There is something special about writing words onto a page, something helpful about releasing our inner thoughts and committing them to paper, especially when we are in pain. It is as though by this very act alone our mind is freed. Our thoughts no longer swim and chase each other around. There is definition and order to the chaos within our mind and the words on the page become revelatory as we seek to understand our own pain and heal from it.
The value of individuals recording their thoughts has been present throughout our history – there are many examples of this. One which springs to mind is Anne Frank’s diary which gave us an unforgettable and intimate window into the horrors of The Holocaust. But diaries and journals don’t need to become famous to have value. Therapists and counsellors have long espoused the benefits of diary/journal writing. They encourage their clients to embark on this action as a way of healing from, and making sense of, emotional distress. If you are wondering about its value, here are a few thoughts on writing a journal:
How to write a journal – the idea is to write a little every day, at a time that suits you. Write in a book which is specifically dedicated to this activity and, if possible, has pages which are not loose-leaf. The aim is to feel that this is a place of unbridled confession. The value of writing by hand, if you are able to, means that your thoughts issue forth and are not censored – as they are when writing at a keyboard. There are no ‘mistakes’ here, all words and thoughts are of value and have meaning.
What to write in a journal – anything and everything! As this is a fully private space anything can be put onto the page. So much of our day is spent keeping our feelings closed in and under control. This is where you can let out all that you feel: good, bad and ugly. Talk about your day, things that have happened, emotions you have felt, things said to you. When you are struggling with difficult feelings you can also consider writing to people. Write things down that you cannot say in person. Perhaps a person is no longer with you, or it is no longer possible to speak to someone to voice your pain. Or maybe you find uttering words face-to-face impossible. Pour the words and thoughts onto the page without planning or thought, just let them flow and let the pain and anger surface and have a voice. Also, your journal doesn’t just have to contain writing, diagrams can be useful. If, for example, you are struggling with a decision about something or want to figure out some options, creating a picture – mind mapping – can be really helpful.
Reflect on your journal writing – this is an important step in the process and shows why it is so useful to keep all of your thoughts recorded in one place. You can reflect daily, weekly or look back over time at the feelings you have had. Now that your pain finally has a legitimate voice: not hidden, not guarded, not sanitised, you can see how your feelings have changed over time. You can also analyse some of your thinking. It may be that some of your thoughts are wrong and some of the beliefs you have, about yourself and others, are incorrect. Seeing your views in print, acknowledging them, you now have a chance to challenge them. Having a private, yet permanent, record also serves as a reminder of things you have previously worked out but since forgotten – it’s surprising how often this happens.
Keep writing – it’s easy to get distracted and lose touch with ourselves but journal writing allows our thoughts and emotions free reign in a safe setting. If you have found the process of writing valuable then keep setting aside that small daily amount of time to keep on top of your feelings and allow an outlet for your emotions.
If you haven’t yet ventured into writing a journal it is something worth trying. If you are in therapy, your counsellor has undoubtedly suggested it as a useful tool for self-knowledge. Any old exercise book will do. Or perhaps you can find a beautifully bound book of empty pages which feels like a treasure to hold and look at. Begin to write a little of yourself onto the pages and see the value of this simple, yet sometimes life-changing, enterprise. Write out your pain, rather than hold it all inside of you, and see if your mind feels freer for the process.