Tag Archives: catharsis

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!

4 Comments

Filed under Journal Writing

How journal writing helps us heal

Our journals are not just “something sensational to read on the train” as Oscar Wilde would have them in The Importance of Being Earnest.

Of course it is very cathartic to use our journals to rant about how wronged we feel, and how others are to blame for our hurt. But with the right intention our journals aren’t just dumping grounds for our sensational life-dramas.

When we turn to our journals we are granting ourselves some precious time to reflect on our experience and to get curious about how we feel. Raising our awareness of our thoughts and emotions enables us to achieve a level of objectivity which is beneficial to our mind and body, and it creates a space for resolving inner mental conflicts and achieving physical ease.

It’s heartening that in my journal the rants are invariably followed by contrite passages seeing things from the other’s point of view or seeking forgiveness. It would appear that we can’t be too cross for too long in our journal. Our still small voice of reason will eventually prevail, and it is this authentic reflex that heals and restores us.

Another powerful way that our journal can help us is in the process of healing physical symptoms. Many GPs now advocate the use of symptoms diaries in managing chronic illnesses and physical conditions. Making a record of when our aches and pains occur helps us to identify their triggers and then take preventative measures to keep them at bay.

However I believe keeping a symptoms diary carries other, more profound benefits. There is no suggestion here that journal writing can be a substitute for qualified medical attention, however by writing about our physical experiences we are able to create some objective distance between us and them. We can then let go of any notion that ‘we are our illness’ and begin to take control of how we might heal.

In a more advanced application of journal writing to the process of self-healing, we can use our reflective practice to engage our symptoms in conversation, and ask them direct questions about their message to us. Physical tension, aches and pains need not just be ‘the way things are’ that we have to put up with. They can provide us with a rich entry point to enquire of ourselves whether the way we are living our life is enabling our body to be as healthy as it can be.

Simply put, the physical act of writing reflectively about our body’s experience is a way of aligning body and mind towards getting well. And that truly is sensational.

Leave a comment

Filed under Journal Writing, Self-Awareness