Part 1: How I’ve Benefitted From Therapy So Far
Almost a decade ago now, I wrote about how you can Save $20,000 on Therapy by Buying a $20 Journal. To this day, I still hold the same position as I did back then in how journaling can help you reduce mental clutter, increase your self-knowledge, and potentially make you a whole lot happier with yourself. Especially if you’re upfront and honest in what you write in your journal.
Despite the tongue in cheek title of that blog post, though, I wasn’t actually arguing that you can replace therapy entirely solely by journaling. It was more so clickbait for a simpler lesson: that there are cost effective alternatives to therapy if you’re right on money like I was back then. Hence, buying a journal and doing the work all by yourself!
So after several jobs, a few entrepreneurial attempts, and many dollars later, I have given myself the honour and privilege of going to therapy—just like I’ve been wanting to since around the time of that original post (2014)—and I’ve got some insights I’d like to share with all of you.
There’s No Better Therapy Than Therapy
No amount of drugs, alcohol, or any other distractions will ever cure you from whatever pain and trauma you may hold within you. If you are wrought with grief, sadness, and despair, these are things you need to confront head on or they will persist in the background, pervading your very existence at every turn. You can mask the symptoms of these things, but like the nine headed hydra, you cut one head off, another will regrow in its place. Your pain needs to be confronted at the root, not the surface.
Even if you have good friends and family who ask you the right questions, and even give you all the unconditional empathy you need to feel validated, it will not rival the benefits that therapy can provide. I had the misconception that that’s all that therapy would be: I sit down and cry about my problems, then my therapist will pat me on the back and say “sorry to hear that,” ask me about my childhood to link a trauma from my past with a certain behaviour in the present, then it’s, “see you next week!”
On the contrary, a good therapist should also challenge your thoughts and beliefs about yourself, as well as your life circumstances so that you can cognitively reframe all these things in a healthy way. One that is as free as from your emotional bias as possible with some sense of objectivity that doesn’t weigh you down.
Sure, the empathetic moments are still there from time to time, but in my experience with therapy the past five months, I’ve found that the best sessions are the ones that challenged me to rethink my positions on love, life, and relationships so that I am better equipped at seeing how things actually are. Or at best, how things might actually be, since there’s no way to achieve true objectivity on a situation. This way, I can emotionally detach, healthily I must add, from certain situations that were causing me grief, and learn how not to get so attached to my own emotional bias.
A good therapist challenges you in a fair and helpful way. A way that is meant to guide you and question yourself without being judged or shamed for whatever dark deep secrets you may admit to in any of your sessions.
Not in that toxic way I have experienced from people who I thought were my friends, who I later realized were just be a bunch of concern trolls. You know the kind. They put on the air of “helping” you by challenging your perceptions, using your past history as a way to explain away why you’re so deficient now, but really they’re just finding a roundabout way to blame you for all your problems.
Even if it’s true, that you are the root of your own problems, that should never be thrown in your face to humiliate you. If you haven’t experienced this before, then count your lucky stars.
Offloading the Emotional Weight Off Your Shoulders
I started going to therapy at a time in my life where I felt drained from sacrificing myself for other people’s benefit. So many of my conversations would start with people crying to me about whatever problems they were facing and I would lend an empathetic ear, ask a few open ended questions, and just be there for these people. On the inverse, there were others who I also occasionally came to for emotional comfort on the offbeat chance I remembered to take care of myself and needed a helping hand with that.
In fact, for a lot of my adult life, I have spent in trying to form deep connections through this practice of shared pain and giving and getting as much unconditional empathy as I could. While this approach is still admirable even in hindsight, I’ve been woken up to the harsh reality that unloading your darkest deepest secrets with people, and expecting them to do the same, can lead to a lot of unhealthy relationships if not monitored correctly.
This doesn’t mean keep to yourself completely or never care about anyone else again, but learn to respect other people’s boundaries and set your own while you’re at it because not everyone should be an open book like this. There’s a time to share dark and deep secrets, but it sure as hell isn’t all day everyday because at some point, these kinds of friendships become unstable and too dependent on whether or not someone is troubled enough to help, let alone keep around.
Yep. That can happen sometimes. Friendships can definitely be formed in shared pain, as can romantic relationships, but that should not be the entire basis for any of these relationships since the whole point of unloading your pain is to eventually live a happy and fulfilling life. You can’t do that if there’s no measure for improvement and all you’re doing is using each other for free therapy that only ends up being a parody of the real thing.
So now that I’ve invested in an objective party to listen to me talk about my problems for an allotted amount of time every couple weeks, I no longer feel the need to burden other people with my problems unless it directly involved them or I know they have some experience in something similar and can actually help me. It’s very rare, but I will occasionally seek help from others outside of my therapist and myself when I really need it, which thankfully is not too often anymore.
Likewise, when it comes to people coming to me with their problems, as per my therapist’s suggestion, I should only do it if I’m happy enough to listen, which means I have to have had ample time to nurture myself properly before I can help anybody else.
Think of an airplane during extreme turbulence: you need to put on your own oxygen mask on first before you try and save anybody else. It’s like this in life because you cannot give what you do not have. So if you do not have self love, you’ll have no love to give to others, only a cheap imitation of it because you’re too drained to be authentic.
Such was my life last year in 2021.
So go to therapy, folks, as to help reduce the emotional baggage in which you might be coming into social interactions with, as well as become better able to handle the emotional baggage of others if you happen to be in the crossfire of it. But for the most part, try your best to seek healthy relationships based on fun, encouragement, and inspiration rather than the endless sharing of pain. There are groups for that.
Shedding Emotional Crutches
On top of over sharing my problems with people, and them doing the same for me, there were other things I used to use to distract myself from my problems. So while I did use other people to distract me from myself, I’ve also used alcohol and marijuana to cope with my emotions. Hell, I’ve even used work as an emotional crutch, both conventional work and my own business.
And while it’s not bad to partake in any substances in moderation, engaged empathetic relationships cautiously, or work hard at your job, using any of these things to cope with your emotions can have disastrous results. These can all be wonderful things to experience if engaged with when you’re free of emotional turbulence, because otherwise you can grow dependent on them to make you feel better in the short term rather than solving your problems for the long term benefit.
In fact, my dependence on marijuana is something my therapist challenged me on. Even if it is legal here in Ontario, it doesn’t make it not dangerous. I’m not trying to make a case about whether it should be legal or illegal, or even why you should or shouldn’t partake in marijuana. Just speaking from my own experience, I did grow dependent on it whenever I felt stressed in life, especially when I had a very under-stimulating office job between 2019 and 2020 before the pandemic hit, but that’s a story for another time.
Another story within a story I’d like to share is that there was a day where my dad had severe back pain and wanted me to go buy some back pain medicine for him. The problem was that I was high as hell, and as much of a rebel as I am, I’m not going to drive under the influence of marijuana, especially in the blistering cold and rain. All the while I was trying to get my dad to just do yoga, it’s natural after all, rather than hopping himself up with drugs. See where I’m going with this yet?
I shared this story with my therapist saying that I eventually got tired of my dad’s complaining and need for a quick fix, and walked to a pharmacy in the blistering cold with harsh winds nearly shoving me ever which way. I got up in arms about how my dad always just wants the quick fix, but then my therapist called me out on using marijuana as a quick fix for my problems. She asked me why I even go to therapy if I have this thing to cope with my emotions.
As I’ve always done, I made my excuses about how it helps me stop stressing quicker and makes media consumption, as well as therapy, a lot more fun and easier to engage in. And then she pointed out that I can definitely be doing both like I was saying I wanted to. You know, having my cake and eating it too. But then said that toking up would only solve things for me in the short term whereas therapy is more about long term healing.
Sixty minutes in therapy is a whole lot more work and requires a whole lot more time than packing my vape and toking up for about three minutes, but that only speaks to its superiority to a habit I had grown comfortable with in my adult life.
While I’m not perfect at it just yet, I can already feel my need for emotional crutches get left by the wayside thanks to the coping mechanisms and cognitive reframing strategies I’ve learned from therapy.
As of earlier this year of 2022, I have quit consuming marijuana and I’ve also stopped seeking out co-dependent relationships to ease any of my suffering, and that of others. There are still some individuals I keep in touch with and care for genuinely, but shared pain is no longer the central focus of our relationships. I’m also beginning to work on my business for its own sake rather than using it as a an angry response to an unfulfilling day job, a distraction from unhealthy relationships, or even just outright boredom and loneliness.
“And that’s how the cookie crumbles…”
Which cookie, you ask?
My mental health, of course.
Nah, I’m just kidding.
It has been a while since I’ve shared about my personal life here at Your Write to Live, so if you’ve made it this far into the post, I want to sincerely thank you for reading and possibly relating to what I’ve written. I hope you’ve also gleaned some value out of it as is my mission here in seeking to help other writers develop a better relationship with themselves in order to express themselves more freely in their creative endeavours.
That’s it for today’s Meaningful Monday, stick around for Therapeutic Journaling Part 2 for this week’s Workshop Wednesday where I will delve even deeper as to how to journal effectively.
Part 2: How and Why You Should Journal
For this week’s Meaningful Monday post, I shared a little bit of my own personal experience with therapy so far as a way to lead into today’s Workshop Wednesday where I’ll tie it to journaling. Therapy and journaling go hand in hand the same way going to school and doing homework go hand in hand with each other. Or if you have an aversion to homework for school like I do, let’s take a more fun example like learning how to play the guitar.
It is not enough to go to a guitar lesson and think that 30-60 minutes with your teacher will be enough to improve your playing. They are there to guide you toward that, but ultimately the rest is up to you in and out of the classroom. A good teacher demonstrates what it looks like for you to teach yourself the very thing you want to learn. They open your mind up to what’s possible and challenge you in a way that you need to start challenging yourself.
Therefore, going to therapy alone is not enough to heal past traumas, get hopeful for the future, and learn how to be content in the present moment. You can still get a lot of value from going to therapy and going to a guitar lesson, but ultimately you need to take home with you all that you’ve learned and apply it all on your own. A good therapist, much like a good teacher, makes it their job to make themselves obsolete to you because you want to eventually develop the skills to educate yourself long after your mentorship from them.
This in mind, consider journaling as the homework equivalent to therapy. To use what you’ve learned and ask yourself the kinds of questions your therapist has asked you, and more, so that you can get ever deeper into self inquiry.
Plus, you’ll even cut down on your need for therapy by helping yourself because you’ll learn to discern what issues you have that are actually worth talking to your therapist, let alone worth thinking and talking about in the first place.
Without further adieu I would like to introduce you to three different ways in which you can journal about your life, thoughts, and feelings all dealing with the top three tenses in life and narration: past, present, and future.
Dwelling in the Past
If there are things in your distant past that still haunt you to this day, then it’s worth writing about certain instances and eras in your life that often keep you up at night. You may have had a traumatic childhood in its entirety, or an otherwise okay childhood, but still remember a few traumatic moments or eras in your life that still have an effect on you now.
We all know we shouldn’t dwell on the past because it holds us back from enjoying the present moment, and some of you might be thinking then why write about it? My answer to that would be so that you can finally let that part of your past go. If something in the past still bothers you, it means you’ve yet to process it and learn what you can from it.
Whether you were the victim, or even perpetrator, of an injustice, it is important that you analyze your past to get a better understanding of how and why things turned out the way that they did. Life is mostly random, providing us with fortune and respite in one moment, and then torturing us with trauma in the next. However, as autonomous human beings, we are still responsible for how we may be complicit in some of the things that happen to us.
So long as you’re mired by the past, people and events that have hurt you remain as things that happened to you. Writing about them in great detail is how you make your past happen for you. The distinction being that one was out of your control and continues to control you, and the way out of it is to regain control of yourself by learning how to avoid similar mistakes moving forward.
This requires a really hard look at yourself and being honest with what happened. It is easy to write about the ways in which you’ve been wronged, and believe me I’ve done it, even here on this very website, but it’s not enough to write a detailed account of what has happened to you. You also need to take responsibility for how you may have been complicit in prolonging your own misfortune by dwelling on these events.
I’m not saying that if you’ve been abused in the past that it’s your fault, but what I am saying is holding onto that hurt is only going to hold you back from experiencing any joy or relief unless you learn something from this trauma. Perhaps it’s learning how to treat others better than you have been treated because if you know how much it hurts, and you want to be a good person, then you can make it your responsibility to never enact any similar atrocities onto anybody else.
Even on the inverse where you know you did something wrong and you’re crushed by the weight of your own guilt, then you take in account how it must have felt for the person you hurt and promise yourself to never act similarly again. And while you do have to be brutally honest about how horrible you must have been, you also need to sympathize with the past version of yourself who may have acted poorly due to a variety of reasons.
We all act out sometimes due to unbearable hurt within ourselves, maybe even out of intentionally malicious intent, but most of the time it’s really due to ignorance. Life and humanity are already so complex as they are, so there’s no straight answer for our behaviour. That’s why it’s worth processing and understanding what drives our behaviour and in turn become better people for it.
Living in the Moment
Technically, even if you journal about your current life as it is, your are writing about “the past,” but of course it’s a lot more local and current than dwelling on your childhood. While I personally like to journal about things many months after they have occurred—so that I can have a lot less emotional bias and more objectivity about certain events in my life—writing about the day you just had can have its advantages in keeping yourself emotionally up to speed in real time.
The drawback I’ve experienced in just writing about my past all the time is that it feels like my heart and mind are lagging between each other because my heart wants to live in the moment, but it gets bogged down by my mind’s incessant obsession with my past. Even as of this post I am journaling about things that happened to me in 2021 and finding ways to rethink them so that they happened for me.
But I digress.
Writing about your life as it unfolds day by day is a good way to keep your mental health chronologically in tact with life. This way, you’re always up to speed with yourself rather than playing catch up like some of the past driven journal entries you may doing. This way you even get a more linear experience of exploring your life, thoughts, and feelings, whereas the more distant your past is, the more scattered the events and your thoughts might be.
Daily journaling about each passing day is essential so that you can achieve much more immediate results from your self reflection. Whether you are going through a time or you’re living the life you’ve always wanted, it’s always worth taking the time to contemplate how you feel about your own fortune and misfortune.
If you are going through something, journaling can help you gain a sense of clarity about the situation and provide yourself with more options as to how to approach your life moving forward. If your life is trouble free for the most part, it’s also good to take stock of what you have and be grateful for it because unfortunately, not all things are meant to last and there’s always…
The Uncertainty of the Future
We don’t know what the future holds and that can cause us a lot of anxiety. Especially considering that the future isn’t even guaranteed because today might very well be the last day you get the tremendous privilege of living. And no, I’m not saying as a threat, I’m just stating a fact of life.
It’s often said how life is short, but the Stoic philosopher Seneca argued that life is not short at all, but only feels that way because of how much of our time we squander one trivial manners. Life is actually pretty long, especially if you’re fortunate and healthy enough to live well into old age. We are given, on average, quite a lengthy amount of time to live and it’s up to us how we make the best use of it.
So journaling about the future and the kinds of things you want to accomplish can help prime you for finding ways to achieve all that. You can set goals and detailed plans about your future. It doesn’t even matter if it seems like wishy washy wish fulfillment at first. The point is to get hopeful about the future so that you have things to look forward to assuming you are even granted the benefit of a bonus day to live tomorrow.
Then on the flipside, if there are things you are worried about, it’s worth writing about these fears so you learn how to better defend yourself against them. Seneca also said that, “we suffer more in imagination than we do in reality.” If you have constant concerns about a future that may never come, it’s worth writing them out to explore as to why you think these painful events will occur in the first place.
Are you still stuck in the past and think the future will be more of the same?
Are you suffering now and think it will only be the same, if not worse, in the future?
Or are you just conjuring something to worry about for the sake of having something to worry about?
It’s easier said than done, but don’t fret. What you can do about this is create action plans that safeguard you from potential threats, or even more preferable, realize that you are causing yourself unnecessary suffering in the present about the unguaranteed future and just stop torturing yourself already.
Time Traveling and Other Hobbies
Which ever timeframe you choose to write about in a given journal entry, the point is to be as objective, honest, and vulnerable as possible so that you get the most of your writing session. Journaling, real journaling, is a lot of hard work. People get the misconception is that you just write about what you ate and did that day, or you draw a bunch of hearts around it with your crush’s name written inside of those cartoon hearts.
And while you’re free to do that if you want, especially if it makes you happy, that’s perfectly fine.
But for those seeking to understand and improve themselves, you must grit your teeth and do the hard work of having these conversations with yourself. Paper is more patient than people, and so just like I said in part one of this series, you will be doing yourself, your friends and family, and your therapist a huge favour by doing your own heavy lifting on your own time.
The more mental and emotional baggage you clear for yourself, the lighter your interactions will be with others, and in my mind, that’s probably the best we can all ever hope for in getting along with our fellow man.
Part 3: Meditations on Marcus Aurelius
For the past couple of months, I have been reading some Stoic philosophy, and I am starting to see how the intended goal for therapy is to help people become Stoic. And I’m talking about the real kind of Stoic, not the lower case s stoic that is attached to the common misconception of what the state of being entails. A Stoic isn’t entirely devoid of emotion, rather a Stoic is hyperaware of their emotions, but not let their emotions guide their actions. A Stoic chooses and controls how they react to their feelings, along with what ever external stimuli and circumstances they are exposed to.
One of the most prominent Stoic philosophers is Marcus Aurelius, the author of the world renown collection of books called Meditations. The funny thing about these books that so many people have read to ease their minds and gain wisdom from is that it was never meant to see publication even at the time of Marcus’ lifetime. They were personal journals that he wrote to himself in order to keep his ego in check being the most powerful man in the known world at the time.
What we can glean from Marcus’ example beyond his rare and virtuous being as an emperor, and of course his powerful and punchy philosophy, is what journaling can mean for not just the individual, but for the whole world at large. These books are so short and few in number, but their wisdom transcends the ages and remain universally acclaimed to better those who read it, especially repeatedly.
After all, he wrote these books while he was in campaign for a decade, and being the busy guy that he was, had very little time to himself to write, and so made the best use of his time when he found possible.
You too, could follow in his example, especially if you lead a very busy life that leaves very little time to yourself. If the Emperor of Rome can do it, so can you. Just a few lines a day is all it takes. You don’t even have to recount your entire day if you don’t want to, what you can do is reflect on it as you live it, then by the end of the day, write what insights you can glean from the failures and successes of today.
That’s what Marcus did.
Barely ever did he detail the minutiae of everyday life and little events he experienced. Instead, he wrote the words that would remind him on how to be a better man based on all the philosophical teachings he had been blessed with throughout his life. He could have easily sank into his power and enjoy endless luxury, but he understood the responsibility of power he held and how important it was for him to lead a good example for his people.
It’s really interesting to think that something a man wrote 2000 years ago that was deeply personal would end up becoming something that would universally understood. Most philosophers wrote books with the audience in mind, be it their students, the general public, or even letters that they wrote to each other. But Marcus wrote solely to and for himself.
The beautiful irony is that even though he was the Emperor of Rome, what he wrote to himself can easily apply to us naughty future readers who are prying into his personal diary. We may not have had his friends or family, nor his power, fame, or wealth, but what we do have as he would call it, is kinship of the mind. We are all humans who share the same emotions and desires like everybody else. We all seek to love and be loved, and love requires virtue. And so Marcus’ Meditations are fundamentally reminders and demonstrations of virtue.
One way to give and receive such love is shown in the very first pages of Book One in Meditations, where Marcus lists off all the important people in his life and what kinds of blessings and virtues he has received from them. In turn, you can write about the people in your life whose virtues inspire you to become a better person and express your gratitude for their role in your life.
Another prominent theme in Meditations is mortality. It’s a scary thing to think about, but it is a reality we must accept that we will all become dust one day. It’s already cliché enough as it is to say that life is short and how you should make the most of it while you can. Even more pressing is Seneca’s rebuttal to that which is life isn’t all that short, a lot of us just choose to squander a huge fraction of it on trivial things.
In either case, we are given ample time to live and we must not waste too much of it if we can help it. Every day, nay every moment, should be spent consciously in the present moment with intentional purpose. That means less complaining and more action taking. Less worrying and more pondering. Less wasted moments and more fulfilling days.
It can all be swept up in an instant so whatever you do or say should carry the weight of someone who only has one day left to live. See each day you live as your last and be thankful to wake up every morning because you can consider that a bonus.
And if you’ve been journaling, reflecting on your way of being and how to improve it, then each day can stack on to the last providing everlasting change and fulfillment for you.
While we sure as hell hope that our personal journals never end up in the hands of the public, it doesn’t hurt to have stern dialogues with ourselves within them. Okay, I’m lying, sometimes said dialogues can hurt and that’s fine, that’s all part of the process. Consider it a slew of growing pain. But nonetheless, perhaps our very own personal insights can have universal appeal, and while you may not want to share your journal with everyone you meet, you can instead embody the kind of person you present on the page.
Stick around for Therapeutic Journaling Part 4 where I will briefly touch upon a huge variety of different journaling techniques you can awaken the Marcus Aurelius within!
Part 4: Internal Family Systems
One of the most useful journaling methods that have helped me is loosely based on Internal Family Systems. It’s the concept that within every individual is a plethora of different personalities all warring for dominance over their directing mind. You might be thinking about people with split personality disorder and how you would be so far removed from them, but actually what they suffer from is a very drastic disintegration of the self.
For those of us fortunate enough to not be clinically diagnosed with that mental illness, we still contain a variety of competing personalities within ourselves, which would explain why our thoughts and emotions are so complex. There are different versions of ourselves living within us that comprise of our entire being as a whole. It doesn’t make you crazy or anything, just human.
Due to varying factors such as culture, upbringing, and social circles, we all internalize different thoughts and opinions from our environment and all these ideas become a huge part of our personalities. Some ideas are stronger than others, while some are strong enough to contend with each other, and the goal of Internal Family Systems style journaling is to integrate these personalities, not disperse them.
I talk a lot about contending with your shadow on here and this is a more detailed and nuanced form of that. There are parts of you that you might be ashamed or even afraid of, and perhaps it is your resistance to their existence that creates their persistence.
(I totally didn’t mean to rhyme, I’ll try not to do that all the time 😉
What you resist persists, though. According to Freud’s theory of repression, the more we stuff down things in our psyche, the stronger they actually become in trying to take the center stage of our minds. This is possibly how split personality disorder can occur aside from the unfortunate randomness of neurological development in the brain.
So instead of trying to completely cast out certain parts of yourself, you befriend them and finds ways to make them work in your favour. Most especially if they run counter to another personality of yours that seems to be its complete opposite. In actuality, these two warring personalities are two sides of the same coin, and sometimes one side wins over the other causing discord within our lives.
By allowing these varying parts of ourselves to have an open dialogue with each other, our directing mind can have a better time at getting a clearer picture of who is saying what, and why they are saying it. Imagine your consciousness as the director of a play and all these different aspects of your personality as individual actors who you need to assign roles to. Then as the playwright, give them their lines and let them put a play on for you to get a better grasp of yourself.
What I am about to teach you is definitely useful in understanding yourself better through Therapeutic Journaling, but also your fiction, and you’ll start to see how and why as you read along. I’ll even go into further details afterwards, but without further adieu…
Assigning Roles to Your Personalities
Think of the most prominent thought patterns you have about yourself, your relationships, and the world. For simplicity’s sake you can call them protagonists. Then think about if you ever have other thought patterns that contradict your protagonist’s patterns. Consider those contradictory thought patterns as antagonists. In actuality, there is a little good and bad in each of them, but whichever way you slice it, what you want to do is give each pattern a distinctive name as to give them some character.
In turning these thought patterns into characters, having a distinctive name and visual representation of them in your mind will allow you to get a clearer picture of how and what they manifest in your life. Sometimes writing out your thoughts, contradictory as they may be to each other, is not enough, and so the more divided you are, the more important it is to try out IFS Journaling so that you can better manage the contradictions within yourself.
Drawing from my own experience, I’ll give a couple examples of some of the characters living within my Internal Family System and how I integrated them into my being in a healthier way than just resisting what I thought needed to be discarded.
Becoming Your Own Inner Parent
Little Marlon is the wounded inner child. He just wants to be loved, taken care of, and allowed to enjoy his hobbies without judgement and without the pressure of turning them into careers. He just wants to enjoy these things for their own sake. He’s also very shy around people, but also wants to befriend them anyway because he likes to talk.
Papa Marlon is the kind of father I wish I had growing up, and the kind of father I wanted to become when I grew up. He works in tandem with Little Marlon to give him compassion, leniency, and empathy. He comforts Little Marlon and knows how to talk to him so he can feel better, thus helping him develop his social skills and become more confident with other people. However, sometimes Papa Marlon is too soft on Little Marlon and lets him get away with too much when he needs discipline.
Inner Father is the internalized version of my actual father. Although my actual father could be loud, aggressive, and sometimes physically abusive, much to Little Marlon’s and Papa Marlon’s dismay, he is not wrong in asserting that children need to be disciplined. They need to know between right and wrong or they’ll go about life disrupting the order of things.
I originally saw Little Marlon is a weakling who I needed to forget all about and become infinitely better than. I also saw my Inner Father is a nuisance because he was the one bringing up shame in for me simply being vulnerable and sensitive. For so long I wish I could get rid of this weak and sensitive part of me as well as the one who was so judgmental about his very existence to begin with.
This is where Papa Marlon had to come in to empathize with Little Marlon to let him know he belongs in the Internal Family System because reconciling his sensitivity is actually what allows me to understand the sensitivity of others and treat it kindly. Papa Marlon also went head to head with my Inner Father during the years I studied psychology and childhood development, thus developing some resentment toward my actual father for some of the ways in which he failed me growing up.
Papa Marlon represented the moral stand I took in that if and when I have kids, I will never hit them or yell at them, mishandle their vulnerability, and outright ignore them throughout their lives. He is also how and why I was able to raise my God-daughter without raising my voice or laying a hand on her, and that was a great exercise in self restraint and learning to break the cycle of violence in my family.
However, I did get over zealous with peaceful parenting and at times had been too lenient with my God-daughter, who in many ways was the physical and present manifestation of Little Marlon; another fresh new child brought into the world who just needs some love and guidance to survive it so they can feel safe and sound. But at the same time can bring danger upon themselves and even us adults sometimes.
My Inner Father was right, you really can’t let kids step all over you, which is what I allowed to happen at times with my God-daughter and Little Marlon.
Papa Marlon and my Inner Father had to duke it out in what was one the most fundamental journal entries I’ve ever written in my life. What it all amalgamated to was knowing that you must be gentle and patient with children in order to foster a safe environment for them to grow in, but you also need to discipline them whenever they act out in unruly ways.
For a long time it was either/or for me. You either be kind to them or you beat them into submission. But thanks to the dialogue I wrote out between Papa Marlon and my Inner Father, the two were able to meet in the middle and teach me that you can discipline children without having to hit or punish them in any other way.
It took some time, but alongside raising my God-daughter like she was my own, while concurrently parenting Little Marlon, I discovered ways in which I can teach these children how to behave properly without having to resort to any aggressive means of discipline. A lot of the times, I learned that some of the things parents allow their kids to do was more of the fault of proper supervision, while at other times, it was just kids exploring the world and not knowing how to do so safely.
So for instance, to teach my God-daughter why it’s important to not run into the street, I comically simulated one of her Barbie dolls getting run over by a car and voice acting how in massive pain she was in. My God-daughter laughed at this depiction, which was a relief because in hindsight it sounds like I could have easily traumatized her instead.
But she understood even at the age of two what I was trying to teach her. So any time we went out for a walk, yes I mostly held her hand to keep her close, but there were times I’d let her go and she just knew to stay on the sidewalk.
The Internal Interpersonal Tournament
So to do an Internal Family Systems journal, you assign characters to certain thought patterns of yours and like a movie script, write our their dialogue and see in what ways they can resolve their conflicts with each other so that they can live in harmony within you, as opposed to discord.
After all, this is kind of what we do, as writers, when we write novels. All the characters we write about may be amalgamations of other people we know in our lives, but ultimately their words and actions are being born out of our very own hands. If that isn’t a more creative and emotionally distant form of Internal Family Systems journaling, then I don’t know what is!
But I digress.
Writing an Internal Family Systems journal can be a more direct, dark, and gritty form of getting the kind of self-knowledge you get from writing a novel with characters who all represent different sides of you. With an IFS journal, you remove the creative filter and write something raw, unhinged, and uninhibited. Just like the Shadow Journal, you will want to proceed with caution because the more honest and vulnerable you are, the scarier this kind of journaling actually is.
Though the good news is that if you can survive it, you will become a much smarter and stronger version of yourself that you may not have imagined possible before.
Part 5: Giving Order to My Disorder
It’s not easy for me to admit this to anyone, especially since it was hard for me to admit it to myself for a long time, but I have what’s called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The symptoms beyond inattentiveness include difficulty multitasking, low impulse control, and emotional dysregulation among many others. While I won’t go into great detail of which symptoms I have and don’t have, suffice it to say this mental illness of mine has held me back in life for as long as I can remember—and for a lot longer than I care to admit.
One of the things that helped me to get my scatterbrain into order, though, is journaling. Because of the hyperactivity in my brain, it’s difficult to maintain a linear form of speech, let alone thought, and it can be quite the Hell to go through when I am presented with a task I need to concentrate on. As a result, my inattentiveness to the present moment has cost me better grades in school, concentration at the various jobs I’ve had, and most especially overall motivation to do anything in life—even the things that I love like writing, composing music, and even playing video games at times.
While my brain still fires at 1000mph making me think of everything and anything across all space and time, I have managed to slow it down a bit through journaling. Even if you are neurotypical and do not suffer from ADHD, you might still have some times in your life where you can’t stop your thoughts from racing because you have found yourself in a stressful situation in life.
For us ADHDers, though, that’s basically our default mode of being; constantly overthinking things and having branching thought patterns that lead in seemingly unrelated directions.
However, it is through journaling where I’ve come to understand where some of these branches actually intersect. There are certain things I often think about that if I were to convey them to you, you might not see how they’re even connected at first, but let my motormouth fly and maybe you’ll see how I associate one trivial thing to a more significant thing.
ADHD Tangent Alert!
For instance, I’ve gotten a lot strange glares whenever I’ve said that you can develop self-knowledge through video games. People often dismiss video games as mere leisure and possibly a waste of time, but I’ve put a lot of thought into it and I can confidently say that they are more than what meets the eye. Ask any gamer, myself included, what a certain game means to them, and more often than not, they are more than happy to talk your ear off about all the things they love about it. They might not know it, but I am hyperaware of those reasons being reflections of what we value in art and in life.
After all, art is what we are when we’re paying attention, and video games are an amalgamation of different artforms condensed into one interactive experience. The visual arts of graphics, the sound effects created to go along with well crafted animations, along with the music they have to heighten the feel of a level. Video games are interactive experiences where you learn how to master yourself in a given environment, all with its own set of rules, boundaries, and possibilities.
And much like a video game, journaling also allows for the freedom of expression the way an open world sandbox game could, as well as provide a clear and concise experience when constrained by linear level structure more commonly found in the games of yesteryear. The former kind of game makes it hard for me to find much value because too much freedom can feel aimless, whereas the latter is just what I need to make some order out of my disorder.
Let me explain!
While you can type a journal entry in a word processor, I highly suggest you handwrite your journals because there is no way your hand can keep up with your brain, ADHD brain or not. Whereas typing you might write everything off the cuff at the speed of light, and sure your output will be plentiful, but it might not be as bountiful as I’ve found handwritten journals to be in the past decade.
The reason being, of course, that handwriting forces me to slow down my thought process and choose my words carefully. Typing out a journal could lead to too much randomness and a lack of structure the way an open world game can, but ultimately it’s really choose your own adventure at this point.
But for me personally, I prefer the linearity of older gamers as it provided a structure for me to follow so I don’t get lost doing one pointless side mission after the other, constantly getting sidetracked from experiencing the main story, but anyways.
How I Strive For High Scores in Journaling
I write with a fountain pen and the ink for it runs out faster than your typical ball pen. The ink can also become quite expensive if I’m zipping through ink capsules and refillable ink bottles when I’ve got lots to journal about as I have the past few months. My 2021 was quite eventful and there is a lot to process, so I’m going through ink as fast as I go through underwear.
So because of this, I come at every session with the sole intention to at least try to stick to one topic so that no blot of ink is wasted. My entries aren’t always perfectly linear and on point with one track of mind, but at the very least, the past 10 or so years of this habit have helped me improve my capacity to reach near perfect linearity in my entries in ways I never thought possible before.
When I first started journaling in my early twenties, my entries started off as blatant rip offs of the New Age Spirituality and Self Help books I was reading at the time. They served as reminders of how I should approach life with a positive attitude as to not get crushed by the weight of cynicism and nihilism.
It wasn’t until the second volume where I started actually writing about my life at the most local sense rather than the universal and woo-woo sense. Simply put, I started becoming more honest and vulnerable, not to mention specific about my life, writing about things that I’ve gone through and trying to extrapolate lessons from them. All this, though, unfortunately brought out some cynicism and nihilism in me, but they were attitudes I was willing to challenge and improve from.
When this more open and honest approach to journaling began for me, it was an ADHD hell-scape because my thoughts were so much more scattered than they are now. I had almost no idea what to write about consistently because awakening to my own self-consciousness, it made me realize just how much I’ve repressed throughout my life and haven’t put much thought into.
This is why, even to this day, I’m still an avid advocate for self-knowledge. I surprised myself so many times in my journals admitting to so many faults I’ve had to correct, obstacles I’ve had to overcome, as well as realizing how fortunate I actually am as a human being despite how hyper-focused I might have been on negative emotions.
And that’s another symptom of ADHD that causes emotional dysregulation. While hyper-focus can give rise to creative and productive hyper-fixations—like I once had with studying Korean and playing video games, and that I now have with music production writing—it can also make me obsess over my negative emotions and get me lost in my own thoughts. Journaling about these thoughts and emotions have allowed me to take a step back and look at life in a broader picture. Reading back to a lot of my entries, I often scoff and chuckle at how seriously I took something that now feels trivial in hindsight.
Reason #873 For Journaling
So whether you’re an ADHDer like me, have some other mental illness, or are simply neurotypical, I highly suggest journaling for the same reason. To create an honest narrative of your life and discover what you truly. It is in journaling where you begin to notice certain thought patterns and what kinds of things you busy your mind with on a constant basis.
You may not even be aware of a lot of them, and that can be scary, but that’s the beauty of journaling. You can surprise yourself with not only how much you can remember or how much you actually desire in life, but also with the amount of strength you might actually have in tackling the challenges of life. Especially when you’ve verbalized what those challenges, what you think about them, how you feel about them, and what you choose to do about them.
Journaling, after all, in my eyes, is kind of like writing our own personal instruction manuals to this game called life. As we discover new rules and boundaries in life, jotting them down gives us a clearer picture of what’s possible for us and what isn’t. Then, and only then, is it up to us how much of personal agency will be spent toward the things we can control, and how much we are willing to let go of the things we can’t.
Part 6: The Progress Journal
So we’ve been digging in pretty deep into our psyches with the last few posts on journaling. From part two’s focus on chronological journaling and part four’s focus on your Internal Family System, and not to mention a surprise hit entry on Shadow Journaling—I think it’s time to take it a little easier on ourselves today and focus on goal setting.
While I do think it’s important for us to contend with our shadow side and work out the worries of the day in a journal, we can’t always be digging that deep and getting that emotional because that could be very taxing. In fact, although I am a big proponent to expressing your darkest deepest feelings as earnestly as possible, there can be a point where it can be a bit excessive and you can become too identified with your problems as opposed to having them shed on the page.
To reverse that, we also need to learn how to write Progress Journals to keep track of our goals and ambitions. This can range from your progress in therapy, your progress in your novel, or anything else that you’re working on in life to give yourself a moment to take stock of your life thus far, especially when you feel stuck.
Even if you’re not feeling stuck, it’s even more beneficial to focus on your progress because if you’re not inhibited by any emotional weight holding you down, you can propel that much further in your goals by continuing to take stock anyway.
So why should you write a progress journal and how do you even do it?
What You Measure Grows
If you approach your life like it’s a game you start to notice just how much the quality of our lives are based on “high scores” in different aspects of our lives. How much money do we have in the bank? How many reps can we lift x amount of lbs of a dumbbell? How many words can we write a day?
It is important to jot down these numbers because then you could compare and contrast them throughout the weeks to see how you’re faring in a specific goal. So let’s take writing for instance. Say your goal is to write somewhere between 500-2000 words a day. If you have a word count tracker where you mark each date and total word count for that day, you can keep a tally of how well you do throughout the week.
(Keep your eyes peeled for a future post on Word Count Goals as I will share my own Word Count Tracker and how I use it.)
Some days you’ll be under par and some days you’ll be over par, and in a different section of your Word Count Tracker, you can even briefly mention how and why your word count was a certain way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that being under the word count is bad, rather maybe other things came up that day, and that is something you can mention in a Progress Journal
The whole point of a Progress Journal is to have an open, honest, and earnest conversation with yourself about how far you’ve come in the project, and what you have left to do. It even doubles as a perfect pre-writing warm up exercise because you get yourself thinking about your novel at the bird’s eye view rather than being honed in on the story at ground level. Sometimes it helps to get that broader perspective before you pan the camera down to where the novel focuses.
So keep track of your scores for everything in your life and write entries about how and why you were able to achieve so much or so little in the day. If you score low, it’s not about blaming external circumstances for getting in the way of your goals, rather it’s taking accountability over how you allowed external circumstances for getting in the way of your goals.
I get that a lot of us lead busy lives, but if writing truly is our lifestyle as we believe it is here at Your Write to Live, then we should always make the time to write. Much like anything else in life, it’s not that we don’t have time for certain things, rather we don’t make time for them unless we find them all that more important above everything else. And when it comes to self care and mental health, they damn well better be more important above everything else or everything else begins to fall apart if we’re not well taken care of.
But I digress!
The Progress Journal Manual
My Progress Journals before every writing session were always recapping what I’ve written the day before, or the session before if I have more than one that day, and meditating on what I have left yet to write. Sometimes I’d be focused on shifting my mindset toward being positive, and if I had that inherently intact for a day, then the fun begins where I’ve focused a lot on working out my ideas. This same approach can apply to other things too aside from writing. Even something like weight lifting or any other form of exercise you want to do on a daily basis, you can reflect on what kinds of thoughts and feelings arise as you’ve approached your goal for that day.
Sticking to the example of writing, though—since this is Your Write to Live, not Your Write to…Lift?—you could just as easily write about your perceived Writer’s Block. Doing so is what made me come up with the Shadow Journal in the first place, actually. I would get so deep into my head about why I have all this resistance toward doing something I know that I love, but can’t bring myself to do. It was no longer about the book itself, but myself, and how I have to contend with my own shadow almost every time only to realize that after each session, I come out stronger and smarter than I ever thought possible.
While it is best that you know how to regulate your own motivation for writing, there is no shame in asking for help and that’s why I’m happy to announce that I will be offering Writing Coaching services later in the year so I can help other writers cultivate healthy writing habits of their own that suit them, as well as provide a sounding board for their ideas.
Whether you can’t afford writing coaching services or simply want to do it alone, though, Progress Journaling is the next best alternative to keeping yourself in check and bouncing your ideas around to see if they are sound. You can even join writing forums online or a critique group in person, but I believe that the less people there are and the more intimate the experience is, the more value you can get from reflecting on your progress.
So if you’ve got a grip on the whole mental and emotional aspect of writing, then you get to have a whole lot of fun simply writing about your ideas for your current chapter. Progress Journaling is also a less structured way of outlining, though outlining chapter and GMC graphs are still important, and can lend you more freedom to write and retract some of your ideas as you write them.
Often times you will find yourself writing about a particular idea and realizing it sounds dumb out loud or doesn’t even getting used in the end anyway. Which then makes room for the good ideas you’ve been waiting for, and that’s the thing about ideas which I’ll write about next week: the fact that generating ideas is a muscle you need to exercise. The more you do it, the better you get at them.
Part 7: Pre and Post Meditation
As I mentioned in Part 5 of this blog series, I have learned to manage some of my ADHD symptoms through journaling. In addition to that, I also like to meditate before and after I do any kind of writing, whether it’s journaling or creative writing.
In today’s Meaningful Monday post we will explore what meditation is, how you do it, and why you should add it to your writing routine.
What is Meditation and How Do I Do It?
Meditation is a formal practice of mindfulness. Where meditation requires you to sit or lay still, mindfulness can be practiced in motion like when you’re doing yoga, going for a walk, or even cooking a meal. It’s the practice of being aware of your thoughts and either accepting them as they pass you by, without judgement or attachment, or by trying to keep your mind clear of thoughts entirely especially when you need to focus on something.
Meditation is mindfulness to the max where you set a certain amount of time to simply sit, breathe, and observe your mind. For each inhale and exhale, you bring your mental focus more and more toward the flow of your breath and recognizing all the sensations that are occurring in your body, as well as becoming aware of the thoughts passing through your mind.
Once again, without judgement or attachment to your thoughts. Just let them be.
A common misconception about meditation is that you are supposed to sit still and have an empty mind, which can be achieved and quite liberating, but you cannot expect yourself to do that the first time. Let alone the first 100 times because meditation is actually difficult to do if your mind races like mine. ADHD or not.
Because of this, people think that they’re “no good” at it and will just fail because of how much they think, but that’s the point! To get some control of your mind, you need to let it do its thing while you observe from a bit of a bird’s eye view rather than being honed in on ground level. Let your thoughts pass like the wind, and not that gaseous kind of wind, but an actual gust of wind.
Why Should I Meditate Before Journaling?
As I’ve mentioned before, it’s preferable that you handwrite your journals so that it forces your mind to slow down, focus on one pattern of thought, and create some sense of order of the chaos that may be occurring in your mind. While putting your thoughts down on paper is one good way to slow your mind down and free up your mental real estate for better thoughts, meditation is the perfect aid to it.
Meditating allows you to slow your mind down even more, especially if you’ve gotten good at focusing on your breath. You should be inhaling slowly until you ca no longer inhale any further, and then exhale slowly until you can no longer exhale any further. You might notice that your breath is shallow throughout the day and this lack of oxygen to your brain is what causes it to think anxious thoughts. Without a proper air supply, your brain’s ability to breathe is obstructed.
Meditation will help you lift as many obstructions as possible.
As you meditate before you journal, what you can do is start setting intentions for what you want to write about. Think about the order in which you’ll convey your thoughts, what kind of entry you’ll be writing, and what the purpose of that entry will be. Maybe you want to gain some insights on how to resolve a relational conflict, work out the pros and cons of life decisions you need to make, or maybe you just want to make sure you get the most of your writing time.
You are definitely free to sit down and write whatever comes to your mind (which is all writing anyway, fundamentally), but for journaling in particular, it’s good to construct a game plan of what you will be writing about it in particular. This will allow you to increase the chances of making sure most, if not all, you write ends up being beneficial for you at the end of the session.
I Already Meditated Before Journaling, Why Should I Do it Again Afterward?
It’s important to also meditate after journaling because putting an abrupt stop to your self reflection might make you forget all the lessons you just taught yourself within your writing practice. If you drive a manual transmission car, it’s the difference between stalling in a parking spot vs slowly shifting gears down and turning off the car properly.
Meditating after journaling will help you ease out of that mindful mode you might find yourself, especially when whatever you’re writing happens to grip all your attention and you allow your mind to truly spiral toward every conceivable thought and feeling you happen to recognize in yourself during that session. For some, myself most especially included, journaling can be a very intense process where it brings up a lot of discomfort, and tackling all that discomfort by bleeding it out of the pen can leave you mentally and emotionally wiped.
Sometimes even physically.
All the more reason to meditate because you might feel a sense of adrenaline reaching certain insights about yourself, and you need to breathe and contain that adrenaline so it can be expended in a healthy way afterward. Plus, meditating after journaling can literally allow you to meditate on everything you just learned about yourself so your mind makes the distinction between what you took out of it and what you’re putting into it in return.
Catch you all in the following parts of Therapeutic Journaling!
Part 8: Dreaming of Ideas
For today’s Workshop Wednesday post, I am really excited to share two types of journals that can be used separately or in conjunction with each other. There’s the Dream Journal and the Idea Journal, both of which can be very helpful in receiving the therapeutic benefits from journaling, as well as expand on your creativity.
The Dream Journal
The Dream Journal is where you jot down your dreams in the best possible detail you can manage. Dreams are so mysterious and elusive, we often forget them much quicker the more we go on about our day, so I highly suggest that you write them down as soon as you wake up.
The first stage in writing a Dream Journal is simply writing a narration of what you can remember happening in it. What kind of place did you find yourself in? Who was there? And what are some thoughts your dream self had within the dream itself?
Not sure if anyone else experiences this, so please let me know if you experience this too, but I often remember verbalizing certain thoughts in dreams that are even more out of my control than the thoughts I have in the waking world.
The second stage then is to re-read your entry and see if it holds up to what you think you can remember from it. This is where you’re free to add more details if more come in, or subtract some that you think might not have actually been in the dream because we do tend to add things we merely wish or thought were in the dream.
The third and final stage is the fun part: try to extrapolate personal meaning from them. While there are some websites that give you a rough guide as to what certain people, places, and objects are supposed to symbolize in a dream, it is ultimately up to you to decide what you think these things mean because only you know the specific idiosyncrasies of your life.
For instance, I’ve had the same dream twice in my life where I am lying in a hospital bed while rolling through a desert at night. I see myself in third person as a silhouette on that bed while my mom’s face is in the moon watching over me. I had the initial dream when I was a young kid, and then again when I was a teenager, this time with the addition of three doctor heads floating beneath the face of my Moon Mom.
Upon close inspection of this recurring dream, I think it symbolizes how disconnected I’ve felt from my body during the two of the open heart surgeries I’ve had in my life, and how my mom has always been there to watch over me in the hospital. She’s taken a couple weeks off work both times just to be there with me and praying to God that He’d guide the doctors, nurses, and surgeons in assisting my recovery.
Being in the desert at night symbolizes how cold and alone I feel when I go under the knife in real life, and seeing myself in third person I think might have to do with how I need to disassociate from my body in order to survive the kind of stress its put under during open heart surgery.
I often theorize that having had suffered heart failure as a baby, maybe my ADHD developed because my body was in such excruciating pain and fatigue that my brain fought to keep me alive by firing all the neurons it can to keep itself occupied and distracted from all that pain and fatigue.
The Idea Journal
The Idea Journal is a lot less emotionally heavy, but still fun to write as well. This is where you work out your ideas whether they are for a business, a creative writing project, or everything else in between. You spitball a ton of ideas without giving them much thought, then later see if you can separate the wheat from the chaff.
There’s a common misconception that you might end up exhausting all of your good ideas from the very beginning and will be left with no more in the future. I would argue that the ability to create ideas is a lot like a muscle that you need to train in order to maintain. You need to exercise it by dumping all your ideas out as freely as possible on a regular basis.
One of the things this will do is allow you to write out the bad ideas and make room for the good ideas. Then another thing it can do is give provide a compass for which ideas you actually feel excited about. You can do this in a grocery list form or even in long form describing certain things for a few sentences and paragraphs before you jump to the next.
Either way, the point is to jump around from idea to idea quickly without being too attached to any of them. If you do find an idea that draws your attention the most and you can’t stop writing about it in that session, it might be a sign of how important and engaging that idea will be to work on.
I will confess to the reason why I’ve been able to write two blog posts a week this year is because I wrote a huge Idea Journal listing and briefly describing 50 possible blog posts I could write. A lot of them are the ones you’ve seen since January while a few other ideas were left by the wayside because I either saw no use for them yet or I know they’re good, but I’m not ready to write those particular posts just yet.
However, all the posts in this particular series on Therapeutic Journaling were not from that Idea Journal, rather completely off the cuff every week this month!
Dreaming Up Your Ideas
And now putting them together, you can also use Dream Journals to come up with story ideas. Dream Journals are beautiful to gain some personal insight about your life, especially the dreams that illicit a strong emotion in you like that Ralph Wiggum dream I had. (It actually turned into a huge journey for me to take on personally and one of my favourite blog series to date!)
They can serve the dual purpose of giving you the personal insights that change your life and help you generate creative ideas like they have for me.
Dreams are so interesting because they bend the rules of reality, yet feel very real when you are within them. Even if you become a bit conscious during a dream and acknowledge it for not being “real,” that feeling of hyper-reality still overtakes you if you don’t have the misfortune of waking up from them. Especially the good dreams and even the nightmares.
I’d even go so far as to say that if you become conscious of being in a nightmare, that you try and stay in it and see what kind of obstacle your mind is trying to get you to confront by way of that dream. And in turn you can use all those feelings and weird concepts you experienced in the dream to inform your creative writing ideas.
So for instance, back in 2010 I wrote a novel called Me, Myself and Who Am I? where a man is haunted by his own reflection in the mirror that has taken a life of its own, taunting him and acting like a cynical life coach to him.
I could not have come up with that idea had I not had this dream where I was in my washroom looking into the mirror, and instead of seeing my adult self in the reflection, it was my child self in the mirror. He was dressed in shrunken versions of my adult clothes, the very same clothes I’d often wear to to get drunk at parties and get high with friends outside all throughout the night.
I tried to look away from him because seeing him cry was painful to look at, but only his eyes shifted to the side while my adult dream self’s eyes were still fixed to the mirror. I woke up gasping for air because of this dream because of how much anxiety it provoked in me. It made me think about how I was betraying and suppressing my wounded inner child with all this substance abuse and hanging around the wrong crowd in my twenties.
I was a straight edge teen all throughout high school, but when I graduated, I got pretty addicted to the partying life because I felt lost and had no idea what to do. I had been so haggard and resigned from trying to graduate high school because I was held a back a little and needed to go to summer school for two years in order to catch up. I inevitably burned out after having put my all into my school work which is just absolute agony for the ADHD brain.
That dream alone saved my life because it forced me to confront myself not only in my journals, but also through the novel I wrote that year. The idea of your mirror reflection talking to you, pointing out to you and shaming you for how you can be better…I needed to experience that journey along with the protagonist Parker Davis in order to create some sense of resolution in my soul.
So you too, can probably some have deeply personal dreams that you can gain some personal insights from and/or get some inspiration for story ideas. Whichever way you slice it, Dream Journals and Idea Journals are another beautiful way to feel the therapeutic benefits of journaling.
See you next week for Parts 9 and 10!
Part 9: Improving Your Self Talk
What all journaling comes down to is improving how you talk to yourself. It’s definitely what I’ve learned from my Trifecta of Tribulations a few years ago. We all have a tendency to narrate and frame our lives in a certain way that can cause us suffering. A lot of it has to do with unmet needs, unmet expectations, and just a general sense of pressure we put on ourselves to be a certain way and experience life a certain way, instead of just letting ourselves be.
With journaling, you can write down the ways in which you behave, how you think and feel about them, and then decide on a course of action on how to proceed knowing what you know. Take stock of who and how you are throughout the day and compare it to how you would like to be better in the future, but also be kind to yourself if you don’t live up to these new ideals you set for yourself.
That’s the important thing about goal setting: aim high, but don’t break your neck.
We all know of a multitude of ways in which we can operate better in the world at large, but we often feel disappointed in ourselves whenever we don’t live up to that standard. This is where journaling can be helpful in keeping track of your past, present, and future trajectory. By observing yourself as objectively as possible, and maybe even seeing yourself as a protagonist to your own novel, you get to write yourself out the way you so please.
Do you want to be the protagonist or the antagonist of your own story?
Sometimes we’re both, such is the human condition. We are walking talking contradictions claiming to have one value and then betraying them seemingly in the next heartbeat. Then comes the shame and the guilt around it. Why? Because we all have a potential future self that is actually judging us in the present. We know we could be better, but often make excuses as to why we’re not living up to that potential.
It’s one thing to have that inner commentary constantly justifying why we squander our time away, but it’s a whole other thing to write that down and face the painful reality that that’s what you actually think all day. When you read back on your journal entries as if it’s a good friend reporting to you the contents of their mind, then it becomes excruciatingly clear how much work you have left on improving yourself.
Whether you write an Internal Family Systems Journal or not, a journal is essentially a conversation you have about yourself, with yourself, and to yourself. So much of the quality of our lives depends on the quality of our thoughts because the quality of our thoughts affect our words, and in turn our words become our actions. To keep track of all these things is to develop the self awareness required to move forward in life.
That’s all life really is in the end, an ever going journey to understand ourselves and operate better day by day until our final breath. The learning never ends until our lives do.
And that’s another thing journaling can help you discover. That you are constantly faced with your own mortality and so much of it has been squandered on self defeating thoughts that hold you back from moving forward in life.
It’s perfectly fine if you fill an entire notebook full of yourself doubt for the catharsis, but what do you once you get that out of your head and onto the page? Well, you do the excruciating practice of actually reading back to yourself what you’ve written and imagine your journal self as someone you care deeply about. What would you want to tell them in counter or support to what they’ve said?
I know in my experience I could be quite harsh on myself to the point of causing my own depression for several days. I used to beat myself up for making mistakes or not living up to my potential to the point of not letting myself do any writing or not letting myself reach out to friends or family to talk to. I was too ashamed of myself to think I was worth all that trouble for people to care about, let alone believe my writing had any merit beyond mere self expression.
Self expression is key, though.
That’s the most important thing about journaling that people need to understand. It has nothing to do with being a good or bad writer or if it makes any sense. It’s all about getting to express yourself as freely as you want because the page is the safest place on the planet.
Anne Frank said it best when she said, “paper is more patience than people.”
The page won’t judge you or shame you for thinking what you think.
The page won’t challenge you on your thoughts.
That’s all completely up to you to do. You can start off journaling with the express purpose of letting your darkest, deepest secrets and desires onto the page, but in the end it’s up to you whether you want to do something about any of that or not. My opinion is that you should, but my opinion shouldn’t matter to you when you’ve got your own intricate inner world that I will never understand, and you’ll have your own reasons for resisting the challenge that journal brings forth. Let alone journaling at all.
But once again, in my experience, I’ve become acutely aware of how damaging myself talk has been, calling myself names, making myself feel guilty and ashamed about certain things I do or say, and giving myself an overall lifestyle of dread and misery.
After several years of journaling and about half a year of therapy, though, I’m starting to see how much time has been wasted on doubting myself and not believing in myself enough. Trusting myself is an even bigger point of contention, but I’m getting there. I’m finally at a place where I can get depressed and tired of life, but simply retreat to myself and recover instead of telling myself how much of a failure I am and unloading my negativity onto others.
If I have a trusted friend or family to talk to a certain thing about. Hell, that’s what my therapist is for when I want an even deeper dive for help beyond unconditional empathy. She will challenge my thoughts and beliefs, pose questions about them, and I am left speechless and mindless a lot of times because it stops the usual noise that goes on in my head.
With journaling and therapy, the goal is to tackle your thoughts and feelings to the point where you really do need to take a moment to stop, breathe, and think before you answer. Whenever your mind stills itself and stops the usual chatter, that’s when you know you’ve hit some big and need to take your time to figure it out.
And in the end you will learn exactly how you need to approach yourself on a daily basis. The kind of empathy and compassion you know you deserve, giving yourself the kind of self talk you need to survive the throes of life. This doesn’t mean delude yourself into thinking everything is fine when things are going to hell, but it does mean taking ownership for the ways in which you can influence the circumstances of your life to the best of your ability.
Improving our self talk is important because we get so used to hearing the same thought patterns over and over again, and we start to believe them. We don’t even know where so many of our thoughts and beliefs come from, whether we’ve come to these conclusions rationally, emotionally, or simply by default. We’ve given our power away by getting influenced by our peers, family, or society, but in the end we are the ones, at the individual level, who are ultimately responsible for the way we think, feel, and act in the world at large.
Therapy, coupled with journaling, is how reclaim that power.
Part 10: The Gratitude Journal
One of the most overlooked, but also one of the most powerful kinds of journals you can write, is the Gratitude Journal. All too often we’ll journal out our problems and hopes for the future that we forget to take stock of what we currently have: The Present Moment.
It’s all we ever have and no matter how much loss we’ve suffered in the past and how much more we’ve got to gain in the future, so long as we’re simply breathing, we have a lot to be thankful for. Maybe you’re not where you want to be in life and maybe you’re suffering a crisis. The mere fact that you get to live and be given the opportunity to learn and grow from hardship should be appreciated.
It’s a strange concept, to be thankful for even hardship. But if you really think about it, without sadness and hardship, we would not have much appreciation for happiness and the good times in our lives. There’d be no contrast. And in the business of contrasting, instead of journaling out your problems all the time, take a moment to be grateful and acknowledge where you’re at.
“He who cannot be contented with what he has will not be contented with what he wants.” – Socrates
It was true over 2000 years ago and it’s still true to this day. Practicing gratitude can help reframe your mind toward abundance rather than always focusing on scarcity. We have evolved to focus on scarcity because human survival was much harder before than it is now, so we’ve still got a lot of leftover monkey brain residing within us. Not to say it’s entirely useless because starvation and poverty are real problems, but I think it’s safe to say that if you can afford the internet connection in order to read this post, there’s a high chance that you’re living a comfortable life, if not a luxurious one.
Yet that’s the problem, right?
We work so hard to get to the point of comfortability because being challenged is difficult, we just wanna laze around and watch Netflix or play video games all day because they’re the most fun and easiest things to do. But then we tend to grow stagnant when we live a little too comfortably. So just as we need challenges to help us grow, we also need ample rest so we have the energy to tackle the challenges of life.
It’s a balancing act that we will never perfect, but will definitely try our entire lives to employ. You want to be journaling your problems out for the catharsis and possible problem solving that can come with it. And you also want to be writing about the things you’ve achieved thus far and be grateful for what you have in life, even if it may seem very little.
Harkening back to the Socrates quote, sometimes we get so busy chasing things that we think will make us happy that we somehow forget how to just be happy. We think that next relationship, that new job, or that new toy is what’s gonna make us happy, and maybe we get one or all of those things and then it’s like “so what now?”
That’s the tricky thing with life.
It’s good to have goals to strive for so that each day you live is filled with some sense of purpose and direction. But as that old cliché goes, “life is a journey, not a destination.” It’s cliché because it’s true. If you’re not moving toward an aim you are then aimless and begin to feel the weight of existential dread falling upon you.
So you work, work, and work, and you finally achieve your goal, and then you’re confronted with a whole new problem: “what’s next?”
Achieving one goal only opens you up to having a whole new set of problems you did not think possible, and since you have much more life left to live, then the process repeats. Until the very end of your days there’s always gonna be one more mountain to climb because it’s just what we do as human beings. We inherently do not feel like we are or have enough and so we strive to fill ourselves with more and more experiences and possessions—all of which are not bad things in and of themselves, but none of them really mean anything unless we take the time to be grateful for them.
If you have nothing pertinent to journal about, no issues to solve, then take a moment to write a Gratitude Journal because we could all use a little respite here and there. Give thanks to the people you love, the art that you’ve consumed, and even thank yourself for showing up for your daily practice. Life is very short and we tend to go from one thing to the next in a heartbeat, so giving ourselves a moment to breathe and feel that heartbeat, even for just a fraction of eternity, we are reminded that it is Your Write to Live.