Today we are going to explore therapeutic journaling, or what I like to call, self-talk. It is a practice where we dive deep into an experience we are in and how it is affecting us emotionally, mentally, even physically.
Note: This practice is not a replacement for therapy.
Therapeutic journaling to me has always been a form of self-talk. We are already talking to ourselves all the time, but in this practice, along with processing an emotional experience, we are simply being intentional about it, without any of the garbage talk we often find ourselves in.
Instead of saying, “I’m not good enough” all day, journaling can help you to get into the practice of asking yourself, “why am I not feeling good enough today?” It is a safe space for you to explore your feelings and the reasoning behind them.
When I was a little girl, my parents bought me my first diary. It was so pretty. It was pink and it had a heart shaped lock. I remember the key being so tiny, but obviously the right size for the tiny fingers of a small girl. I would write everything in that diary.
Dear diary, Shawn looked at me today and smiled. I think he likes me!
Dear diary, my best friend and I got in a fight, my life is OVER!
As a young teenager, my dear diary days changed from childhood musings, to deeper shares. During my very first counselling session, I was introduced to therapeutic journaling. I couldn’t express my emotions. Or rather, I didn’t know how to. I didn’t know why I felt the way I felt, let alone how to put words to them to a counsellor sitting in the chair across from me, asking me why I wasn’t eating.
At that time, I was struggling to talk about my eating disorder. I didn’t want anyone to be disappointed in me. I didn’t want to be seen. I didn’t want to look like I didn’t have my life together. I didn’t want to ask for help and not receive it. So I stuffed it all down.
That counsellor told me all about therapeutic journaling. He told me to write out my thoughts and feelings, no matter what they were. And write I did. When I felt it, or thought it, I would write it.
It felt so emotionally and mentally freeing to express all the things I wished I could say, but didn’t know how to, or didn’t feel safe to. Dear diary became like a faithful friend I knew I could always trust.
Until one day…
I turned away from this practice when someone close to me read my diary. You can imagine how angry and violated I felt. It was as though they had read my therapists file and learned all my inner secrets that were meant just for me. The worst part was that they used my own written words as weapons against me.
I tried to write in my journal after that, but it became filtered, fluffy and meaningless because I was so afraid that someone would read it and use it to hurt me again. It no longer had the same freeing affect anymore. It no longer felt safe.
Thankfully that would change in my early thirties, during my life coach training course. After sharing this story in class, so many other women admitted that they too had the same fear and they either filtered what they wrote, not being honest, or they just didn’t do it at all.
A few of us made a pact that day that we would start writing again, with openness, trusting that our words, our secrets, our stories, our thoughts, our feelings and our emotions would be safe in the pages of our journals.
We all went out during break and bought new journals, with the intention that it would be filter-free so we could experience the emotional and mental freedom we desired from using journaling as a therapeutic self-talk practice.
We were women from our twenties to sixties all wanting to express ourselves in an honest and safe space. It was such a beautiful experience to go through with them.
Once again it felt like my journal had become an entrusted confidant – my little black book therapist is how I often refer to it.
I write almost daily now and it has become the place where I express my emotions, acknowledge toxic thoughts and limiting beliefs that are present, and safely work through experiences and feelings, until I’m ready to talk about them, if I need to. Sometimes I don’t need to.
It is often where I get to the root of why I am upset about something, whether I am feeling sad, confused, stressed, angry, anxious, or worried, dear diary is there. Sometimes a simple entry is all that I need to flow through and release the negativity that is whirling around in my head.
Writing out my feelings is my way of releasing all the emotions that I sometimes may not want to say out loud because I need more time to process how I feel to make sense of it all. When I reach out for support, when I need it, I often find myself saying, “let me share what I wrote in my journal.”
Self-talk in our journals is a way of getting to know ourselves, and experiences we go through, at a deeper level. It is difficult to do that sometimes when we don’t quiet our minds long enough, or shut out the external noise so that we can fully know who we are, what we stand for, what our beliefs are, why we are feeling what we are feeling, etc.
Not only is your journal a place for releasing your negative emotions, it is also a beautiful place for sharing your desires, dreams, goals and intentions for the day – a place to connect to your inner guide. You can write a question that you have, take a few deep breaths and write the intuition that comes through.
Journaling, or self-talk, whatever you want to call it, can show you where you may need support, or help you to understand your thoughts, feelings and emotions.
So to begin, if you are going through an experience that is bringing up difficult emotions, like anger, or sadness or depression, reflect on it.
Begin by writing the emotion you are experiencing. For example: “I’m angry that…” and reflect on the entire experience that is making you angry. Write out everything you need to say, even the things you would never say out loud. Write until you can’t write anymore.
I always like to end this particular practice with a plan on how I am going to let these emotions flow through me, so I don’t take up permanent residence in them. I will take myself through some self-talk on what action I need to take.
What can I do?
What do I want to do?
Where do I need support?
Who can I talk to about this?
How can I react and respond in a way that doesn’t make the situation worse?
And my favourite question, that is not new here: What do I need emotionally and mentally that can support me through this?
Self-talk journaling is such a great way to weed and feed through thoughts in your mind and the emotions you’re experiencing, so that is why I share it and speak so highly of this simple yet very powerful tool. I include journal prompts in every single workshop, in most of these shares, all my blogs and sometimes even in the podcast. I just feel like it can make you feel safer and more expressive when you start with you and the page in front of you.
You have to put those emotions somewhere, otherwise, if you keep them inside and stuff them down, they will fester and grow and you become a pressure cooker. What I know about pressure cookers is that they always need to release. It can be a steaming, quick burning release where you and those around you get burnt, or, it can be a slow release where you feel and process your feelings in a healthy and supportive way.
This may not be the tool that you use regularly, or it may not resonate with you at all. Both are okay. If it is something you want to try, all that is required is a pen and paper and a quiet place for you to reflect. There is no right or wrong way to do this practice. Simply free-write, letting the words flow, filter free, allowing what is inside to speak freely, openly without judgement, and honestly.