7 Ways to Move Through Grief: Journaling
Article #3 in a series of 7
In the previous installment of this series, 7 Ways to Move Through Grief, I talked about how important it was for me to stay fixed on gratitude. During the early days after my ex told me he wanted to divorce and turned my life upside down, practicing gratitude daily helped tremendously. It was the first way I used my journal as a coping technique. Later I began to use my journal as a sort of therapy.
I’ve been writing down my thoughts and observations, processing my emotions, and readjusting my perspective within the pages of a journal off and on over the years since I was a little kid. It’s always worked well for me, as it’s worked well for others. Research supports the effectiveness of expressive writing in helping people move more easily through emotional upheavals. There’s even proof that it can improve physical health – not just mental health.
When Journaling Is A Bad Idea
However, journaling isn’t for everyone. Some people simply can’t sit down and write in the way that leads to a shift in perspective. To some it’s too strenuous to do alone. There are times when the inner dialogue may actually need to be an outer dialogue with a therapist or spiritual advisor who can help constructively guide the thought threads.
For some of us journaling can backfire and make us feel worse. Instead of a technique for coping well with loss, it becomes a pit of despair where we steep in our unresolved feelings and relive our suffering without relief. Research has shown that this dangerous effect is real. At about the halfway point in this TED talk by David Sbarra, he mentions the downside of journaling while coping with divorce: http://youtu.be/vg92QEL4w4I
Sbarra’s studies have shown that for people who have “a tendency to brood,” journaling is actually the wrong thing to do.
When Journaling Works
The key for journaling to be helpful rather than harmful is having confidence… and perhaps even a touch of optimism. You want to observe yourself, pour out your heart, and examine your thought process against a backdrop of confidence in yourself.
You must have confidence in yourself that you’ll find a way through your pain. You must be confident that you will have another perspective at some point in the future. In the case of journaling about a loss, you must have confidence that you’ll eventually reach the final stage of acceptance.
As an introvert who overcame childhood shyness (and I still struggle with it from time to time), I find great comfort in my alone time when writing in my journal.
Over these past months, I’ve written several “unsent letters,” in my journal. This has been very therapeutic. In fact, it’s a form of therapy that counselors use!
I’ve ranted and raged on the pages of my notebook in order to avoid doing it aloud and creating further drama and trauma in real life. The fantasy of “here’s what I would say if I could” is lived out in a healthy way. It’s contained inside a notebook rather than inside my head, and my physical body is better off too because I’ve released that pressure by writing it out.
My natural tendency is toward positivity and optimism, so I’ve also given myself numerous pep talks in my journal. Putting pen to paper always helps me get into a new frame of mind in which I can better function in the day to day.
Speaking of frame of mind, your journal is a great place to reframe your thoughts. One of the most critical thoughts I’ve been working on reframing is going from “he rejected me” to “he released me” when he ended our relationship.
As I mentioned in the last article of this series, not all grief is the same. For that reason, not all ways to cope work the same. But reframing is a practice that I know eventually leads to acceptance, and so it can help with moving through grief. For example, in losing someone to death, we often use reframing when we say and believe that the person has gone to a better place or when we express gratitude that in death our loved one has stopped suffering.
While processing my loss, I’ve reframed many unhelpful thoughts into more helpful thoughts. It’s just that for me, it’s easier done on paper where I can be more objective. Even before I heard about the research, I knew that journaling works only if you can do it in such a way as to get out of your head.
I have also always known that writing out your thoughts and feelings in longhand slows your thoughts and feelings down to a pace in which you are actually able to see them, hear them, get to know them… and then reframe them at will.
Next Up – Distractions
Next time, I’ll talk about consciously using distractions… that is, healthy distractions… when you’re moving through grief.
Click HERE to read part four, 7 Ways To Move Through Grief: Distractions.
Angela Loëb is into self-development… learning it, teaching it, and supporting others who do too.
More at http://angelaloeb.com