How to be Unafraid of the Gloomy Places
Sometimes it's good to revist our dark places with new glasses.
Posted June 5, 2019
In certain coastal areas of California, such as Santa Barbara, the weather in the month of June is known as “June gloom” because the sun has a difficult time making its way through the clouds. Some people’s moods are greatly affected by the weather, and they might even choose their places of residence based on these types of predictable, seasonal conditions.
Those who have had a dark or gloomy past might be even more affected by cloudy weather, but the important thing to remember is that even in times of gloom or darkness, there is beauty. This is a message I often emphasize to my memoir-writing students. When writing or speaking about traumatic subjects, one way to provide a proper perspective is to also include the beautiful elements of the experience. This helps to provide a layer for the story and can also serve as a container for a complex account to be shared. It’s also a way to feel more comfortable with the subject being discussed or written about, and a way to encourage questions or inquiry. The old adage “Without darkness, we would not know light” rings true. Seeing the beauty in things and experiences also provides a good reason to get up in the morning.
In addition to conflict being a necessary ingredient in life, it’s an important component of telling an intriguing story. Whether gloomy or not, if nothing of import occurs, then it’s not really a story. The kinds of conflicts that might be considered gloomy include illness, loss, abuse, and death, which affect everyone at some point.
Writing is one way to help us cope with the gloomy, broken places or events in our lives. James Pennebaker, the author of Writing to Heal, says, “Writing dissolves some of the barriers between you and others. If you write, it’s easier to communicate with others.” However, he does have one caveat that he calls “the flip-out rule,” which states that if you get too upset when writing, then simply stop. Pennebaker believes that there’s a certain type of writing that comes to the surface when we’re faced with loss, death, abuse, depression, and trauma.
Another thing worth mentioning about the gloomy or dark places and events is that even though we might feel as if we’re in a dungeon, trying to distance ourselves from these experiences can be a good way to heal. When the gloom becomes a part of our identity, there might be a tendency to sink even deeper, to feel immersed in the darkness. Writing in the third person can be one way to remove ourselves from a sense of despair.
Whether affected by change, loss, or pain, finding the time to talk or write about how you’re feeling is critical to the healing process. Some people prefer to journal about their experiences, while others may choose fiction or poetic modalities to help them escape their reality. Everyone must identify the genre most compatible with who they really are—the one they find the most liberating and empowering. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.
Here are some advantages to being in touch with the gloomy places in our lives:
- It helps us make sense of things.
- It helps us let go of what no longer serves us.
- It helps us feel better emotionally.
- It can help with our outlook.
Whether considering talk therapy, daily journaling, penning a memoir, or writing poetry, it’s wise to first shift your gloom to a grounding place. Below are some suggestions for doing so:
- Find a place that’s quiet, where you won’t be interrupted.
- Choose an inspiring journal or notebook.
- Use a centering ritual (light a candle, play music, meditate, stretch).
- Take deep breaths.
- Set aside your inner critic.
- Date your entries.
- Start by writing down your feelings and sensations.
- Write nonstop for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Save what you’ve written.
- Schedule regular writing time.
Gressel, J. (2018). “On Dealing with Darkness.” Psychology Today. November 11.
Murray, B. (2002). “Writing to Heal.” American Psychological Association. 33(6). p. 54.
Pennebaker, J. (2004). Writing to Heal. Center for Journal Therapy.
Raab, D. (2016). Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life. Ann Arbor, MI: Loving