Expressive writing, self-criticism, and self-reassurance.

Psychol Psychother. 2013 Dec;86(4):374-86. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8341.2012.02065.x. Epub 2012 Apr 17.

Troop NA1, Chilcot J, Hutchings L, Varnaite G.

Self-criticism and reassurance are important mechanisms for regulating negative emotions but relatively little attention has been paid to interventions aimed at improving them.


This study explored the use of an expressive writing task to increase self-reassurance and reduce self-criticism using a randomized controlled design.


A total of 46 participants wrote either about life goals (the expressive writing task, n= 23) or a control topic (a review of a recent book or film, n= 23) for 15 min, three times within an hour. Measures of self-criticism/self-reassurance, stress, and positive affect were completed at baseline and at 2-week follow-up. The Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) was used to analyse the writing of participants in the ‘life goals’ condition to identify psychological processes that might differentiate those who improved and those who did not.


While there were no significant changes in self-reported stress or positive affect, participants writing about life goals decreased in their levels of self-criticism at 2-week follow-up relative to participants writing about control topics. Text analysis showed that experimental participants using words that imply the possibility of doubt or failure, including use of the subjunctive tense (e.g., could, would, should), were least likely to decrease their self-criticism. CONCLUSION. Expressive writing shows promise as a means by which people may decrease in their self-criticism. Future research should determine whether such experimentally induced changes in self-criticism lead to the improvements in psychological health that is implied by previous cross-sectional research.

Writing Can Heal: Effects of Self-Compassion Writing Among Hong Kong Chinese College Students

(full text)

Asian American Journal of Psychology © 2016 American Psychological Association 2016, Vol. 7, No. 1, 74–82 1948-1985/16/$12.00

Self-compassion has been repeatedly shown to be associated with mental and physical well-being. Recent studies showed that self-compassion writing can promote mental well-being, but this has not been examined among Chinese populations. The present study examined the effectiveness of self-compassion writing among Chinese students. One hundred and twelve university students were recruited and randomly assigned into 1 of the following 2 writing conditions: self-compassion writing and control writing. Participants were asked to write according to the instruction for 3 times in a week and report their levels of positive and negative affect immediately after writing. Self-reported depressive symptoms and physical symptoms, as well as self-compassion (i.e., self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness) and emotion regulation capacities (i.e., attention, clarity, and repair) were assessed at baseline and 2 follow-ups (1-month, 3-month). Results showed the self-compassion writing group reported more negative affect across the 3 days of writing than the control group. No significant group differences were found in depressive symptoms, self-compassion components, or emotion regulation capacities, but the self-compassion writing group reported a significant drop in physical symptoms at the 1- and 3-month follow-up whereas the control writing group reported no significant change in physical symptoms across time. The findings suggested that self-compassion writing may benefit physical health, but further studies should be conducted to examine its underlying mechanism.

How benefits of expressive writing vary as a function of writing instructions, ethnicity and ambivalence over emotional expression



Psychology & Health

Volume 25, 2010 – Issue 6


Pages 669-684


Written emotional disclosure has been reported to confer a variety of benefits on physical and psychological well-being. However, variable findings suggest that outcomes may vary systematically as a function of specific parameters of the experimental design. This study aims to investigate the unique and combined effects of disclosure instructions focusing on emotional expression and instructions facilitating cognitive reappraisal and to examine how ambivalence over emotional expression and ethnicity moderate the effects of these writing instructions. Seventy-one Asian and 59 Caucasian undergraduates (N = 130) with at least minimal physical or depressive symptoms were randomly assigned to one of the four writing conditions: emotional disclosure (ED), cognitive reappraisal (COG), the combination of ED and COG, or a control condition. Self-reported physical symptoms, positive affect (PA) and negative affect were assessed at baseline and three follow-ups spanning 4 months. Mixed linear models revealed that COG writing reduced physical symptoms, ED buffered a decrease in PA over time, and the combination of ED and COG (i.e. self-regulation; SR) was most effective. Asians and highly ambivalent participants benefited most from expressive writing. Findings contribute to the development of a SR moderator model and carry implications for designing expressive disclosure studies, particularly for ethnic minorities.