Memoir Writing Can Elicit Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome

Carolyn’s Online Magazine



When you present harsh information on child abuse and domestic violence in groups, educational settings, or individually, there is a risk: the information can trigger emotions from the hearer’s past. Occasionally someone will have a melt-down. It comes with the territory. It is expected.

NOTE: This is not my memoir but a caution for writing a memoir for the 2014 WordPress prompt, Memoir Madness: In this week’s writing challenge, mine your memory and write a memoir


I was drawn to an online article, Post Traumatic Memoir Disorder, which brought back some intense training and counseling situations where the information presented did result in traumatic reactions.

Part of my experience working in the human service field was dealing with adults who were abused as children. This was particularly manifested in the 1992 Children’s Trust Fund Grant that I wrote, received, and administered during my sojourn in one community. The summary of that grant read The mission of the Family Support Program is to heal adults from the trauma of their childhood history of abuse so that they can develop a healthy style of parenting, thereby breaking the chain of abuse.

To publicize the program, and to take its message to the community, I spoke at meetings, developed workshops, and trained community residents how to be the first responders to abusive situations. Attendees at the workshops and trainings usually included professionals who needed to bolster their work with knowledge.

I also spent time counseling adults in groups, as couples, or individually.

Most of the persons I was involved with ultimately wanted to share their story with others, with the hope that in its telling others will be reached and encouraged to make the changes necessary to protect themselves not only from further abuse, but from becoming an abuser themselves.

Some of these persons viewed the written word as a major means of sharing their stories.

Whether they had me write their story, or whether they attempted write it themselves, there were traumatic elements. Memories they wanted to record brought back the hurts, the emotions, the pain. Flashbacks were common. Yet, these persons HAD to get their story out (it wasn’t always writing—sometimes it was art). It was cathartic. It was healing.

Having written this, I read the article.

“…there are secrets; dark secrets which might have impacted our lives forever. Secrets that our loved ones might not know exist.” Might I add, secrets that might not even be believed by the very loved ones who will read the story. Secrets that might rip asunder family and friend relationships.

     Thus, the writing of a memoir must be done cautiously, heeding the warning that the writer must relive his/her particular trauma or secret. “Because that’s what you’ll be doing–more than once. After all, there’s the first draft, second, third, and editing. Readings. Questions at book signings. If you were sexually abused as a child you won’t be putting in minute details, but even generalized details can bring back past pain.”

My work brought me in contact with persons whose Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was latent for decades. Often, they were too busy living to deal with the issues. Many—especially those in the older generations—were told to “Get over it,” “It’s every woman’s experience.” Most were powerless to deal with the issues—they lacked the correct tools.

And, usually, they hadn’t recognized the effects it had on them, how it hindered their ability to achieve a healthy lifestyle.

The article’s author, Karen Carver, noted that “Reopening old wounds has unfortunately been diagnosed as Latent PTSD (or what I think of as Post Traumatic Memoir Disorder). For weeks at a time–sometimes months–I am forced to stop working on the memoir so I can breathe and reassess; complete the healing process once and for all.”

Neither Carver nor I advocate that the dark times shouldn’t be written about. “But you do need to be aware that feeling ‘cathartic’ might not happen until the end–if ever,” Carver noted.

Carver warns that although “Traumas and secrets pull in interested readers” they are “at times a living hell for the writer. So if you decide it’s important to write it all, go into it with eyes wide open about possible emotional consequences not only for you but your loved ones if it’s new information to them.”

And, I might add, writers need to have emotional back-up from a person who has an understanding of what they are experiencing—a friend, relative, or counselor.

For a writer, I would recommend letting your memoir “rest” at times. Have other writing projects to work on while your memoir percolating in the back of your mind.

Ultimately, if you have experienced traumatic events in your history, don’t abandon writing your memoir. It can be cathartic, healing, jarring. Simply approach it with caution, using built-in protections when recording or discussing the rough times. People need to hear your story. It offers them encouragement, and gives them hope that they too might escape the hell they are living.

Child Abuse Lives . Yes, child abuse lives . It is alive and well.

Don’t be afraid to write (or talk) about your experience.

NOTE: This article satisfies the WordPress prompt of April 8, 2015: ripped from the headlines.



PTMD or Post Traumatic Memoir Disorder By Karen Carver

About carolyncholland

In several if my nine lives I have been a medical lab technician and a human service worker specializing in child day care, adoptions and family abuse. Currently I am a photo/journalist/writer working on a novel and a short story. My general writings can be viewed at My novel site is
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4 Responses to Memoir Writing Can Elicit Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome

  1. lynettedavis says:

    So very true Carolyn. Memoir writing can be very traumatic, especially when they are about abuse. Thank you for sharing this. I’m going to share this post on my blog.


  2. Alaina says:

    I first tried to write my trauma story when I was in my early twenties. I thought I was ready but I definitely wasn’t. Today I have a 23-year-old granddaughter who just graduated from college — and I am still trying to write my dang memoir.

    Countless times I’ve considered just giving up on the whole idea. Does the world really need another book? But I don’t want to take my story to the grave. Argh.

    Thanks for this post, it really hit home.


  3. Pingback: Blackburn Center Fundraiser: April 2016 | Carolyn's Online Magazine

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