Sometimes it is hard to know where to begin the journey of recovery from traumatic and other difficult experiences, such as abuse, rejection, death, betrayal, abandonment, disaster, loss, or some other type of disturbance that occurs in our lives. There is, however, one tool that is always available, and for the most part, can be used at any time. This tool is the journal.
Why is journaling so powerful? There are many reasons that journaling can be powerful. One is that we find our voice in our journal. We allow ourselves to speak the truth, our truth. As we tell our stories, we can feel. As we feel, we release our blocked emotions that contribute to dissociation, anxiety, and depression. We become free as we live out our lives by speaking the truth – even speaking it on paper.
Often times when people suffer from traumatic events or hurts in their lives they may become shocked, or numb to the experience. This feeling (or rather, lack of feeling) can become fixated as people get “stuck” in their ability to process through their emotions. One way to get out of the stuck-ness is to take some type of action to break the emotional inertia. Writing can do just that. Writing uses both sides of our brains and helps us to integrate blocked emotions.
Journaling does not have to only involve a narrative, nor does it only have to involve emotional experiences. Another useful approach to journaling is to practice taking time to write our experiences physically – sensations, images, impulses, intuitions, places of heaviness or tenseness, etc. Taking time to write about all of the “felt” experiences of an encounter with someone can help us to get in touch with our “implicit” selves.
Our culture has conditioned us to process life cognitively. This is not bad, it is just not whole. Journaling as a tool for healing can work best when we feel at an implicit level. Becoming aware of not only our thoughts and feelings, but also our intuitions, somatic (physical) responses, and other implicit experiences can help us become fully conscious of what we are experiencing and what we need to heal.
Bonnie Badenoch, the compassionate therapist states, “All our relational circuitry is rooted in the right hemisphere. The left hemisphere reprocesses information but it doesn’t have this core relational circuitry rooted there.” Journaling can help people to “integrate” the two hemispheres of the brain, as well as the emotional parts of the brain with the cognitive processing parts. This is what the term “integration” is all about.
Here are some practical steps you can take to incorporate journaling into your everyday life. First, begin by having a notebook, journal, or any other type of paper on hand. I also think that art is a great practice to use in journaling, so I would recommend that you not only have a pen or pencil handy, but that you also have some type of art supplies, like colored markers, crayons, or colored pencils.
Next, set aside a time to write each day. If you aren’t intentional about this part of the process, it will rarely, if ever, happen. You can write “in the moment” as well, but, in order to incorporate a habit of journaling, time must be scheduled in to your day. Not only do you need time, but you also need space – alone. Figure out where in your life you have a place to go where you can be alone with your thoughts.
Once the place and time has been established, begin the process. It is simple. Begin by asking yourself three questions and writing your answers:
- What am I most concerned about right now?
- How am I feeling emotionally about this?
- What sensations do I feel in my body?
Use descriptive words, not evaluative or judgmental words when writing. For instance, instead of saying, “I know I shouldn’t be feeling this way,” or “I am bad;” write descriptions, “I feel empty and hopeless and sad,” or “I am so excited!” Don’t judge how you feel, just describe how you feel. Use as many adjectives as you can – dark, bright, lively, happy, etc.
When journaling, you are best served by doing so at a holistic level. Writing and drawing together, and utilizing imagery, are very effective means for processing underlying thoughts and feelings. Once you have established the ability to answer the three above questions on paper, you can incorporate other types of exercises in your journal time.
Using imagery by drawing is a very effective healing tool. Draw your emotions. Ask yourself to draw your anger, your shame, your rage, etc. Draw the different parts of yourself that are at odds, or draw the parts of yourself that are stuck or hurt. Ask your emotions to draw you a picture. Invite your inner child to paint. Be creative.
It’s your journal and it’s your process, do what comes to mind. There will come a point when you will realize you’re finished for the time being and you can put your journal down and go about your day. If you want to go a step further, you can invite someone to be a partner in healing, someone who does their own journaling as well, and you can set up a weekly meeting where you can come together and discuss what you’ve learned throughout the week from your journaling, and if you’re feeling very brave, you can share with each other some of the work you’ve done. After all, healing comes in healthy connections with others.