• Hannah Boekestijn. Translator Jolien Vermeulen

Getting to know yourself better through writing

You may have heard of the phenomenon of getting something off your chest by putting it on paper. During my studies I filled several notebooks with the things that I dealt with. I wrote down both positive and negative experiences. When something inconvenient happened, writing helped getting an idea of why it touched me and it helped me to move on. Looking back I often found my writings ironic; did I really think that the world was coming to an end when I did not pass my exam for the second time?

What I did not know back then, is that putting your thoughts and feelings on paper really helps you to obtain insights about your reactions to specific situations, and your motivation behind them. By writing about it, you can learn to look at your thoughts and feelings from a distance. On top of that, it can help embracing specific emotions*. This can be quite useful when you notice that some things are difficult for you to deal with. And there is no need for you to be a professional writer, to do this.

How writing can help you?

According to research, writing accelerates the course of processing (Slot, Aken, 2017). Your brain is fully focused on the experience. Consequently, the intensity decreases quicker, as opposed to when you do not accept the impact of the experience. No matter how terrible it may feel, often it goes away.*

1.Writing benefits ‘defusion’

Sometimes we do not realize what kind of heavy things we say to ourselves, until we see it on paper. Defusion means stepping away from certain thoughts that have a certain undesired power over us (Hayes & Smith, 2006). Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to know which thoughts obstruct us. Writing thoughts down could therefore help in recognizing them and stepping away from them. You are not identified by your thoughts, you simply have thoughts!

2.Writing allows emotion

Every emotion has a function. Anger is all about pointing out boundaries. Sadness: processing. Fear: feeling safe. By allowing to feel every emotion, they will pass sooner as well. Both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ emotions are a part of life. But sometimes we feel the urge to suppress ‘negative’ emotions. By not allowing to feel or by completely avoiding the ‘negative’ emotion, the feeling tends to remain present longer (Hayes & Smith, 2006). We mention positive and negative in inverted commas, because it carries a certain value judgment, which aids the suppression of ‘negative’ emotions.

3.By reflecting you get to know yourself better

Maybe you learn to recognize certain personal patterns by means of writing. I noticed, for example, that many of the things that I wrote down had to do with what others think. With that realization I decided to do something. Step by step I began to act according to my own preferences.

Do you not exactly know where to start with writing things down?

There are several basic questions that you can ask yourself and that help with reflecting.

What is the matter? (factual, emotionally)

How did I respond? (divided in a,b,c,d)

a.What did I think?

b.What did I feel?

c.What did I do?

d.What did I need at this moment?


Factual: I chose the wrong minor.

Emotionally: The world is coming to an end.

How did I respond?

a.What did I think?

I interpreted it as a confirmation that I am not able to make the right decision.

b.What did I feel?

I was startled. I felt sad and despondent.

c.What did I do?

I hardly responded to my surroundings.

d.What did I need at this moment?

I needed someone to listen.

Other possible questions you could ask yourself:

What would have been my preferred response? (in terms of thoughts and/or behavior)?

What could be a first step to realize this?

What do I need to realize this?

What am I grateful for this week?

What is an insight or challenge?

What do I want to do with this? Specify.


Asking yourself the ‘why’ question will result in pointing your gaze to the past. The ‘what’ question ‘what will I do with this situation?’ focuses on the future and is pointed more towards actions (Eurich, 2017).

Our Student Planner helps with this too and will be available in English next study year!

*Sometimes heavy things happen which have a lot of impact on how we feel. We tend to get emotional, edgy, tired or emotionally numb. If you notice that a certain experience influences your life in a negative way and it does not get better, we advise you to look for professional help. You can visit your doctor for help.

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