Access Emotion through Free-association Writing

At times when something emotional is bubbling up inside but you can’t identify exactly what it is and what it means, try free-association writing. It’s easy to do and, I’ve found, incredibly helpful in flushing out and understanding feelings.   All it takes is a sheet of paper, or if you prefer, a fresh page on your screen, and a few minutes of your undivided attention.

Start writing about whatever has been on your mind. The only rule is that you don’t know what you are going to say next. Just write. What you say is completely private so you can speak from the heart. You are not telling someone a story so it doesn’t have to be coherent. Write as long as you need to, talking only to yourself. Look for the emotionally deepest content you can generate.

The purpose of this kind of writing is not to give you answers but to understand what gives rise to the questions. Emotions do not fit into neat packages. Let the words, thoughts and messy feelings flow onto the page. When you’re done you can keep it or throw it away. You can do it again and again as you probe deeper into your emotional system. For those who don’t have a preferred other person with whom to discuss such matters, and even for those who do, free-association writing is an effective way to get emotionally unstuck.