Healing begins when you sit with your circumstances, emotions, and questions with unfiltered honesty. A blank page & pen is a great place to start.
Journaling with a pen to paper creates an amazing connection to your emotions and your story. Remember, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to journal. The important thing is to just start. If you are like me, you want to know what the overall purpose of this process is. Well, the purpose of journaling is to create a narrative of your past and your present, so that in your future you can reflect on God’s goodness, faithfulness, and love. It is also a tool for growth and being able to track that growth. Now the question becomes, where do you start? I must admit that I thrive within templates. Give me an idea of what to do or a step-by-step process and I am good to go.
Before I provide that initial template or step-by-step process, I thought I would give you a brief caveat. This type of journaling will produce tension. Tension does a couple of things:
It “feels” uncomfortable: When we face something outside of our normal, it can “feel” uncomfortable. This is good, because it causes us to pay attention. When we pay attention to the tension, we can begin to make sense of how we got here in the first place.
It creates opportunity: Opportunity gives us the option to step into something we wouldn’t normally do. In many cases this type of journaling provides an opportunity to look at our situation, our struggle or our emotions through a different perspective.
It requires us to pause: We cannot rush through this process. Embracing the tension creates the ability to pause and reflect.
It requires an action plan: If we want to grow, mature, and develop in our emotional and mental health, we must develop an action plan. Staying and/or sitting within the tension is good for a period. For an extended period, it can be counterproductive. We need to create an action plan to propel us forward.
It moves us to growth: When confronted with tension, we either revert to unhealthy patterns or we grow and mature. The hope is that you take the opportunity to grow.
I wanted to have this conversation with you because many of my clients would start this process and then the tension would creep in, and they would stop. Tension is a good thing as it produces the most authentic growth. Stick with it and you will not be disappointed.
Becoming “old friends” with your emotions.
What does this process look like? I personally love this visual as it is what we should hope for and want when it comes to our emotions. What does it mean to be “old friends” with someone?
- You are familiar with their features.
- You are not surprised by their moods.
- You are not surprised by their reactions.
- You can finish their thoughts and sentences.
- You can tell when something is off, even if they don’t say anything.
- Regardless of how they show up, you are comfortable with them.
Applying this concept to our emotions might be a foreign concept and may seem a bit odd but let me tell you how it helped one of my clients Anna. Anna came to see me for her depression. She had been struggling with her depression since the birth of her last child, over two years ago. She tried traditional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and medication, but nothing seemed to work. Several sessions in I stated, “It sounds like you’ve been trying to get rid of your depression versus getting to know your depression. What would it look like to become ‘old friends’ with it instead of dismissing it?” She looked at me like I had a third eye, and stuttered, “Um, wha…what do you mean?” “Why would I want to do that?” she asked. I explained the benefits of becoming familiar with, knowing, understanding, and becoming friends with her depression. I gave her the five-step process for journaling and encouraged her to try it between sessions.
At her next session she was visibly different. “I can tell a difference in your demeanor,” I stated, “What has changed?” Anna proceeded to tell me that as she personified her depression through the five-step process, and what she originally thought was a big scary monster, ended up being a small teddy bear looking creature, like an Ewok from Star Wars (Google it if you don’t know what they look like). As we processed this realization in later sessions, she was able to recognize her depression as the Ewok character and rather than being afraid of it, she was rather annoyed by it and its crankiness, but realized that it was overall manageable. She was able to begin the process of becoming “old friends” with her depression. It didn’t fully go away, but it did become something she could embrace and manage.
Here is the five-step journaling process to becoming “old friends” with your emotions:
- In as many words as possible, describe what your pervasive feeling is.
- If you were to “see” that emotion represented in physical form, what would it look like? Is it alive? Is it an animal? A human? Describe the features in depth (e.g. height, weight, what it is wearing, color, etc.).
- If you can, draw it. It is important to bring it to life (you do not need to be a good artist to do this).
- Describe its characteristics. Is it annoying? Scary? Moody? Impulsive? Happy? In what ways does this character interact with you?
- Begin the process of becoming “old friends”.
- Sit with it. Get to know the nuances of its features.
- Become a student of its moods and reactions.
- Get to a place where you can expect its next move.
- Know how it will respond in various circumstances.
- Know it well enough you become comfortable with it, no matter what.
I recognize this is new for you. That’s okay. I am inviting you into this process and I know it works. It’s worked for me as I’ve wrestled with my anxiety and depression. It has worked for countless clients. Give it a try. Stick with it. Embrace the tension. See how God works through it. Then reflect on the process.
Dr. Mark Mayfield
Dr. Mark Mayfield is an author, speaker, leadership coach, and professor. He has extensive experience in executive leadership as former founder and CEO of Mayfield Counseling Centers a 501c3 non-profit in Colorado Springs which serves over 20,000 appointments a year. Dr. Mayfield is an executive leadership coach, helping churches and organizations navigate the complexities of their mental and emotional health. He is also an Assistant Professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling at CCU. He lives in Magnolia, TX with his wife and three children.