National Eating Disorders Association

Writing Brings Up My Inner Demons (And is a Great Place to Confront Them)

Carolyn Jennings

We all have inner demons, some of them very familiar and believable.  In a recent write, I explored what felt like work overload in my life, leaving me fearful, overwhelmed, burdened, generally flattened and wanting to avoid work.  As I wrote, tension bubbled up in my stomach.  I felt dejected and defeated.

Overwhelm in particular has haunted me through my life.  I decided to look straight at it, combat it with creativity and Dialogue with it.

ME: Overwhelm, you waltz in here and pull down all the shades in the house and the shades over my eyes.  You make everything dark, and I can't see clearly.  I choose the sunlight, not you.

OVERWHELM: What? I always thought you sort of cherished me since we've spent so much time together.  You and I fit like puzzle pieces—your sensitivity and my self-importance.

 ME: I'm tired of your lies about how hard everything is.

OVERWHELM: But things are hard.

ME: You always feed me that.  Then when I do the tasks, they're not that hard.  Then you threaten me that I'm not getting enough done and I'll be in trouble.  And that doesn't happen either.

The Dialogue continued and at the end, I evicted overwhelm.  I had taken my power back.  To celebrate and affirm, I wrote an AlphaPoem:

O h, I am over you
V ehemently, you
E ver-ready to feed me lies that
R eally hurt the quality of my life,
W eaken the joy I'd otherwise have.
H eave-ho, old pal. I
E vict you and I invite confidence, joy and ease to
L ive with me now.  We'll be
M erry without you.

After, I no longer felt dejected.  I was empowered, on fire, free!

In thirty minutes with your journal, you can follow this same process, adapted from “Writing Through Troubled Times” by Kathleen Adams, author of Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth and founder/director of The Center for Journal Therapy.


Give yourself plenty of time to explore and a pleasant spot in which to write.   Invite your curiosity and your strength. 


Think or write briefly about a stress in your life, internal or external.  Write a list of 3 words that name how you feel as you reflect on this situation. 

allow at least 20 minutes
A Dialogue is a conversation back and forth between you and your chosen Dialogue partner, in which you write both parts.  Dialogue with the situation (I could have chosen work-overload as my Dialogue partner) or with a result of the situation (I chose overwhelm to write with, but I could have chosen fear, burden, tension or defeat).

Dialogues often unfold in waves, so be patient with any pauses.  Know that whatever you say will be heard and whatever you ask will be answered honestly. 

Ask, listen and, if inspired, talk back.


To synthesize and capture the spirit of what you uncovered in your Dialogue, try an AlphaPoem as I did above with overwhelm by writing the name of your Dialogue partner vertically down the page.  Write a poem in which each line starts with the next successive letter.  As Adams advises, “Let your poem express your new, emerging, changing relationship...Write fast!  Don't think too much!  Unhook your brain!  Have fun!”  Be creative/“cheat” as needed/inspired!


Write a list of 3 words that name how you feel now.  Compare them to the list of 3 words you wrote at the beginning.  You may notice that you've turned at least one inner or outer demon on its head.  Even if you don't sense a huge shift, you've brought fresh air to the situation or emotions inside yourself with your attention and creativity.

We can develop a practice of expressive writing in the same way we develop new practices of eating, feeling emotions and relating to others. Marya Hornbacher, author of Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, believes that writing is the opposite of disease and destruction.  The part of us that wants to write is the part that wants to heal and be healed.

Give your energy, attention and love to that part of you.  Invite it to be a partner in a Dialogue.