In this chapter, we'll talk about:
techniques to control the thoughts and feelings journaling can prompt.
knowing how to start (and stop) journaling.
+ three writing prompts.
"Containment for me is putting my journal away and allowing it to hide the contents of my mind externally until I am ready and able to return to them."
- Girlboss.Guru's Personal Journal (2021)
THOUGH IT HOLDS INCREDIBLE THERAPEUTIC VALUE, JOURNALING CAN BRING ABOUT strong emotions, thoughts and overwhelm either about ourselves and/or the subjects we're writing about. It's important to consider ways to contain what can occur before, during and following writing therapeutically, so we can safely reap the benefits.
Time Yourself: Set Yourself Limits
Initially when we are journaling, we may not know what to write about, and so may spend time procrastinating, worrying (and therefore feeling anxious), or we may dive headfirst into a practice we're unsure will offer us any comfort. And so we should begin slowly and with caution, but daily if at all possible. Set yourself a time limit and agree not to surpass the 10, 15 or 20 minute alarm when it sounds. If you wish to write more, choose a time later in the day to return to the activity and reset your stopwatch. After several weeks, increase the duration of your journaling time and allow yourself further freedom—you will now have better control of what to expect, greater confidence in the exercise and possibly a daily routine in place.
Write by Hand: Set Yourself Boundaries
Handwriting in a physical paper journal allows us to find a deeper stream of consciousness, so we can better connect with the movement of our pen and the sensation of it scratching against the paper. Not only will handwriting reduce screen time, but when we are deeply-rooted in the act of journaling, it becomes mindful and we focus on the present. What we write, no matter the content, is safely restrained within those pages. Once we cease to engage, they exist outside of ourselves and can be locked away, re-visited if necessary, or even destroyed.
Furthermore, for those concerned with privacy or confidentiality, handwritten notes are easier to control than blogs posted online or digital documents saved to a shared computer. They can be shared selectively and purposefully. However, a password-protected file on-screen may be better suited to someone who can type faster than they can write by hand (particularly if their handwriting is illegible); it is easier and faster for the mind to communicate their thoughts and feelings on a keyboard than with a pen.
Feedback: Understand Yourself
When you have written for a short period, pause and re-read what you had to say before putting the journal away. As you do so, give yourself feedback based on your observations, using direct phrases such as, 'I notice...' or 'I feel...' or 'I realise...'. Once we learn to assess what we write and where these thoughts and emotions stem from, we can better understand causes and solutions (therefore contain their effect on our daily lives).
Cathartic vs Therapeutic vs Entertaining: Accept Your Mindset
Therapeutic journaling is, in itself, a form of self-therapy and a way for us to safely express how we feel and what we want without offending others or feeling we are a burden. It can be a thrilling, fun hobby and/or a cathartic experience, whereby we scream into the page to dump our angst or purge our troubles.
Learning to identify which mindset you are in, be it therapeutic (which Girlboss associates with intentional, mindful journaling), cathartic (which Girlboss associates with venting) or entertaining (which Girlboss associates with scrapbooking, drawing and other creative and related hobbies), affects your response when completing the 'Feedback Loop'. You will see certain words and phrases for what they are, so will not then feel any guilt or regret about them. You can let them go as something said in the moment, perhaps, or an over-reaction or a lie.
Baby Steps: Pace Yourself
Ease into journaling and, in the beginning, pace yourself. Offer kindness and patience to the parts of you that needs this, and hand responsibility to the part of you that is curious to learn about journaling and, also, to enjoy it. Taking breaks will allow you to strengthen internally when you return to the page, and starting with small and easy journal prompts not only offers structure to this new experience, but offers a way out before you write too deeply. Outlining the events of your day will, of course, be easier and quicker than detailing and evaluating a childhood trauma, for example. And so it is important to move forward only when you feel ready to do so—start by writing positively and dip your toe in at the shallow end. Only when your confidence and comfort grows should you further submerge.
Prompts and People: Surround Yourself
Alongside using the timed approach, you may find that writing in a group or following structured prompts/tasks is better suited to your needs, and contains the effects of journaling in a less-obvious way. Writing with others gives you additional support from experienced (or not so experienced) individuals going through this at the same time, and means timed exercises and a guide are most likely a given in this scenario. Attending a group setting or a scheduled writing event will also allow you to contain journaling to that specific day/time/place.
In an entertainment setting (such as a creative writing group for poetry or fiction), sharing may be mandatory, but this will help you to better gage how to contain your writerly urges—which subjects are off-limits, for example. In a therapy setting, sharing may be optional; remember that writing exercises, prompts and tasks are not graded or judged in any way, and what you write vs what another person writes (or what you think/assume they are writing) is not wrong or incorrect.
Open Your Journal
Turn to the next blank page and answer the following questions:
Set yourself a 5-minute limit - in this time, handwrite about your day: who did you meet, where did you go, what did you do.
Set yourself a 10-minute limit - in this time, handwrite about how you felt and some of the thoughts you had. If you remember your dream/s, make note of what happened.
Set yourself a 15 minute limit - re-read the first two prompts. Give yourself some feedback in list-form.
Need to make notes?
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