When I was a child I used to try and keep a dairy, it never lasted more than about a week! When I first trained in counselling, part of the training involved keeping a journal, a space for writing about the direct experiences that we have, and then seeking to explore why we experience things the way that we do. Over the years I have come to love this exercise. Unlike a diary journals are not supposed to just detail events, but rather what our emotions and thoughts are around them.
As an example I remember once being in a situation which involved a level of conflict. Like many people I can struggle with conflict. Through writing about this event however I found that I was able to work out what it is about conflict that I was seeking to avoid, and then learn to relate in more assertive, authentic ways in the future. Whilst I was aware of my dislike of conflict, through spending time writing about this I was able to focus on the difficult emotions, face myself and actively address this part of me.
Journalling works because it slows our brains down so that we can unpick what is actually going on for us without hiding from all of who we are. We are not generally good at being able to sit with difficult aspects of who we are without feeling things like guilt, shame, self recriminations and so on. Journalling allows us to compassionately look at the parts of us that we try and avoid, and so make conscious the more shadowy parts of ourselves. This allows us to accept all of who we are; those desires, fears, dreams and thoughts that we have which we see as not allowed can become part of how we learn to embrace life.
Practically Journalling involves having a secure place to write for about ten minutes a day. This could be a secure computer or a diary that you can be sure no one else will be able to get hold of. The more private you keep your journal the more honest you can be in it. I have found that writing toward the end of the day allows you to focus on the events of the day, and that writing at the beginning of the day can allow you to focus on your deeper sense of who you are, setting you up for living the day fully.
To write, whilst there are no rules, it can help to literally just write. it doesn’t need to be grammatically correct, just write about wherever your mind wanders. this is not supposed to be coherent; our minds don’t often stick to coherent narratives. Instead allow your mind to express what it sits comfortably with. You will find that past issues will often arise and that you will be able to link past experiences to the hear and now. At times you may find this frustrating, like you are ‘not getting anywhere’ – this is good! write about where you want to get too, why you become frustrated; everything that you feel is valid and can be helpful to a greater understanding. This way of writing also allows you to process difficult events, such as loss, and then be able to track your journey through this. Over time the journal can become a space where you know that your most personal experiences can be safely explored in a compassionate environment where you wont be critical of yourself, or if you are critical of yourself, you will be able to explore why you are attacking yourself. There are lots of ways of structuring your journal. I find that I have four different sections:
- Daily journal
- Important events (a space for more detailed reflection on whatever you feel is important)
- Important people (a space for exploring your relationships with significant people in your life)
- Poetry/drawing (I find that using other ways of exploring aspects of who I am such a through writing poetry can sometimes be more helpful with some strong emotions. As an example, if you struggle with shame, then try drawing it, or writing a poem about shame – this allows for a greater distance between you and the issue and more perspective).
There are various books that I have found over the years to be helpful. a good introduction though would be:
‘Journalling basics – journal writing for beginners’ – Lisa Shea
For information about the counselling I offer please feel free to visit my website on: http://www.richardpicklescounselling.co.uk