Does emotional non-expressiveness or avoidance interfere with writing about stressful life events? An analysis in patients with chronic illness

Joshua Morrison Smyth, Christopher F. Anderson, Jill R. Hockemeyer, Arthur A. Stone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations

Abstract

Writing about traumatic events can produce health benefits, yet emotionally non-expressive or cognitively avoidant individuals may be unwilling or unable to express their emotions. This study examined non-expression, cognitive avoidance, response to writing, and subsequent health. As part of a larger study, participants (N = 71) with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis (RA) wrote about traumatic experiences for 20 min on three consecutive days. Alexithymia, denial, behavioral disengagement, mental disengagement, focus on/venting of emotions, avoidant thoughts, and health status were assessed at baseline, health status again 4 months after writing. Essays were coded for how personal and how emotional they were, and for narrative structure. Non-expression and cognitive avoidance were neither related to how personal or emotional essays were, nor to affective response to writing. High levels of denial or avoidant thoughts predicted less narrative structure. Avoidant thinking marginally predicted health improvements in RA patients. Results suggest that non-expression and cognitive avoidance do not interfere with writing in terms of emotional engagement, but may influence narrative use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)561-569
Number of pages9
JournalPsychology and Health
Volume17
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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