Journaling post love split may hinder emotional healing
Keeping a diary to explore your emotions following a divorce or separation may do more harm than good, according to new research.
In a study of 90 recently divorced or separated individuals, psychological scientist David Sbarra of the University of Arizona and colleagues found that writing about one's feelings can actually leave some people feeling more emotionally distraught months down the line, particularly those individuals who are prone to seeking a deeper meaning for their failed marriage.
Sbarra studied individuals who had physically separated from a spouse on an average of three months before the start of the study. After completing an initial assessment to determine their emotional baseline, participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Members of one group were asked to write about their feelings about their relationship through traditional expressive writing.
Another group was asked to practice a technique known as narrative expressive writing - to write about feelings but within the framework of a narrative with a beginning, middle and end, effectively telling the story of the marriage. The third, the control group, was instructed to simply keep a journal of basic daily activities, without writing about emotions or opinions.
The participants were asked to write in a journal, using their prescribed style, for 20 minutes a day for three consecutive days. Eight months later, their emotional state was re-evaluated in a follow-up assessment.
The goal was to see if those who practiced narrative expressive writing would experience greater healing benefits than those assigned to do traditional expressive writing.
The unexpected results suggest expressive writing of any kind can actually hinder emotional recovery for certain individuals, whereas non-expressive control writing might actually be a more effective intervention.
This was found to be true specifically among those labeled in the initial assessment as "high ruminators" - those with a tendency to brood over the circumstances of their separation in search of answers.
"At the eight-month follow up period, high ruminators actually reported the least distress in the control condition, suggesting that control writing for these people may actually be the beneficial thing," Sbarra said.
The study will be published in Clinical Psychological Science.