From PHN Issue 28, Spring 2016
There are many ways to keep a journal. Because your journal is your own, you can set the guidelines of what it will be. You can use a blank notebook for your journal, or you can keep some blank pages together. Whatever way you choose to keep your own journal is the right way to do it.
I use my journal to develop a deeper understanding of my internal landscape. For me, writing is an avenue of healing and setting the foundation of how I want to feel about myself. Journaling creates a window where I can look inward and attempt to find out what matters. When I write, I hold onto a thought long enough to untangle what it means and where it came from. I put my experience into language, which makes recovering from trauma a goal that I can reach.
Writing to heal
My journal’s purpose is for healing. As someone who consistently has self-destructive thoughts, I designed my journal to be a place where I could challenge those thoughts and explore where they came from. Sometimes, I can only write when I am negatively emotionally charged. Looking back on those entries, I can see patterns unfold and reflect on what was going on.
My first entry in my journal was a list of all the reasons it was okay for me to end an abusive relationship. This helped me move toward healing. I was also able to figure out how a toxic, negative relationship had impacted me over a long time. I was able to excavate some buried truths and memories that I had, for years, struggled to make sense of. I could define my own reality, name what had happened, and understand thoughts that were tangled up in trauma. Writing was a tool to help me navigate the mental barrier between guilt and self-preservation. I was able to draw strength from the exercise of validating my emotions and experience. That first entry built the foundation of what would later become a journal that was all about growth and self-love.
Starting your journal
Writing in a journal can show you who you are, where you have been, what you are feeling, and how you got there. You don’t need to worry about spelling, punctuation, or what other people may think of you. If you’re feeling stuck, below are some tips of how to start your own journal.
- It can be helpful to make a commitment to yourself for how long you want to be writing, whether it’s 5 minutes or an hour. Set an amount of time that feels right for you.
- Just start writing, even if you feel stuck. One thing that can be helpful is writing about why you feel you can’t write and what’s going on. Once you have something started, there are infinite directions it could go.
- You don’t need to write any type of way. You can write using lists, or short sentences, or long sentences. You don’t even have to use sentences. Your journal can be filled with words, phrases, rhymes, poems, lyrics, drawings, comics—anything you want!
- Make your journal your own. If you have a notebook, you can draw or write inside the cover. Even if you just write your name, you are marking your journal as your own.
- When you are done with an entry, it can be helpful to read it over and see if anything has changed for you since you started writing. You can think about how you feel after reading it and write that down as well.
- Date each entry, so you can keep track of the chronological order of your thoughts.
- Keep and re-read what you write. Even when you don’t like what you wrote in the past, it can give you insight into how you have grown and patterns (situations that repeat themselves in your life) you might not have been aware of.
Questions to get you started:
Sometimes I ask myself a question and then give myself time to try and answer it. Below are some questions that I have found helpful:
- What parts of my identity do I draw strength from?
- How is a situation affecting me?
- What do I need to heal from? What will that take? Who does that involve?
- What do I want to outgrow?
- What guilt and shame do I want to free myself from? What is the source of these feelings?
- What are my intentions and goals for the next year? How will I accomplish them, and why are they important?
- The reasons it is okay that I made _____ decision.
- What promises to myself have I broken? Why did this happen, and how can I prevent it from happening again?