my OBGYN. He wrote the foreword in that book. He helped me by providing data I could use in my memoir and even used his experience as a trained medical physician. You can also include hotlines, support groups, or mental health professionals. Do your research!
- Take frequent breaks: Writing personal encounters means revisiting places in your mind that you never want to remember. I’ve often advised writers to take regular breaks and remember to be present where they are.
- Give yourself grace: Be gentle with yourself. Think of it as therapeutic.
Remember, you’re a survivor who can tell your story to help someone.
Although writing about trauma is serious and should be approached carefully, following these tips can create informative, respectful, and supportive resources for readers.
Below is an interview with Kennisha Griffin and Dr. Shannan Crawford, a Clinical Psychologist, and host of Unlock U Podcast. They discuss the psychology of sharing your personal story.