Journaling: Writing What You Feel & Three Tips in Starting

painting“Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” – Carl Jung

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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?

paintingI 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.

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Thanks for reading. Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

The Power of Boundaries for the “Highly Sensitive”

Boundaries 2Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own & take responsibility for gives me freedom.” – Henry Cloud in the book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes & How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. [ A book I highly recommend. ]

If you are like me, the word boundary may feel a bit worn-out. Similar to being repeatedly told not to worry,  we have all been directed – likely countless times- that establishing boundaries with friends, family members, and co-workers is important. Most of us have experienced hearing more than a few of the warnings below, including…

“Don’t be a doormat and let them run all over you.”

“Stand up for yourself!”

“People will take advantage of you, if you let them.”

“If you give them an inch, they’ll try and take a mile.”

“Sometimes you just need to show tough love.”

I find myself cringing a bit when I read this list above. While the deeper message holds true [ setting boundaries is important in protecting ourselves ],  these statements sound a bit cynical, carrying almost a sense of  “us-versus-them” attitude.  For many of us – and especially those of us who tend towards being highly sensitive – these challenges can leave us feeling stuck in the fear of hurting those we love and care for. Perhaps the idea of defining boundaries feels like a daunting/near-impossible task as a result.  And this is exactly why I believe boundaries get a bad rap

Messages like the ones listed above may mistakenly teach us that boundaries represent “walls to keep the enemy out”, promoting an almost-aggressive and certainly defensive mindset.  However, as revealed by the portion of the book Boundaries quoted at the beginning, relational boundaries are not mean or a threat to others. Instead boundaries that encourage emotionally healthy living focus less on the actions of others and more on what your individual needs and capabilities are [ “knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for…”]. Valuable boundaries do not box us in, and neither do they entail rejecting the people in our lives. Rather, the opposite is true. Healthy boundaries mentally & emotionally set us free, allowing us to not merely survive but thrive personally & in connection with others.

“Boundaries are a part of self care. They are healthy, normal, & necessary.” ~Doreen Virtue

The Highly Sensitive (aka “Feelers”)

According to the Myers & Briggs Foundation, those with a preference for  Feeling (over Thinking) as a function for making decisions tend towards believing,  “I can make the best decisions by weighing what people care about and the points-of-view of persons involved in a situation. I am concerned with values and what is the best for the people involved. I like to do whatever will establish or maintain harmony.”

Establishing and sticking-to relational boundaries can present more of a challenge for the highly sensitive, or what the Myers & Briggs Foundation would define as “Feelers.” I can say this because, well, I am one.  Being sensitive to the needs, values, and emotions of those around us can be a beautiful gift and tremendous benefit; however, pitfalls include potentially loosing sight of “where I end and someone else begins” [ Boundaries ].  As a defining feature of “Feelers,” such sensitive persons are more inclined to allow the reactions of others to influence the choices they make. This presents problems when we notice the following tendencies developing:

  • Inability to say ‘No’ to requests, even when physical, emotional, & mental resources have been exhausted.
  • Sacrificing personal [ and reasonable ] goals out of a fear of the reactions of others.
  • Moving past healthy expressions of empathy and taking-on the responsibility of others’ decisions & problems.
  • Failing to structure personal ‘re-charging’ time into one’s day, in order to regain emotional & physical energy. [ And this involves more than merely time sleeping ].
  •  Refusing to notify close friends and family when in need of support & help.

And if you have fit one or most of these criteria at some point in your life [ perhaps even now ], you are not alone. When I consider a man or woman described by the bullet points above, I get an image of a water pitcher.  The pitcher of water continuously pours without stopping to re-fill.  After a period of time, it simply runs dry.  I don’t know about you, but when I am thirsty, I get cranky, frustrated, and even a bit resentful of those around me.  I may even expect others to magically know my pitcher is dry and understand how I am in need, without voicing my emptiness.  Over time, my anger & anxiety may build under the surface, erroding away my peace.  Yet who is in charge of re-filling my water pitcher?  Who is responsible for creating (or not creating) boundaries in my personal, relational, & professional life?

Boundaries = Advocating for My Needs & Respecting Yours:

How do boundaries set us free? If we establish wise boundaries in our lives – from how often we check our email, to the major decisions we make with our children and spouses – we can find ourselves leaving behind unneccesary and damaging feelings of guilt, frustration, & disappointment. And this is where I believe “Feelers” get stuck.  The highly sensitive may fear that advocating for needs appears selfish and is a sign of not caring for others. Yet, nothing is further from the truth. By taking care of myself, I enable my “water pitcher” to re-fill. I am my best for others when I am emotionally and physically healthy and strong. Putting in place boundaries is a form of self-care. It means we appreciate and respect who we are: human beings, rather than perfect beings.

So, how do you re-fill your heart, mind, and spirit? And how are you respecting & loving yourself by drawing lines and acknowledging your limits?

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

 

Recognizing Yourself as a Friend

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I love this quote (left) by Elizabeth Gilbert, an award-winning fiction and non-fiction writer.  I believe it to be an often-dismissed yet critically important reminder.

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about accepting and loving oneself, entitled: Being Kind To Yourself [ Shaking Off Comparison].  In it, I discussed the common struggle of negative self-talk & self-degradation in the light of not meeting our own highly-set expectations.  In that post I also asked this question: Are you as kind to yourself as you are to your family members, your friends, co-workers, classmates, and even strangers? In other words, do you offer-up to yourself the same kindness you freely give to others?

Sadly, for many the answer is no…

In this post I wanted to continue-on in this important topic of how we treat ourselves. Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote brings up an important question we should all ask: Am I a friend to myself?

Perhaps we should begin with defining friendship…

friend: (1) a person with whom one knows, likes, and trusts; (2) a person with whom one is allied in a struggle or cause; a comrade

This definition is in no way ground-breaking.  True, genuine friends see you – all of you. Friends know and adore your funny sense of humor, and laugh at your corny jokes as well as the stories you’ve told three times already. Close friends can see and admire your unique personality and way of being – your strengths and talents. Perhaps most importantly, true friends recognize your rough spots – your mistakes and challenges – and fully embrace you regardless. Through the thick and the thin, they are there with you: companions, loyal comrades.

The question, then, is: Do we embrace, cherish, and celebrate our own unique personality, abilities, and passions? Furthermore, can we recognize our own rough spots and embrace and allow ourselves grace regardless? Are we as loyal and compassionate to ourselves as we can be to the friends we love and cherish so dearly?

Returning back to the quote by Gilbert (above), I am struck by the words “in an unguarded moment.” What comes to mind when you read this? For me, I imagine a very young child spinning carefree in his parents’ backyard. In the summer heat, mom and dad have turned on the outdoor sprinkler for relief and he is now skipping back and forth in nothing but a now-drooping diaper. His smile stretches from ear to ear, covering his small face as his contagious laughter fills the air and warms the heart of his parents. He lives completely in the moment – entirely occupied by the coolness of the streaming water and the feeling of his bare feet in the green grass below him.  He lets out a high-pitch squeal as he jumps over the sprinkler head – running now as fast as his little legs will take him. How can he be anything but unguarded & unashamed in this moment? How can he be anything other than his own trusted friend?

And most of us can think back to these type of moments in our own lives – before designer clothes, cliques, GPA’s or career aspirations every mattered. Before we so quickly measured others up and ranked ourselves “accordingly”, looking for some defect in them to be satisfied with ourselves. Before we were damaged by the careless words of others, which we buried in the moment but left long-lasting scars. Before the world became tough so we got tough right back – built some walls, placing guardrails along the exterior of our heart and caution signs near the soft spots in our minds. Before  we turned against ourselves – no longer seeing ourselves as a friend but rather as a let-down, a failure, or possibly a desperate work-in-progress. Before all of that – we once upon a time saw that it was okay when we fell down because it only meant that we were just like everyone else: human.

Can we return to that child, that once-unguarded person who loved himself  and enjoyed his own company unashamedly? I believe we can… this time different, of course. Perhaps we are wiser now and sure, appropriate boundaries should be in-place. After all, the world can still be mean and circumstances of life can feel like ever-changing waves.  However, maybe we can begin letting ourselves in – giving ourselves a break and whispering “it’s okay” when we feel hurt and have had a bad day. Because it is okay. It is okay when you cry, and it is okay when you feel angry. It does not necessarily mean that you are wrong or a failure – but merely reflects that  you are a human with thoughts and emotions. And that is not only okay – it is healthy that your heart beats and you experience emotion.

How can you be a friend to yourself? Possibly by treating yourself as you treat your best friend…with understanding, compassion, and free of expectation of perfection. My prayer is that these words give hope and peace to those in need today.

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.