Journaling, Writing, Whatever You Call It, It's The Best Self-Help Tool Out There
by Marcus Antebi
Article at a Glance:
All of the great philosophers wrote about their lives and ideas, as did a great many historical figures, individuals of note, and people from all walks of life throughout human history. And so should you!
Your body has a fantastic mechanical process to remove carbonic acid (which is a byproduct of cellular metabolism for movement such as exercise) from the bloodstream. The carbonic acid must get out of the blood, and oxygen must get in. So all humans have processes such as perspiration, urination, and defecation to remove toxins from the body.
Similarly, our body has mechanical processes that take place when we experience feelings. When we feel deep sadness we cry, we make facial expressions depending on how we feel, we change our body language, when amused we make noises with laughter, and at times we move our body in certain ways because we’re feeling something in particular.
These are some examples of how we express emotions. But during or after experiencing trauma we’re usually very hesitant to express our feelings about it. This is especially the case concerning trauma in early childhood and/or trauma that occurred in our family of origin. We witness and experience things that are painful, difficult, or abusive. We feel incredibly powerful emotions but we don’t necessarily feel safe to express them. We learn to shut down our crying and hold our anger in. An entire defense system is built around shutting down emotions to protect ourselves from the difficulty of those emotions. But a child needs encouragement and help to feel. Children need encouragement and explanations and help in learning how to describe their feelings.
One of the great mechanisms for releasing emotions is to communicate them through language by speaking with another human being. We are absolutely designed for this particular process. And as we are trying to recover in life we may not be able to find or express our feelings.
But just passively thinking about your own particular traumas may not be enough to discover what you need to about what happened in your life. You need to understand and analyze what experiences you had and what feelings about them may be trapped inside you.
Feelings can dissipate over time, but they can also latch their way into your thinking and make you become stuck in harmful physical and emotional behaviors, sometimes for your entire life. Our feelings will affect the way we think and they will affect the way we respond and react to situations going forward. We have to learn to express our trapped emotions, and we have to understand their sources. We must learn to understand the situations that caused them, especially those that were traumatic.
Talking with and listening to others is the most valuable way of getting in touch with feelings and learning to deal with them. But what does a person do if they’re alone? What does a person do if they shut down and they don’t know what they feel? What should a person do if they don’t have anyone to talk to?
They should write.
Writing is one of the most essential tools for recovering your emotions and letting them move through you. You take vague memories and abstractions that are in your head and put them on a piece of paper or on the screen of your laptop. This quickly crystalizes things. Then you can begin digging into your deepest feelings and determine their earliest connections. The more you write about a situation, the more you’re likely to find a feeling attached to it. Even if you can’t find a feeling attached to it, you can and should write about how you cannot feel.
This is the power of journaling—enabling you to determine your feelings, focus on them, and take steps to heal. That healing then makes you able to live a happier, healthier, and more productive life.
In 12 step recovery, one of the suggestions is to write about your life and then read what you’ve written to another person. It’s a very powerful step, especially if you continue to do it throughout your life.
Journaling does not have to consist of 1,000 page long essays. Perhaps you’re sitting by your computer working, and suddenly you have a feeling of anxiety. You can just write the word “anxiety” down.
Journaling could also be part of the process of writing your entire life story down and then sharing it with your best friend or therapist. If you do write your entire life story and it’s missing major pieces, writing to fill in the blanks is essential. This is because it’s too difficult to do all that work in your head.
Some people are terrified to share their emotions. A person asked to talk about feelings with a therapist might freeze at the idea because he or she wouldn’t know what to expect. Even extremely tough people may have deep, dark fears that if they experience certain emotions then they’ll die: This is related to things that happened to them during their childhood.
Many developed an unhealthy belief system from early childhood about what it means to feel. Too many children were told to be quiet at inappropriate times. Some children who complained and cried were told by their parents things such as “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to really cry about.” They were threatened. So, for many, the process of feeling became corrupted.
Our entire journey is a thought process. We need to learn new things. We have to teach ourselves, and we need to overcome barriers to moving forward as they present themselves in the form of improper handling of our own thoughts and emotions.
Journaling is an incredibly valuable tool. I strongly recommend that you do it as much as you can. And not just to chronicle one life event, but to do it throughout your entire life. And today it’s so easy to do it. Just open up a blank MS Word document and begin writing. Your computer will keep everything in chronological order for you automatically, and you can print it out if need be.
There are really only three things that will keep us from journaling. One is laziness. Another is fear of facing up to our own demons. The third thing is disbelief that the journaling will have any value.
None of those three things are good reasons to not take advantage of the great tool of journaling. Laziness and fear are character defects. Disbelief in something of great value is an inappropriate thought process.
If you’re reading this, you have a desire to improve your physical health. And by now you understand that doing that requires that you do all within your power to be mentally healthy as well.
Journaling will be of tremendous help to you as you do so.