A small portion of today’s content may be triggering for some audiences. I encourage you to read through but please do so at your own risk. Feel free to browse the menu bar above for lighter content. :)
To journal for therapy is a little different than other types of journaling you can do. Journaling for therapy was something I stumbled upon almost by accident. I didn’t know it existed until I needed it. You see, life really does work in mysterious ways sometimes. It’s almost like your body knows exactly what you need and when you need it without you even realizing it.
A little backstory…
(feel free to skip and scroll right down to the journaling techniques I’m sharing)
One example of this I’m always reminded of is when I started journaling as a teenager. I’ve always been a writer. From copying the dictionary word for word once I learned to write (ridiculous right?!) to writing short stories in elementary school, making sure to always include a picture of a simple house with curtains, a chimney and a big sun in the left-hand corner.
I also kept a diary in elementary school where I would write about my friend of the month (haha) and about my family or pets I’m sure. In middle school, several friends of mine each kept a notebook between us that we decorated where we’d exchange notes. I think I had 5 or 6 going all at one time in 7th or 8th grade. I’d write a note and then give the notebook back to my friend so she could read, reply and give it back. I bet that’s unheard of these days! Good times.
The summer of 1998 is when everything in my world changed. I was sexually abused by a very close “family friend” the summer after 9th grade ended. I was newly 15. I was blindsided, shocked, saddened, mortified, ashamed, angry, embarrassed, lost, hopeless, helpless, confused and every other negative feeling a person could possibly feel — things a 15-year-old should not feel at the hands of a trusted adult.
I told no one. I didn’t want people to know and I didn’t want people judging me. I wanted it to be a lifelong secret to save myself from how others would view the situation. I always dreaded the day this person (won’t call him a man…) would be attending my graduation party in the next few years. How the hell was I gonna handle that? More on that later.
So what did I do? After the first time I was raped, I found a notebook and wrote in detail about everything that happened to me. Every. Single. Thing. I think this is what kept me alive. This is how my body was trying to process what it had gone through. I never thought about this at that time in my life but as an adult, it’s pretty clear. Journaling saved me.
Journaling allowed me to express what I needed to get out without telling anyone. Not that that’s good… but it’s what I did to survive is what it feels like. It’s all I knew how to do given the shitty situation I had been put in.
How to Start Journaling for Therapy
How I’m about to explain my way of journaling isn’t scientific or anything new. What I’m about to explain is what my mind and body did on almost autopilot. When my world was crashing down around me, my journal felt like home. That might sound stupid, but it knew everything. It knew my deepest secrets that nobody else knew. Until my mom found it. Now it’s probably sitting in some evidence room because once my mom turned that over to police, I never got it back. I think that’s a good thing because re-reading what I wrote then would probably break my heart all over again.
Needless to say, he wasn’t invited to my graduation party so I didn’t have to worry about that. But holy hell I had no idea what was in store for me. There’s a reason they call post-rape “the aftermath”. Or at least that’s what I call it.
On to journaling…
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Paper. You can use a notebook or a fancy journal. I’ve always used plain notebooks. There’s just something about “cutesy” journals that makes me not want to write in them. But I do buy them. And they just sit empty. Weird, right?
- Private blog. Writing is very therapeutic for me but if you hate writing or just prefer to type, you could easily set up a private blog online for free to journal on. I started this blog on the free Blogger platform by Google. You can protect your blog with a private password so that nobody else can read it.
- Writing utensils. I prefer pen – these are my favorite. You can use markers, pencil, colored pencils, gel pens.. whatever you prefer.
- Alone time. Doesn’t necessarily have to be quiet. You can light candles and play music or you can turn everything off and shut everything out and just be.
Here’s what to do:
- Write like nobody will ever see what you write. Unedited, unfiltered. The more raw, the better.
What to write about:
- How you’re feeling about a situation that’s bothering you.
- Current goings-on in your life — positive or negative. It is good to write about the positive things too but my journal entries are typically on the negative side. I’m working on that.
- Current events that are upsetting you.
- Write an unsent letter letting somebody know how you really feel. You can decide to give it to them, or not. I did this for the first time after my stepdad passed away in 2015. I was literally sobbing for 3 straight days. He and I hadn’t been super close since he and my mom divorced and I kept thinking about what I wish I had said before knowing I’d never see or talk to him again. I worried that he thought I hated him and most of all… I wanted him to know how thankful I was that he did so many “dad things”. I never thanked him and his passing left me gutted. I wrote those things down in my letter to him. It ended up being 4 pages long. I sobbed as I wrote it and the pages are crinkled from tears falling but I felt such a relief after I finished it. And then I let myself begin the grieving process.
- Write a letter to your younger self. Here’s one I did.
The reason I tell you that it’s like your body always knows what you need is because the first therapist I began to see had an interesting first assignment for me. She wanted me to write about what happened to me — in the greatest detail I knew how. When I told her I had already done that, she was pretty surprised. She wanted me to do it again. So I did. And then she had me read it out loud. That was the moment everything became super real for me and was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
Journaling is super good for the soul. It can give you some clarity while also sort of “freeing” you from your demons. That’s what journaling for therapy is like for me and I encourage anyone and everyone to try it — especially if you’re really, really struggling with something that maybe nobody else knows about.
Write like nobody will see it.
Journaling makes me feel better physically and emotionally. If you keep at it, it’s really interesting to look back and read old entries too to see how far you’ve really come since writing the very first one. Tremendous growth has been my biggest side effect of journaling.
I just need to remember to keep doing it. So I can keep growing.
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