It is good for the constitution to get things off one’s chest,” Sigmund Freud wrote back in 1899, referring to the discovery that talking could temporarily relieve people of their problems.
He had been investigating an alternative route to well-being for a while at that point, and he challenged the prevailing notion that only medicine could cure people of ailments. Very impressed by Josef Breuer’s hypnosis techniques, Freud hypothesised that people could not only suffer from problems of the body, but also of the mind, which traditional medicine could not avail.
It’s good to talk
Though criticised immensely during his lifetime and after, Freud paved the way for what became known as ‘the talking cure’, which lay the foundation for modern psychotherapy. Although it has since been shown that simply talking is not enough in the long run, it is still a fact that people feel relieved when they get to unload – and not just in the sense of making a confession, because there is much more to therapy than that.
However, if someone is not in the right situation to find a therapist, for whichever reason, I still believe it can be of help to try and work through certain issues by talking with important others. But I will go further and say that things like physical exercise, or a recreational activity like painting or dancing or other forms of expression, can be a good way to get things out of the system and be a form of catharsis.
Empty mind, full page
For many, writing can be a really good medium, so I sometimes tell my clients to write their thoughts down in between sessions. Some choose to have something like a journal – a place to keep their thoughts and a safe place to have when in need of reflection. It can be helpful in itself to find the right words for what one is feeling and living, especially if you have a hard time putting feelings into words in the first place.
Perhaps there are things you don’t want to share with others, but keeping everything inside can be hard. Writing can to a certain extent alleviate anxiousness and restlessness, because it helps to put thoughts down on paper instead of having them stay inside your mind. Sometimes new thoughts can enter our mind if we are in the flow of the writing process. Even finding the right words for feelings can be challenging, so all the better to do an exercise like this. And if you are scared someone might find your thoughts later on, paper is easy to burn.
Point of reference
Another helpful aspect of writing is that this conversation with the self can be used later on as a reference. Sometimes we forget that we have been in a certain emotional state – for example, after a crisis – and it can be beneficial to revisit our own journey and understand what we have been through before and how we reacted to it.
Especially for expats it can be a great help to write every now and then, because our important others may not be available. A notebook or journal is always there and can be a reliable place to go when you want to clear your head of thoughts. The journal can also act as a witness to your own journey – one which you can revisit anytime.
But whatever form of expression suits you best, it is important to find one and do it. It is good for your constitution, after all.
Karina was born in Copenhagen but raised on Belgian waffles. She has lived in six different countries and speaks just as many languages. She is a psychologist, couples therapist and university lecturer. As an academic she has worked with expat issues for more than ten years. Find her at karinalins.com.