Q There are people who keep diaries and write in them often. I have been intrigued by this, but haven’t done much of it. From time to time you recommend that people do some journaling to help them sort things out. Can you say more about the value of writing down personal experiences and what are some good ways of exploring oneself in this way?
A Yes! I think the practice of writing your experiences on a regular basis is an invaluable tool. We all have an inner life of feelings, thoughts, unconscious experiences, memories, dreams and aspirations. Our minds and hearts are constantly thinking, solving and feeling. If we really paid attention to our inner lives, we would realize that we have an entire world waiting to be discovered.
Writing in a journal is a powerful tool to unlock our inner world. It is private and you can write anything you feel, think, remember or imagine. However, it’s not the same as ruminating because it is intentional, takes deliberate shape into words and sentences, forces one to make choices in what gets written and it is externally manifested, on paper or a computer screen. This forms a different relationship with the expressed material. Such writing engenders self-reflection and actually helps you process your experiences.
Writing without an agenda, or free writing invites hitherto unknown personal aspects to be revealed. This is an excellent exercise for someone who is very rational and controlled in his or her thinking and viewpoint. The writer discovers layers of inner realities and perceptions.
If a person can tolerate feeling confused and disoriented in this way, it can broaden the mind and help become more sensitive to other differing viewpoints.
Simple exercises of writing down pros and cons of a decision can help you work with your indecision or confusion about a choice. Engaging in a written dialogue with opposing or different parts of yourself will draw out each opinion within you more fully so that you can clearly see how you feel, think and behave from these viewpoints. If you find yourself obsessing about a misunderstanding or conversation, writing can help you go deeper.
For example if you’re feeling hurt or offended by someone you care about, writing about your feelings can start you on the process of understanding why you got hurt.
First ask yourself, “What did I hear this person tell me?” Second, “How did it feel to hear that?” As you write, feel these feelings. Sometimes it is difficult to do this without the presence of a trusting person. Third, “Does this feeling or incident remind me of past experiences of being hurt?” After you jot down those memories, ask yourself how you have learned to protect yourself from these challenging memories or experiences? This will greatly assist you in getting closer to the core of your pain.
The last step could be to have a conversation with the person who said some of these things and share with them what came up for you when you heard he or she speak to you.
By knowing and owning your experience you don’t move into blame. Instead it becomes an honest sharing of triggered emotions. This helps develop intimacy with yourself and another.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D. is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. (650)325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com.