Journaling for recovery

“I can shake off everything as I write, my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

Anne Frank

Journaling is the process of writing down our thoughts, feelings, plans goals, insights, experiences and observations. There are no rules, it is a deeply personal experience that gives huge benefits to our emotional health.

Journaling can help us recover from trauma and abuse. It has massive benefits for domestic abuse survivors at every stage of their journey.

Journaling when still in the abusive relationship

When suffering coercive control and gaslighting, it’s easy to believe we are to blame for our abuse because we’re being manipulated to think this. Journaling is a powerful tool that will help us to understand what is happening to us. By documenting incidents of abuse, we can see it with an objectivity not possible when it remains in our heads. When still in the abusive relationship, we are inclined to positively interpret abusive behaviour and give our abuser the benefit of the doubt – we don’t want to accept we’re living with a monster. When journaling our abuse, we will be able to see the cycles of abuse that inevitably occur, and this will help us properly understand what is happening and may help us find the courage to leave the relationship.

Journaling to recover from abuse

Emotional and autobiographical journaling can have huge benefits to us. It can also be inspiring to others should we choose to share our experiences. The benefits of journaling are well documented and can bring about major benefits in wellbeing. Journaling can be a powerful tool for personal growth and self-exploration. Writing things down can help build resilience – we are able to reflect on what’s happened in a more objective way and with objectivity comes self-compassion. Survivors of domestic abuse are often hampered by self-criticism, imagining they’re at fault for much of the abuse they were subjected to. It’s not until we’re able to step out of the situation and look in, an ability that comes with committing the experience to writing, that we can view our abuse with a realism that this detachment gives. This can help to stop endless rumination and self-blame, which is so damaging to rebuilding self-esteem following abuse.

As well as helping to develop self-worth, journaling can also help us understand our life’s meaning. The process will allow us to discover what’s important to us, our values, goals and aspirations. Much self-development comes from this personal reflection and as every therapist will tell us, we are the experts on ourselves and we have our own answers – writing, like therapy is a medium for bringing those answers to the surface.

Telling our story in written form might be the first time we’ve properly told it. There is a freedom that can be gained from getting it out, articulating what happened, expressing what we may have previously thought couldn’t be said. It’s possible to distance ourselves from traumatic events by telling the story – we can become more detached from the events and the negative feelings surrounding them. It’s possible to use metaphors to enable us to explore deeply painful experiences in a safer way. Insights gained from this process will allow for different and more positive choices in the future.

Journaling to improve self-esteem

Self-esteem is often badly damaged during an abusive relationship. When we’re abused, we can become over-focused on listening to our abuser and believing what he is saying. Journaling can be a very effective tool in improving self-esteem because it involves self-reflection and gives us back a sense of control that we may have lost. Writing about our day, our accomplishments and our goals, can help us track our personal growth and development which will positively impact self-esteem. Journaling can be a safe place where we can explore difficult and painful emotions that might be negatively affecting our self-worth. We should never include self-shaming, but always commit to being self-compassionate. Noticing and recording achievements and the positive things in our lives will add to our sense of wellbeing.

Journaling for gratitude  

Gratitude is the expression of thankfulness and gratefulness. Acknowledging gratitude for the positives in our lives can add to a sense of wellbeing. Deliberately focusing our attention on gratitude can give us a long-lasting sense of positivity. Keeping a gratitude journal or acknowledging gratitude within our journaling can be of huge benefit. Especially when life seems difficult, being able to focus on some positives within our lives and acknowledging sources of good that lie outside will do us good. When we focus our thoughts on gratitude, situations we might previously have considered negatively might be re-evaluated as positives, or opportunities for growth. Many situations are neutral, we make them positive or negative by how we choose to perceive them. By using journaling as a tool to practice gratitude, we will improve our ability to perceive the positives in our lives.

Journaling to achieve our goals

Finding meaning in our lives or having a sense of purpose is strongly associated with improved wellbeing and emotional resilience. Journaling can help us to identify our sense of purpose and once identified, we can set goals and work towards achievements that we’ll find fulfilling and meaningful. The very process of writing down our hopes and dreams makes them more real and more achievable. We can use journaling to set goals, determine priorities, track progress and tick off our accomplishments.

We may choose to share our story and insights

Our written story might be a personal exploration not to be shared, we don’t need to disclose to others to gain many benefits from the process. However, sharing our story, if this is what’s right for us can come with additional benefits. Nothing is more compelling, inspiring or meaningful than a real story of struggle over adversity. We can make a real difference to others who might be facing similar situations, we can give hope to those who can’t yet see a way out, we can inspire motivation in those who lack energy, we can give direction to those who need guidance.

Tips for journaling:

  • Be kind and self-compassionate in your journaling, this will bring more benefits.
  • Consider the process as enjoyable ‘me time’, journaling shouldn’t be an onerous task.
  • Aim to make your journaling a habit, but there’s no need to do it every day or be self-critical if there are gaps in your journaling.
  • Understand that journaling can take practice to reap maximum benefits. Practice will help you develop your technique and style.
  • Anything goes, don’t feel inhibited. You may find yourself writing a shopping list or ‘to do’ list whilst journaling, this is all fine.
  • Writing down your achievements can feel very positive. If documenting things that have gone wrong, do this with a view to exploration, learning and doing things differently next time.
  • Practice journaling when stressed and anxious, the very process can help put worries into a more rational perspective. Writing things down can also distance you from your fears.
  • Practice journaling when you’re feeling happy and creative and re-read these positive ideas at other times.
  • You may find journaling prompts useful to get you started, many can be found online. These prompts are questions that encourage you to answer in your journal.

“Documenting little details of your everyday life becomes a celebration of who you are.” Carolyn V Hamilton

Blog written by Sandra Reddish

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You may also want to read these further blogs from Sandra.

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