Writing Through Pain Isn’t Always Healing

Written By: Antoine Hayes 

When I’m going through an emotional period or a personal crisis, I’m often advised by well-meaning people (many of them writers themselves) to “write through it.” It’s a common enough expression; you might have heard it yourself from someone or from your own lips. For me, this advice has been less than helpful.

I’m an extremely personal person who tends to internalize any trauma I experience. On paper, it would seem that I’m the type of person the saying “write through it” was designed for. Too often I keep my hurt bottled up inside until it becomes corrosive and I engage in self-destructive behavior. Writing can be a way of releasing the pain before it becomes too damaging.

Writing through my hurt causes a secondary result; this is the part that I have a problem with and the reason why “write through it” is terrible advice for me. Writing the pain takes the hurt and turns it into art. You may ask, “How is that a bad thing?” Let me speak from my experience.

There are emotions that are too intense that they need to be felt. They do not need to be categorized--which is what words do--or morphed into metaphors. They need to be experienced, reconciled and dropped. Feel it. Acknowledge it. Let it go.

They do not need to be transformed into a permanent reminder through art. That’s not to say that pain needs to be forgotten or buried--that’s also damaging. But to hold onto the hurt in a blog or a book or an (unpublished) journal entry is not always conducive to healing. Sometimes the hurt is too intense that it needs to be felt and released--not immortalized in art. Artwork (including writing) created through pain can be a jagged blade; cutting open old wounds whenever read or performed. How can scars heal when one is repeatedly slicing oneself open?

I don’t always write through my pain. I don’t give that suggestion as blanket advice. When I’m filled with emotions that can turn sour, I allow myself to feel them, fully, come to terms with them and then release them. They no longer serve me, and holding on to the pain and keeping memorials of hurt does not benefit me either.

When I do write about intense emotional experiences, I often rip to shreds or burn the piece afterward. This symbolic destruction of trauma is my cleansing and healing ritual.


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Antoine Hayes is a freelance writer living in Baltimore. When he isn’t writing, he can usually be found reading somewhere in a quiet corner.