Journaling as Self-Therapy

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Only in recent years have I been compelled to write for self-therapy. Although I have been a technical writer for my entire career, from state administrative regulations, to technical operating procedures and manuals for an aerospace manufacturer and finally ordinances and resolutions for a small city, I never took the opportunity of writing for my benefit.

Over the last few years, I have changed that paradigm and have used journaling — not as a diary — but as a head-clearing process to help make sense of my world. Do I write every day? No, because forcing myself to do a daily entry would be too much like work for a retiree. I use journaling for the ‘making-sense-of-my-world’ perhaps as an odd combination of the work of Medium writers, Zat Rana and Kate Maria Pennell, who both have convincing if different reasons to use journaling.

If I am faced with an important decision, I will journal a continuum of outcomes and then rate them as probable events. If my friends present me with a complex set of events or exchanges, I write my private recollections and ‘complete-the-story’ in terms and language that I can understand and that are meaningful to me. Outsiders have little impact on me, psychically, but close friends and family often present me with dilemmas which bear on my life.

As a rough illustration of the events which prompt me to spend some time in a journal, perhaps a university friend says, “I think I am going to do ‘x’.” Since I have an interest in the ultimate success of that individual in this world, I will journal what I view as potential outcomes. Although I never share the details of journal content, if asked I may encourage consideration of other possibilities by saying, “Have you thought about ‘y’ and ‘z’ as alternatives (or companions) to ‘x’?

As another situational reason for making journal entries, I have found that when people disappoint me by doing (or not doing) something which I fully expected, I take out my hurt and frustrations at perceived slights, by writing short, train-of-thought phrases which summarize my feelings, such as, “You really hurt my feelings (or dashed my anticipation) by doing something or other. Or, in the converse, by NOT doing something or other. Does that writing exercise change the situation? Absolutely not. But it changes my perception of the situation and I can often manage my reaction to perceived slight. By setting down these sometimes-painful thoughts in writing, I can avoid the knee-jerk response which can lead to a ‘one-up’ ego-boosting power play or to be hurtful in my real-world conversations.

I find that grinding through a document on my old laptop brings a certain amount of freedom. The document can be as long or as short as I like. Since there will be no printing, the electronic file is there for me to review if I see the need. If I want to relive the event or reflection, I can just screen read the entry; then close it and it remains essentially gone from my memory.

Although not in the habit of recommending a practice (I carefully avoid self-help instruction from others), I have found journaling to be useful for me.

For further reading on this subject, I would encourage you to read the Medium links below by Zat Rana and Kate Maria Pennell, respectively:


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