Writing and the Cathartic Experience

Shobha Nihalani
As a writer, when I am working on a novel, I spend a lot of time creating the kind of characters that feel as real as the people around us. In The Blue Jade, my protagonist Neelam is a complex character. She is a millennial, confident, educated, passionate, and focused on her career path. When tragedy rips through her life, she falls apart. She becomes weak, wallowing in self-pity, wondering why the universe has caused her so much suffering. Later in the story, she goes through a self-reflection phase, realising that unless she regains her balance and takes charge of her life, she will never find peace. She overcomes her fears, and becomes determined to act on her own decisions. She becomes a stronger person.
Readers are unlikely to care about the protagonist if she doesn’t face any problems or suffering, because that’s what we all face in real life. This character arc is important to keep the reader emotionally invested in the story, and to empathise with the protagonist. Readers want real characters who are relatable – who feel pain, who suffer, who are imperfect and who have to deal with problematic situations.
I have always been fascinated by human behaviour, why we do what we do, and how we justify our actions in the process. There are many good souls around. I have been taught from childhood to believe there’s good in everyone, even alongside their negative qualities. There are a surprising number of angry, spiteful and self-destructive behavioural traits in humans. Learning to deal with them within ourselves, instead of complaining about the flaws in others, is a way to understand that we as humans are all different, and most importantly, imperfect. We are all vibrant, colourful personalities with unique quirks and behaviours. Accepting others as we accept ourselves, flaws and all, is how we can compromise.
Aristotle noted that we humans are an incredibly social animal, and one of the most important features of our environment is other people. Interacting with others keeps us in a healthy frame of mind. But what if there is too much interaction and too much of the same people in your face, constantly testing your limits? And less access to a variety of other people, such as friends and colleagues? Lockdown means you are indoors with family or relatives, whom you love, but who may still drive you crazy.
In traditional cultures there is a proverb, ‘no house is big enough for two women’. Under the current circumstances, this may come to light, especially in a joint family. There may be a battle of wills or disagreements, especially when in each other’s company twenty-four hours a day. Certain family members might be so stressful to be around for long periods that we may be ready to pull our hair out.
Everyone has a different way of getting through the day. While some are messy, others are obsessed with tidiness; while some are laid-back, others are more disciplined. Many issues will lead to differences in opinions. Arguments may erupt and tensions build up. Besides being tolerant and patient, physical energy is needed to deal with active children and aged family members.
When our nerves are stretched to the limit and we are ready to scream, I would suggest trying another method to release pent-up frustrations. Instead of a verbal outpouring that will risk turning the home into a battlefield, write down the fiery emotions. Pour all the venom on paper. Writing helps to focus on the words rather than the emotions, which then calms the mind. Realise that you are upset by the person’s specific action, not the person as a whole being, so focus only on that particular issue. Then write down that person’s good qualities. Yes, it will be difficult because all you see is the bad.
We are wired to look at the negative, to be critical and cynical. We are quick to find fault in others. Writing down our feelings can help identify our way of handling situations and people. Often, we react strongly towards a person for some past incident that has not been resolved. When we write, we bring clarity to those incidents that trouble us – and maybe, we can let go of old hurts. The peace gained from it is worth it. When you read back what you’ve written, you realise what you can let go, and what needs to be addressed. Writing down our feelings is a coping mechanism and can be cathartic. It provides an outlet to get through personal issues.
But please take note – there are exceptions. In this article I am talking about average, everyday relationships with the odd bickering here and there. If you are in an abusive or violent relationship, or if you are still miserable despite all the efforts you have made, the advice above will not be enough. Please talk to a caring person, call someone you trust, and get professional help.
(The author has written Nine Trilogy)


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