A question of privacy

The question I get asked most frequently by people thinking about starting their own journal writing practice is: “What if someone snoops?”

Will we be in danger, will we cause offence and hurt? What will we do with the crippling shame and embarrassment if anyone sees what we’ve written?

These are questions which I perceive preoccupy mainly novice reflective writing practitioners. And invariably it’s the embarrassment they might feel which worries them the most. Hmmm.

Strangely the privacy question ceases to concern those who have kept a journal for a long time. Either because they’ve worked out a fail-safe way to keep their writing private, or because the quality of their writing has shifted away from being a big ol’ rant about the rest of the world, to something more considered, more balanced and compassionate – and infinitely less sensational to read.

But this more balanced output takes time and practice. And most of all it takes a certain level of acceptance of ourselves and what we think and feel, so we no longer are compelled to screech out our anger / irritation / annoyance / resistance at /with or towards anyone else in every single journal entry.  The truth is that people enjoy being outraged, and will happily justify snooping where they shouldn’t if they find something that they consider outrageous.  Interestingly, the more we write reflectively, the more aware  and authentic we become. The more aware and authentic we become, the greater the qualities of humility and tolerance in our writing, and the less anyone will be interested in reading it. The risk reward cycle of snooping and outrage becomes irrelevant.

So what about after we’re gone? What to do about our journals should anyone discover them and read them when we’re dead? Personally this doesn’t bother me at all – I know I’ll be completely beyond any shame and embarrassment by that stage! But what if my writings cause offence to the reader, and perhaps distort their memories of me?

I’ve given this a bit of thought over the last couple of days, since this very question was tentatively put to me.

One strategy is to carefully destroy anything we write that has an immediate cathartic value for us, but which could cause hurt to anyone reading it out of context at a later stage, when it is no longer of any constructive use.

Another strategy might be to write a disclaimer letter to the reader to be included at the beginning of any new journal, explaining why you’re writing, that you cannot be held responsible for anything written within these pages after your demise, and that no harm is meant to anyone through these writings, whose purpose was purely cathartic. If, like me, you have a bit of a devilish streak you might also invite the reader to steel themselves for any unpalatable truths they might stumble upon, with which you never meant to hurt them. If anything, it’s likely to get them into journaling too!

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4 Comments

Filed under Journal Writing

4 responses to “A question of privacy

  1. Juliet,
    I have run into this question before concerning, “What if someone reads my journal?” I’ve never considered that an issue for me personally; my family gives me my privacy, which I appreciate. I like your take on the issue with not venting and ranting as much but being more reflective with our journaling over time. I also love the idea of writing a disclaimer inside the journal so folks understand these were your private thought not meant to be read. Yes, and truths indeed!

    I have chosen your post, A Question of Privacy, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 5/29/13 for all things journaling on Twitter; a link will be posted on the social networks, on my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in my weekly Refresh Journal: http://tinyurl.com/q3fqjta.

    #JournalChat Live is every Thursday, 5 EST/2 PST, for all things journaling on Twitter; our topic this week is Your Journaling: Honor the Love with special guest, Kathleen Pooler.

    Thanks for addressing this issue of privacy with journaling.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    Your Refreshment Specialist
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter
    Author of The Birthday Wall: Create a Collage to Celebrate Your Child

    • Hi Dawn Thanks so much for your comment and for choosing my blog post as Pick of the Day. Journaling privacy can be a thorny issue for people just starting out, but I believe it’s not as scary as it might appear. Great to hear from you! Juliet

  2. Jackie

    Interesting…..I was very self absorbed when I started to journal, full of how others had wronged me, but now I have realised the huge contribution I make to these situations and I am not afraid to own it anymore. “You made me….or you make me feel like….” has dropped from my vocabulary and I am very aware if the power of words. If someone could be bothered to follow the progression I think they might see the change……and understand the growth I have gone through. Hopefully they would have a tinge of forgiveness and understanding that might enlighten them too!

    • Hi Jackie
      Thank you so much for visiting my blog. You are so right. Reading the bits of my journal where I feel wronged is always very cringe-making for me, but then I realise that this is a sign of how having written it down in the first place has helped me learn an grow. It’s all good!

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