What is Compassionate Journaling?
Most of us are aware of the age-old technique of journaling. Journaling is an effective way to express emotions, explore inner thought processes and help reduce stress. Compassionate journaling focuses on helping you challenge and reframe negative self-talk and unrealistic expectations you might hold yourself to. Journaling allows you to have an open and honest space where you can dig deep and explore new ideas that help reduce stress and progress your healing journey.
What Makes Compassionate Journaling Beneficial?
Trying to not think about painful memories consumes enormous amounts of mental and physical energy, along with leaving our pain unchanged. On the other hand, giving attention to our pain can help to sooth and lessen the pain allowing us to move past it. Writing in a safe space allows us to get more in tune with ourselves, giving us the ability to better understand ourselves and the difficulties we carry around with us. When utilizing compassionate journaling to face, rather than avoid your pain, you may find that you discover a few things such as:
Finding a sense of relief by releasing long-held secrets.
Strengths that helped you get through difficult times and perhaps protected you and others from further harm.
Resilience and confidence that you can cope in the present because you got through difficult past events.
Different ways to interpret past events and work towards acceptance.
Opportunities to respond to yourself with compassion rather than harsh judgements and self-criticism.
Opportunities to help you reaffirm your worth, your belief in your genuine and authentic self and your hope for your future.
Gratitude for you do have [i.e., support system, family, friends, housing, food, education, senses, abilities, etc.].
Ways to redirect your attention to more positive aspects of life.
Ways to grow and bring new meaning into your life.
Who Benefits from Journaling?
Nearly everyone can benefit from compassionate journaling. Research has started to show that when we keep secrets about trauma, unhealthy behaviors, and even negative beliefs about ourselves it is predictive of both medical and psychological problems. Individuals that experience a lot of anger or are out of touch with their emotions especially benefit from compassionate journaling. Writing provides a private space allowing us to learn how to reconnect and process through those new, difficult or avoided emotions.
Journaling is useful for all types of experienced traumas and unexpected, unwanted hardships. If you are troubled by the past, think about it often, and expend significant amounts of energy trying to avoid thinking about it, it might be worth trying compassionate journaling. The worst that could happen is that you give it a try and you come to the conclusion that it’s not for you. There is little harm in at least trying compassionate journaling for a few days to weeks to see if you notice any changes.
Guidelines and Considerations
To help get you started with compassionate journaling here are a few guidelines and considerations that might help get the process started.
Establish a writing ritual: try to write at the same time each day and allow time to reflect afterwards. Ideal times might be on the weekends, at night, or during planned breaks. Try to write in a comfortable, secure and private location such as a library, coffee shop or a park. Keep in mind it’s better to write even when conditions are not ideal rather than to not write at all.
Don’t write until you feel ready. This is especially true if writing about traumatic events, allowing yourself several weeks after the occurrence to allow emotions to settle.
Be prepared for mood changes. Understandably you may experience shifts in your mood when writing this is normal. It’s like when you watch a sad movie and it sticks with you for a few days. After writing most people report feeling relief and contentment for up to six months. They typically report that they have a better understanding of the past and it no longer hurts or hurts less when they think back on it.
Have a back up plan. If you feel like writing might cause you to fall into a dark space ease up on writing. You can also seek out mental health professionals to help you process through your writing and support your during healing journey.
Write for your eyes only. If you worry about someone else reading what you write you may not write honestly. Hide or destroy your writing afterwards if you fear someone might see it.
Notice your what you wrote about. After each journaling session take a moment to notice how deeply you expressed yourself and how that might have impacted your mood. Think about how valuable that writing session was for you.