A Tip for When Starting to Journal Becomes Too Painful

9th January 2016

A tip for when starting journaling becomes painfulAfter a one-month break from journaling, I picked up my pen again yesterday to continue with my journaling practice. I sat down at my desk in Tokyo and started to write my three pages of Morning Pages. I had assumed that this was going to be like any other Morning Pages, just a brain dump of mundane things. I was totally wrong.

What happened in that first page was this. There was a situation that was frustrating me that morning. It wasn’t a big situation, or even a situation at all. But what came out on the page was a whole lot of anger I was not expecting. Venom might be the accurate word for it. So much more anger, resentment and frustration than it was even conceivable to me.

Over the last few years of regularly doing Morning Practice, I had been able to release the little stresses that comes in our everyday lives by writing a little ranty paragraph about each of them on a daily basis. I rant then let go. However, after a whole month away from this practice, I realised I had built up a many pockets of negative emotions that had nowhere to go but inside me for a whole month. Now that I was journaling again, the whole lot just came out in one go.

That first page was so uncomfortable to write. I would stop after each hateful line and be in the shock of having written something so mean. I would guilt myself on what a person I am for even thinking of such an awful line, let alone have the audacity to write it down. I would put down my pen in order to just walk away from this horrible experience. I would have to stretch out muscles that had started to cramp up from the emotional discomfort.

Pain of Starting to Journal

Thankfully, I knew I must keep writing all these shameful thoughts, so that they were out of my system. I knew this was my release mechanism and that I don’t really truly mean what I write. I am not a bad person. I am just frustrated with something and writing them down is my healthy way of releasing this energy. Better in a journal than at a real person.

But what if you don’t know that? What if you don’t yet have the experience in journaling to deeply know to ‘trust the system’? What if you have built up a life-time of anger, fear, frustration and resentment with no way of releasing it before now? Well, that is a deep, dark, scary place indeed.

One of the biggest challenges I hear from people who are starting out in journaling is that they find it so hard because of all the negativity that comes up. Good, hardworking, dedicated people who want to really commit to journaling soon find themselves knee-deep in this deep dark place. There’s no quick relief either. Past wounds and scars keep coming up and those are all that seem to come up. Happy memories and inspiring goals seem so far away. Every time they bravely show up to the page, more endless god-awful pain and suffering is all that show up.

I know this pain. I’ve totally been there. I’ve failed to learn to journal so many times because of this dark space where you need to get all that pain out, but you are nowhere near healing. A place where all you can write is all that stuff you were sure you had dealt with already and didn’t want to deal with it. The hopelessness you feel because ‘enjoying journaling’ seems so far away. This isn’t fun. This is serious emotional pain and you really don’t have the time to keep putting yourself through it. You have a house to run, jobs to go to and kids to keep alive.

What Helps?

If, at the time, someone had said to me ‘oh you just have to keep writing, it’ll get better’, I think I would’ve punched them in the face (in my mind only, of course). That’s not what you need to hear when you are faced with the most cutting of ghosts from your past. I don’t have a quick cure – you do have to write through the pain. What I can share though are things that helped me get through that initial painful stage of stepping into journaling.

After many failed attempt to regularly journal, I finally managed to get into it four years ago. The thing I can attribute to making it happen for me was being on an on-line journaling course (Susannah Conway’s Journal Your Life course, no affiliation). It was the kind of journaling course that wasn’t about digging up the painful past and leaving you in it. Yes it did do some digging from the past, but it managed to always bringing towards something positive about your future. What’s more, majority of the course focused on the you now and the future and not so much on the past. It was more about getting to know who you are now, and who you want to become.

I think being on this course was what helped me get through that initial dark stage of journaling. Yes I was still writing some very painful stuff and a whole lot of ugly in my morning pages. They were so sad and depressing to write about. I filled two whole Moleskine notebooks with the painful stuff. However, after the highly uncomfortable Morning Pages were written, I would turn to the course and starting working on that day’s prompt. It would get me to take a break from the past and focus on what I wanted for myself now.

After that course ended, I started another online course (this one unfortunately is no longer available) that was about digging deep to find what I wanted to really do in my work. How perfect! The two courses together, totally 12 weeks of daily positive support, helped me tremendously in getting me through the initial painful stage of getting into regular journaling.

It’s All About the Balance

I do think in journaling we need to do both – look into our past, and into our future. You look only into your past and there’s no room to take what you learn from them into somewhere useful. Look only into the future and you won’t ever find out that future never seem to happen.  It makes sense that if you only have painful, negative, experiences in your journal, you are quickly going to get sick of journaling. In order for us to journal continuously, it’s important to tend to the balance of our experience within our journal.

Of course it doesn’t have to be a course. It could be an inspirational book that you can dip into each day to bring more lightness, love and future-focused look to your journaling. Our hearts need the balance of the painful past and the fertile future. Here are some of the things I use to bring the future-focused positive influence into my journaling. (I have no financial affiliations with any of them, they are courses and books that has just helped me so much.)

The books and courses that will help you will be different for each person. Have fun and start gathering an army of supporters that will help pick you up when journaling gets tough going. Try referring to them and working on those for each day that you journal about something painful. Tender the balance of your journaling experience.