Exploring the feasibility of employing externalization as a methodological modification to traditional autoethnographic approaches

Darlene Wooten


The number of Americans reporting extreme stress has increased over the past six years. Prolonged exposure to stress has the potential of producing severe damage to the health of individuals. Pennebaker and Graybeal (2001) stated, “When people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about an emotionally significant event, there are numerous benefits in many domains (e.g., health, achievement, and well-being) result” (p. 1). Writing about extremely stressful situations has health and wellness benefits. In this study autoethnography and externalization were combined as a method to examine how feasible it might be for persons to employ the combined methods to process stressful life events. The externalization involved creating a persona (White & Epston, 1990). The personas represented the lived experiences of work and family. In addition, the externalization application was the backdrop for the theoretical concepts of hardiness, thriving, resilience, and posttraumatic growth. The feasibility of this method was explored through an analysis of the autoethnographer’s lived experiences of the externalization, where the researcher was also the autoethnographer-externalizer. As a result of the externalization, relevant themes emerged in the areas of Memory of Work and Family Events, Challenge Indicators, Management Indicators, Activity Persistence Indicators, Growth Indicators, and Positive Change Indicators. The researcher’s experience, and the themes that emerged from the data, provided evidence that applying the externalization to the autoethnographic process was feasible and suggests a methodological combination that might help others, including leaders, cope with the stress associated with traumatic events.