Keeping a diary to explore your emotions after a divorce may do more harm than good, according to a new study from the University of Arizona.
Writing is a tool recommended by some therapists to encourage emotional healing after stressful life changes like divorce. The study, set to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Clinical Psychological Science, examined the effect of three different styles of diary writing amongst 90 divorced or separated people. One group was asked to write diaries freely exploring their feelings and emotions; a second was also asked to write about their emotions, but in a narrative structure; and a third, the control group, was asked to keep a journal about their every day activities but not include any reference to their emotions.
The original aim of the study was to explore the effectiveness of the two styles of emotional writing but after eight months, the researchers found that the non-emotional approach used by the control group was actually the most effective at promoting emotional healing, especially amongst a type of people referred to in the study as ‘high ruminators’. These were defined as people who “have a tendency to ruminate on their [failed relationship], brood on their experience and go over it and over it and over it again.”
Psychological scientist David Sbarra said dwelling on the past could be unhelpful. “If a person goes over and over something in their head, and then you say, ‘Write down your deepest darkest thoughts and go over it again,’ we will intensify their distress.”
“If you’re someone who tends to be totally in your head and go over and over what happened and why it happened, you need to get out of your head and just start thinking about how you’re going to put your life back together and organize your time.”