Post #30 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing and Healing – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler
Finding Healing through Coping with Feelings When Writing Memoir
“Sometimes I get up in the morning, and the feelings just overwhelm me. Then I have trouble functioning for the rest of the day. And forget about writing – I’m totally blocked.”
Joan was a student in a memoir-writing class I was teaching recently at the local Adult Ed center. She wanted to write about her life so that her grandchildren could connect with their lineage, but she couldn’t get past the feelings that came up as a result of her PTSD.
When emotions get in the way of writing or pursuing other activities, most people thrust them aside. But the feelings are there for a reason: they’re telling us truths about our life experience, truths about who we are and how we’ve chosen to live our lives. One of the primary causes of writers’ block is an overload of unacknowledged emotion.
In writing memoir, it’s essential to recognize the anger, sadness, and fear that arise in the process of getting our stories down on paper, and to find ways to let go of those feelings so we can move on. If we don’t look at them and allow them expression, the pile of emotions will keep growing, becoming even more overwhelming, eventually turning into what Carl Jung called “the shadow.” Unexpressed emotions can affect every area of your life in a negative way.
Without the human expression of feeling, a memoir is simply a story about events that happened. Readers will connect more with your story if they can relate to it emotionally—which means the feelings need to be there in all their glory and horror, right on the page. And they’ll sense the honesty with which you tell the story if you are aware of your feelings and include them in your memoir writing. It’s in the craft of writing—the process of rewriting, and rewriting again—that we sculpt those feelings into prose that moves, that makes readers think, that offers a path to a new understanding and a broader perspective.
Yet the feelings can be completely overwhelming at times. When you’re overcome with emotion, it means that something in your psyche needs your attention, needs some space to express itself, to let go of some past experience so you can become more fully yourself, more free in your interaction with the world. So it’s in your best interest to face your feelings, to ask them what they want to tell you. Miriam Greenspan, author of Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair, calls this “sitting with the feelings.” Whether they bring tears or anger, expressing those feelings—even if you’re alone—will clear your mind and heal your body. And you’ll find that, once expressed, it’s easier to put them into your writing so that your words affect others on a profound emotional level.
While I was writing my memoir The Box of Daughter: Overcoming a Legacy of Emotional Abuse, I had to stop countless times to grab a box of Kleenex or to take a sofa cushion and shake it, shake it, shake it to release my anger. Tearing up newspaper is another great method for releasing anger, as is chopping wood or yanking weeds if you have the option. This is the marvelous, healing catharsis of writing memoir. Always, when the emotion is fully expressed, your mind will be more clear, and you’ll learn something new about yourself or your situation. And always, always ask for help if you need it, if the emotions become too overwhelming over a long period of time. Clearing the emotional clog is serious work, and sometimes people need a lot of support in the process. I know I did.
Don’t be afraid to spill all of that emotion into your writing. Let the anger, the pain, the angst at the human condition fly out of you and become your story of truth. You can always go back and edit, correct, delete later. Let it all out, and then shape the story the way you want it to be told. Right now, the world needs all the emotional truth it can get.
Katherine Mayfield is the author of The Box of Daughter: Overcoming a Legacy of Emotional Abuse. (Currently available through the Kindle store on Amazon.)
She blogs on her website at www.TheBoxofDaughter.com.