To write in a journal or not to write in a journal, that is the question. Do you dread writing down your deepest thoughts for fear someone might find your journal and read it? If so, you are exactly like most people! I’d like to share a strategy that will respect your privacy while also facilitating the hugely therapeutic process of journaling. I recognize that writing isn’t for everyone, and that it’s important to find what works for you.
The Reason to Write: Emotional Coping
The bubbling up of strong emotions tends to leave people feeling out of control, over-whelmed, and flooded. During these moments, one’s immediate reaction may be to shut down the emotions causing them to feel that way. We do this in all kinds of ways – some healthy and some super unhealthy. Coping well, and healing from trauma, is about being with the emotions and the message those emotions are providing in a more conscious and titrated way. Writing those heavy thoughts down is one way to get them out of your head, see them more objectively, and process some of the emotion connected to them.
Always use Two Journals
Journal 1 – The Dumping Journal
Your dumping journal can be any notepad or piece of paper. What you write on isn’t important, because once you dump the thoughts, you will be destroying the page. A dumping journal can be used to work through strong emotions, such as anxiety, anger, and grief. When you feel the pull of strong emotions, write about it. Literally dump it from your head onto the page – write it, draw it, scribble it, paint it. Write about the situation and about what’s stirring up for you.
Tip: If you sit down to journal and no words are coming – keep writing. Put your pen to paper and just write anything that comes to you. Within a few minutes the flow of thought will start to pour out onto the page.
This journal is called a dumping journal because we dump out the nagging emotions and thoughts onto page. Once complete, feel free to review what you have written, and then destroy the page. Shred it, burn it (safely) – ensure there is no record. The therapy isn’t in keeping what you write down, it’s about getting it out of your head and onto paper so you can work through it. The dumping journal isn’t to be kept because it’s not a reflection of who you truly are – it’s the angry, sad, traumatized, frightened, disorganized, annoyed, and vulnerable parts of you that are simply finding a voice. Each page gets destroyed after it’s been created in order to maintain the privacy of your healing process.
Journal 2 – The Healing Journal
The healing journal is the one that you will keep, so take some time to find a beautiful book to use. On any given day you may want to look back through this journal for strength, motivation, and a reminder of what sustains you. The healing journal is the one that you will to use to document all the good stuff. Some examples include:
Here is how it works:
Whenever you have finished writing in your dumping journal, turn to the healing journal and write something positive. Turn towards gratitude, acknowledge your worth, connect with your peaceful place. Perhaps what you want to do differently tomorrow, or something that sustains you, or motivates you, or all the examples from your past that have demonstrated your ability to persist.
If you have written or processed something pretty heavy in the dumping journal, you may want to do something symbolic that represents a clear division between processing hurts and daily life. Taking a shower or washing your hands can be symbolic of washing it away, have a cup of tea do 10 burpees – whatever works to better enable your brain to recognize the dumping is complete and you are now letting go and returning to the present moment.
Tip: If you journal at bedtime, and then have difficulty settling the thoughts as you try to fall asleep, gently remind yourself that you have already “done the work” for the day and that it’s now your ‘time off’. Pull your peaceful place image back in as often as needed, or use a bedtime story app such as Insight Timer or Calm.com to settle in for sleep.
Susan Guttridge is a trauma-informed Master level Counsellor with the clinical designation of Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCPA). She has 20+ years experience providing individual and group therapy.