I’ve only fairly recently discovered this for myself: when I’ve had a particularly bad time, especially if it were my fault it was so very bad, then writing about it helps me. The two times I’m thinking of, I wrote to friends. One of whom didn’t want to know and I wish to God I’d never sent it, but the other asked – and I didn’t send it to her. I wrote out a long email explaining everything and, the writer’s mind kicks in, the end result was far more structured and comprehensible than the whirlwind in my head. I wrote that, read it, understood it and had no more need to send it to her. “I’m fine, thanks,” I wrote instead.
Of course, things that upset and paralyse me are as nothing compared to what happens to some people:
In one of my leadership development workshops, we invited participants to write up and present an account of a difficult experience. We ended up with more than we had expected when Simon, a senior executive at an oil company, told the group about a harrowing experience that he had never properly digested.
On an assignment in Nigeria, Simon and five colleagues visiting one of the company’s oil rigs had been taken hostage. Two of the other hostages were killed in front of him almost at once and he was only released after long and drawn-out negotiations on the size of the ransom. He told us that he had never been able to put the experience behind him and was still plagued by nightmares.
But he also told us that writing up an account of this experience for the workshop had been somewhat cathartic for him.
Read the full piece for a quite academic but thoughtful exploration of how this works for us.