I love to write. With time alone and a blank piece of paper, I find that journaling gives me the space and freedom to do what for me is most necessary: give name to what I feel. I often recommend it to clients desiring to invest in themselves & their emotional well-being.
How is Journaling helpful?
I believe that journaling can provide insight through self-exploration. If we are to paint a picture of what our inner world looks like on any given day, we may witness a flood of different shapes & colors – a swirling mass of faces, places, worries, fears, hopes, and a plethora of varying thoughts splattered across the walls inside our minds. Some aspects of a person’s painting have been there for a while – years, maybe even decades. Other images are newer, even fuzzy and incomplete. As we go throughout our days, these objects come in and out of focus, at times rapidly appearing and disappearing as various events trigger changes in feeling & thought. In some moments, difficult emotions – feelings of confusion, pain, guilt, sadness, or fear are elicited by specific images and we often find ourselves pushing these away. Still, there are many parts of the painting which have been covered-up; yet despite being hidden, they have significant impact on the way we move and breathe.
In a sense, journaling entails carving out intentional room to visit the whole painting in an attempt to better understand… Journaling involves making sense of the ever-changing inner world of our hearts and minds by writing out whatever comes to mind. For many people, however, journaling seems daunting. I believe this may be due to its open-ended nature. Questions of How do I get started? & What should I write about? may prevent getting started. What I have discovered is releasing judment and opening myself up to the process – wherever it takes me on that particular day allows for the “dam to break” and the words to come. From my own experiences, here are some tips in beginning…
Three Tips in Getting Started:
(1) Make it Private. I believe the best self-exploration comes in feeling complete freedom to be honest. Unlike blogging for an online audience, writing a paper to be graded by a teacher, or planning a speech – journaling is purely for the writer. It is for you and you alone. This is not to say that you can’t share your findings later with trust friends if you so desire. Yet, I believe that engaging in the journaling process with the intention of it being purely for yourself allows for the unlocking of more deeply authentic emotional expression. In a big way, the point of this is to delete the “person reading over my shoulder” sensation that many of us have, which contains all of the expectations, “should’s” and “shouldnt’s” that oftentimes hold us back from acknowleding what we truly feel.
(2) Be as Creative as You Want (This isn’t for School). Many of us have strong associations with writing – we relate it to English class, papers, and grades. Journaling is wildly different. Maybe you need to write in the typical sentence format, but perhaps not. Some days you may find jumbled words, all caps, drawing pictures in the margins, and any combination of wording feels right. Try out different color pens/markers/colored pencils. The beauty of journaling is that it will never look the same from day to day largely because you never feel the exact same from day to day. This is your time, make it what you need it to be.
(3) Let Emotion Lead. A great advantage of the journaling process is getting in-touch with underlying emotion. A great question to begin your journaling time may simply be: How do I feel? Try writing this feeling word(s) at the top and begin there. Further questions may include: What are your feelings telling you? What images, faces, places come to mind with this feeling? How are these things linked? What does this mean for you? Through journaling – much like in therapy – we try to understand the meanings underneath the circumstances. This is different from much of life in which we are instructed to “keep our emotions in check” in order to function appropriately at work, in class, at home, in relationship, etc. Yet, feelings are utterly important and affect the way we live – whether we acknowledge it and like it or not. Journaling can be a way to wrestle with difficult realities in an honest and safe way.
Thanks for reading. Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.