Writing can make you feel worse.

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Writing about your emotional pain could make you feel worse, unless you do it with “self-compassion”

 

“How does self-compassionate introspection fare against simple distraction? In a second study, 152 undergraduates (107 female) took the compassion and rumination tests and endured the “negative mood induction” of Prokofiev and terrible slides.  After a five-minute breather “to let your mind wander,” half did the self-compassionate writing exercise and half watched letters appear on a computer screen and responded when they saw “X”— this was the “distraction”.

In the mood-measurements, the participants in both groups experienced a similar reduction in “negative affect” post-exercise, so this was a tie. If you tend to think distraction is worthless, take note. However, distraction didn’t increase “positive affect” whereas self-compassion did, so it can be said to have won the contest. There’s also hope for brooders/ruminators. They had more “negative affect” hanging over from the Prokofiev, but they also experienced more change.

Clinicians might learn from these results that introspective approaches are dangerous for ruminators without a lot of stress on compassion. The risk is significant since rumination is linked to depression and significant procrastination. Pouring out painful feelings could turn into a binge-and-purge experience, which leaves you in a bad way and becomes a habit.

Ruminators, many say, need better forms of distraction. But the research literature on distraction is murky, the authors note, with many studies lumping all kinds of distraction together. They’d like to see research comparing a variety of distraction tasks with emotion regulation tasks like the self-compassion exercise. I’ll confess I’ve tried writing out my painful feelings and have innocently passed on that advice to others, without any instructions about compassion since I didn’t get any. I’m grateful to have read this research and next time will pass it on instead.”

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