Try conducting a small experimental test of Pennebaker's hypothesis that disclosing secrets, even in writing, is associated with better health. Keep a record of your health every day for two weeks. Record each day whether you have a stomachache, a headache, muscle aches, a sore throat, or a runny nose. After this baseline period of recording your health, try keeping a diary each day for two weeks, writing down and
describing all the stresses you experience each day and reflecting on how these make you feel. Pay attention to any difficulties, stress, or even embarassing or trying moments. When the two weeks are over, stop keeping the diary and begin recording your daily health again. Although this is not a true experiment (you are both the subject and the experimenter, which is not done in true experiments), you can nevertheless get a feel for how research on this topic is done, and you might see a change in your health for the better, as a function of keeping a diary.
How does disclosure work to promote healthy adjustment? Pennebaker' s firs theory of the mechanism concerned the relief that results from telling a secret. In other words, keeping the information inside takes ef fort and is stressful, and disclosing that information removes the ef fort and relieves the stress (Niederhof fer & Pennebaker , 2002). This explanation basically says that disclosure reduces the cost of having to inhibit this information. More recently, Pennebaker (2003a) has put forward a second explanation for how disclosure promotes adjustment. This explanation concerns how writing about an event allows a person to reinterpret and reframe the meaning of that event. In other words, a person writing or talking about a past traumatic event can try to better understand that event, can search for some positive meaning in the event (the silver lining that is in every cloud), and can integrate that event into her or his current situation. Both processes—relief from inhibition and reinterpretation of the event—may be occurring, and so both explanations may be correct. Indeed, Pennebaker (2003b) has speculated that this combination may be the basic ingredient that underlies most forms of successful talking therapy .
In summary, research on disclosure suggests that keeping traumatic events, and the feelings about those events, to ourselves can be stressful. Expressing our emotions in words can, in fact, produce some stress-reducing ef fects. Moreover, it appears that it does not matter how we put our feelings into words—whether we talk to a trusted friend or relative, go to a caring psychotherapist, go to confession at our church or have a talk with our minister or rabbi, have a discussion with our husband or wife, or write it in a diary . Whatever form it takes, the disclosure of traumatic events, and our reactions to them, is much better for our health than keeping it all to ourselves.
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