Self-expression: A Solution for Traumatic Times

IMAGE Talk about your trauma and pain or put on a happy face? Research suggests that expressing painful thoughts and feelings may help reduce the risk of illness. Charles is a 37 year-old engineer who lost his wife in a fatal car accident six months ago. When asked how he was coping with the death, he responded, "I keep busy with my projects. I have an active social life and have developed new interests. To be honest with you, I have been too busy to sit around and cry about things…and I do not want to bring other people down. I have just accepted that my life is not going to be the same anymore." Meg is a 50 year-old mother of three whose husband died in a car crash two years ago. She has a different coping style than Charles. "I've been in counseling since John's death and joined a support group. I have found additional support from family members, friends, and through prayer."By outward appearances, Charles seems to be resilient in the face of his wife's death, while Meg spends many emotional days and nights talking about and openly grieving her tragic loss, but whose coping style is really the healthiest?

The Dangers of Inhibition

In 1982, James Pennebaker, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Texas, conducted research on the surviving spouses of suicide and car accident victims. He found that those who talked and expressed feelings about their spouse's death had remarkably fewer physical and emotional health problems during the year after the death than those who did not.According to Dr. Pennebaker, additional studies have demonstrated that not talking about major life stressors, past or present, is a health risk. Such stressors include:
  • Death
  • Job loss
  • An accident
  • Rape
  • Abuse
  • Suicide
  • Divorce
  • Marital infidelity
  • Other painful or traumatic experiences
Not talking about them (inhibition) may be linked to these conditions:

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