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Welcome to Episode ONE in my Three part post series on Journaling your Way to Peace. This first post is foundational and it’s all about your mindset.
I used to hate journaling. I thought it was pointless. I already lived the experience, what’s the point of telling myself about what happened in writing? It seemed like a waste of time and so I didn’t do it. Then I started seeing a therapist again because of the anxiety and the fear of conflict and she told me in the first session that she wanted me to keep a journal. I didn’t roll my eyes because that would be rude. I definitely thought about it, though.
I did it anyway because I don’t like awkward. The first time I journaled, I amused myself when I wrote this:
“I don’t usually like journaling stuff like this because I don’t think it’s helpful but I feel a little better now that I’ve written it down so maybe I should rethink my journaling thing…”
I did rethink it. And I tried new strategies. The end result was finding a love for journaling I never knew I had. I will say though, I was right about the rehashing thing. That sucks. There are far better ways to journal.
I have been surprised to learn that some people have found journaling to be worse than simply non-effective. Some have found that journaling actually made them feel worse. Because of that, I started thinking about what makes journaling helpful vs harmful.
I discovered so much that I’ve had to break the material into three separate blog posts: the mindset shifts, the basic strategies, and the advanced tips. Make sure you don’t skip this one! The next two posts are built on these mindset changes.
Don’t just rehash
If you’ve ever been in a situation where you’ve ruminated so long that your brain feels like it’s stuck in a loop that it can’t get itself out of, you know why rehearsing the story of why you are upset is a bad idea. A few years ago, I had a really bad experience that left me sick. Every time I saw family and friends, they wanted to know what was wrong and every time I told the story again, I got a little sicker. I started having nightmares from rehearsing it so much.
Similarly, I find that it’s often not the best idea to focus your writing on the events that are happening, how horrible it is or how terrible the other people are who hurt you. While it may be true, you risk getting yourself buried in a hole that you can’t get yourself out of. Like I did. So, moral of this story, don’t spend your journaling rehashing. Instead, pay attention to your emotions, the sensations in your body, and other things you’ll learn from this series.
Approach your experience with a caring curiosity rather than shame or accusation
This shift in attitude is a huge reason that journaling is sometimes harmful. If we spend our time writing about our experience in a way that is shaming or serves to beat us up further, it will cause a spiral. Using an attitude of caring curiosity is a subtle shift with profound difference. It’s the difference between “Of course I’m struggling, I’m worthless and no one will ever love me” and “I’m struggling with feeling worthless and unlovable…that hurts and I wonder where I learned this feeling.” The shift is subtle but the difference is profound.
Shaming might have sounded like “I bet that’s why I worry about everyone and everything. I’m basically a door mat that knows everyone else is more important than I am because I’m completely worthless….” Eesh, that would sting. That’s shaming. Caring curiosity, for me, looked like this:
I wonder if this is also why I worry so much about other people’s emotions. Or at least a part of why I worry about them feeling sad, or hurt, or pain. Why I worry about whether they will experience shame or low self esteem or self criticism. I worry about it beyond your general “don’t bully people or intentionally cause them pain” principles. I do think this is connected. And I think there might be more to it, too.
Write with self compassion
Similar to the last point, writing with self compassion is a subtle shift that makes a profound difference. Allowing yourself to interact with your emotions and experiences with the same compassion with which you’d respond to a friend is the difference between “Of course he broke up with you, you’ll never be as good as that other girl!” and “It really hurts to lose a relationship that you cared about.Everyone experiences this–it doesn’t say anything bad about me that I experienced it, too” One is kicking a person when they’re down and the other is building that person back up.
A good rule of thumb is, if you can’t imagine speaking to your best friend the way you are talking to yourself, change the way you are talking to yourself. In writing, write about yourself the way you’d write about a friend. For me, that looked like this:
What about the kid in me? She deserves some grace, right? She was 14. She had no idea who she was talking to. She had no idea what was going on. The idea that she’d hurt someone was overwhelming an filled with shame. She would never have intentionally treated her friend that way. She cared about him!. When she realized what had happened, she immediately tried to right the mistake, She called him. She tried to apologize. She tried to explain the situation and she had to sit with shame and guilt, desperately wanting to fix something that she had no power to fix. She was no monster–it was by accident that this friend got hurt and it’s ok to forgive herself.
Validate and Encourage, Present and Future
This exercise is about bringing a validating perspective to the present moment. The idea behind it is to allow yourself to recognize the pain, validate it, then encourage yourself that it won’t be present forever, emotions come and go like waves. Below is an example from my own writing:
Right now….right now it’s the pit in my stomach, it’s the hysterical feeling on the inside that makes me want to jump out of my skin, run far away and hide from the world. Right now, it’s pain and suffering, it’s tears and nausea, feeling gross and ashamed.
One day….it will be freedom. It will be my answer. One day this past will no longer be my present. One day I will see myself stronger, bolder, assertive. One day, because I came through this, I will be the person I want to be, in part because of this. The moment right now, will not be my forever. One day this will be just another memory, no more, no less.
Why? Because there is always hope and healing for those who are willing to fight the good fight.
For now, I get myself through the day…
These were the mindset changes on which the next two posts are built!
Start practicing! Begin to incorporate these mindset changes into your journaling and pay attention to the experience it brings. I have round two coming next. Yes, that’s right…MORE ways to journal your way to peace. The next two posts are more practical strategies and techniques, so don’t miss it:
It’s coming to a blog near you (this one, duh!) soooooon! So make sure you tune in.
Also, drop me a comment to let me know how you are doing with these! Having any challenges or triumphs?