How Keeping a Journal Helps Your Mental Health & Emotional Healing

the-importance-of-journaling-for-mental-health

Your mind is full of thoughts, ideas, and memories that long to be shared. But you’re not sure just how much to share with your friends, how fleeting those thoughts are, whether you feel comfortable enough putting them in the mind of someone else.

Consider then regularly keeping a journal.

“In particular, journaling can be especially helpful for those with PTSD or a history of trauma,” according to Positive Psychology Program 83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Management.

To adult survivors of emotional child abuse, putting words to their thoughts and feelings can be particularly challenging. You are used to stifling any thoughts or ideas that run contrary to the audiotrack inside your mind that your toxic parents recorded for you so long ago. That’s precisely why you should consider journaling.

Down With Big Brother

In the George Orwell novel, “1984,” the main character Winston keeps a journal, which is an act of defiance, for it enables free thought and expression, both forbidden by the dictatorship in which he lives. When he begins writing in the journal, commenting on what he thinks and sees as discrepancies in the Party rule, he begins to better understand his own thought process and attempt to break free from the mental control the Party has on him.

Likewise, adult survivors of emotionally abusive parents have had a mental war waged against them during their formative years. Some of them may have scrawled in notebooks, expressed themselves in song or art or theater or sports, or just acted out in a misguided attempt to set themselves apart from their parents.

But journaling enables the adult survivor to dig deep into themselves and unearth what has been placed in their heart, go over the memories that have plagued them, and document what events have deeply affected them.

Reasons for Keeping a Journal

“It’s hypothesized that writing works to enhance our mental health through guiding us towards confronting previously inhibited emotions (reducing the stress from inhibition), helping us process difficult events and compose a coherent narrative about our experiences, and possibly even through repeated exposure to the negative emotions associated with traumatic memories (i.e., “extinction” of these negative emotions; Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005),” according to Positive Psychology.

Keeping a journal can also serve as:

  • A method of tracking actual conversations with emotionally abusive parents. Many emotionally abusive parents gaslight their children by changing plans, switching words, pretending not to have said certain things. Writing it all down helps the adult survivor validate the reality of what happened and not rely on the abusive parents’ untrue account of the incident.
  • A tool for reflection. You can look over certain memories, facing them can strip them of their seemingly debilitating power. By putting what seems overwhelming onto paper, you get to look deeply into the face of facts and rob them of their mystery. You then can better deal with what happened and proceed to navigate through those emotions.
  • A springboard for sessions with your therapist. A journal can provide some help in streamlining conversations with your therapists. Your mind might be all over the place with different people, places, and moments. If you take a journal, you can pinpoint exactly a topic for discussion with your therapist. You can also read the words aloud if you find yourself tongue-tied in front of a new therapist or feel too overwhelmed at the time to express yourself.
  • A map of your route to good mental health. Your journal need not only for bad memories or thoughts. You can (and should!) include good moments in your healing process or even just good days that you have. Your road to mental health is to be celebrated. Every milestone, every moment of you being the you that God intended rather than the creation of your abusive parents, is a beautiful moment to record.

Health benefits also arise from keeping a journal.

“University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes,” according to a Psych Central article, The Health Benefits of Journaling. “Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, acting as a stress management tool, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health.”

Tips for Keeping a Journal If You Don’t Like to Write

Not everyone loves writing down pages and pages upon words. So how do  you start journaling when you don’t feel comfortable writing?

You can write anyway. Just ignore your ideas about proper grammar, punctuation, or sentence structure. This is your journal, not your high school English teacher’s assignment for you. Ditch those ideas of writing well when you write in your journal.

Draw. Sketch out a drawing of your childhood home, pet, friend, etc. Scrawl down what you see in your mind and don’t worry about who is going to see it. Because that person is YOU. This is all for you, all for your emotional health.

Add copywork. Heard a song that expresses your feelings? Write the lyrics in your journal. Read a poem that means exactly what you mean? Copy it down. Saw a movie that made you think of your own childhood? Jot down the name just to record that you saw it. Whatever helps your mental health can be added to this journal.

You Go You

Remember that this journal is for you. Once you start thinking about other people reading it, you’ll hinder your journaling.

This journal is a gift to yourself, to remind you where you have been, where you want to go, and how you’re getting there.

Onward and upward.

 

Three Must-Read Posts for Mother’s Day If You’re an Adult Survivor of Emotional Child Abuse

photo credit: flickr user raw pixel

Advertisements on TV and the radio go over the top in portraying all mothers as idealized heroic women who did absolutely every single thing right.

Motherhood, however, is far more complex and grittier than those bleached versions of it. It’s a vocation that, when approached right, requires maternal sacrifice, encourages a selfless love from the mother, and fosters virtues in the family.

Motherhood is a special calling to live out the definition of love: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury. It does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Some mothers do their best to follow that definition. They can inspire us and present a type of motherhood that adult survivors can learn from to parent their own children.

But then, some children were brought up with a broken version of the above or one that goes in the exact opposite of it.

The maternal love received by some children was impatient, was unkind. It was jealous, it was pompous. It was inflated and rude. It sought its own interest and was quick-tempered. It brooded over injury. It rejoiced over wrongdoing and despaired the truth. It bore nothing, believed nothing, hoped for nothing, and enduring nothing. That twisted version of love failed.

For those adult survivors of emotional child abuse, the upcoming Mother’s Day holiday can be incredibly difficult. So, on this day before the holiday, I offer these three articles from The Invisible Scar archives that cover different approaches to surviving (or ignoring) Mother’s Day.

Onward and upward.


Veronica Jarski is the founder and writer of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad online publications. She also is the author of an e-book about waking up to the realization that one had an emotionally abusive childhood.

Emotionally Neglected Children May Feel Like They Are Ghosts

[photo credit: flickr user Andrea Much]

[photo credit: flickr user Andrea Much]

“Emotional Neglect is the white space in the family picture; the background rather than the foreground. It is insidious and overlooked while it does its silent damage to people’s lives.” (Dr. Jonice Webb)

Editor’s note: I use “he” because “he or she” can interrupt the flow of sentences. But abuse can happen to any gender.

An emotionally abused child may sometimes feel like a ghost in his own home. He passes through its corridors, affects its surroundings, interacts (as best as he can) with the other people in the house… but he feels like no one quite sees him.

Or listens to him.

Or understands him.

Or cares for him.

Or loves him.

People outside the house can see this child. And from the outside, these neighbors, family friends, relatives, and teachers may see this gleaming, shiny family, paragons of the community, and believe that all children in this family are loved and nurtured, their emotional, spiritual, and physical needs met.

But when the blinds are closed, when the front door’s shut, when all the windows are sealed up, and the parents have resumed their natural form, the child disappears in front of his parent.

The child feels so lonely, so very unimportant to anyone. Because home should be a place of nurturing, comforting, loving, growing, and playing. But for the emotionally neglected child, home is where you aren’t seen or heard. Home is the place you haunt.

And your parents only notice you when they want something from you. Not any other time.

Emotionally abusive parents are not always noisy gongs, overly boisterous buffoons, yelling caricatures. Some of them hurt their children by emotionally neglecting them.

When these emotionally abusive parents look at their children, the abusers see…

  • Themselves only
  • What they failed to be
  • Sources of energy, love, and approval for themselves

Here’s a more detailed look at what that all means…

Themselves Only

Abusive parents do not know, care, or understand their child. They rarely know what the child likes or dislikes, how the child reacts to things, etc. The parents only know (and care about) what makes them (not their child) happy, and they see their child through a self-reflective lens.

Examples:

Dad buys a sports jersey for his child on his birthday. But the child doesn’t like sports or the team, and has told this to his father. The father does. So, the father gets royally pissed off at child for not appreciating his token of affection.  The father never thought to dip into his knowledge about his child and purchase something that the child would love, not the parent.

Mom takes her child to acting classes because the child has such a natural talent for it. Oh, wait, no. The child hates being in front of people, hates performing, and would prefer to be behind the scenes rather than in it. Mom prefers that. The mom never considered talking to the child about what would be fun or discussing some options. It’s always about Mom, never the child.

Dad goes to visit his adult son’s house late at night for a beer because he knows how much of a night owl his son is. Wait, no. The son likes to go to bed early and has told his father this. The night owl is Dad, not son.

Mom buys tickets to go see a symphony with her daughter, who loves classical music. No, Mom loves classical music; the daughter cannot stand it. But the Mom already bought tickets for her daughter! Mom may accuse adult child of being an ingrate, being difficult, being selfish, etc. The mom never thought to ask the child, “Would you like to go to a symphony? Would you like to go with me? How does this date work for you? Would you like to do something else instead?”

These parents act like the world revolves around them. And that it should always be like that.

What They Failed to Be

These parents may talk about their children to others, but they don’t really know their own children.

Examples:

“Have you met my daughter?” Dad may tell new friends about his child. “She’s an amazing singer. Really, I think she’ll go far in her career.”

Dad himself is a terrible singer. He can’t carry a tune and knows nothing about melodies. Neither can his child. But Dad wanted to be a great opera singer, and when he sees his child, he sees his dreams fulfilled. Even if they’re not.

“My child is so popular!” Mom may say. “Honestly, the phone’s always ringing off the hook for her. You know, she’s an extrovert.”

Mom is incredibly shy and would rather stay home than go out. Her child is neither an outcast nor popular, but the mom can’t gauge when her child how her child feels because Mom wants the child to be uber-outgoing and amazing. Because mom isn’t.

These parents make assumptions about their child. They talk lies about their child. They live in delusion about who their children are.

Sources of Love and Approval

Parents should not demand love and approval from their children. Repeat: Parents should not demand love and approval from their children.

Good parents love their children and nurture their souls and bodies. These parents know that children are a gift from God and treat their children accordingly, with love, tenderness, affection, gentleness, and guidance. Good parents love their children, and that loving behavior will inspire their children to love them back.

But good parents don’t demand that their children fill up the holes in their heart or confidence or self-worth.

Abusive parents see their children as sources of love and affection. An abusive parent will have a lousy day at work and go home and vent their issues to their child and expect the child to serve as a cheerleader, a source of support, make them feel better. They expect their child to fill a role that is not meant for the child. (Often this role is meant for a spouse or a good friend. But the abusive parent will demand kindness, support, etc. from their child… all things that the parent does not provide to his own child.)

Examples:

Dad has a big fight with Mom and takes the child out for some ice cream. He tells the kid about the entire fight, demands (whether overtly or subtly) for the child to take his side, wants the kid to tell him that he’s a good person, etc. Dad doesn’t realize that the child is a child. And the child wanted to just have ice cream and play, or to hang out at home and draw. The child did not want to become Daddy’s Little Therapist.

Mom is feeling incredibly depressed. Instead of seeking help or taking the right meds (if needed) or calling up a friend, Mom manipulates her child to attend to all her needs, to treat her as if she were a fragile and delicate thing that needs to be pampered. Mom doesn’t care about the child and how that freaks out a kid to take on that role; Mom needs a parent and the neglected child will become that substitute parent.

Emotional Neglect

All the above are examples of emotional neglect.

“Emotional Neglect is, in some ways, the opposite of mistreatment and abuse,” writes Dr. Jonice Webb. “Whereas mistreatment and abuse are parental acts, Emotional Neglect is a parent’s failure to act. It’s a failure to notice, attend to, or respond appropriately to a child’s feelings. Because it’s an act of omission, it’s not visible, noticeable or memorable.”

And though it’s an act of omission, it is quite damaging…

“Psychological neglect, though less obvious [than physical neglect], is just as serious,” writes Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. “Children who are constantly ignored, rejected, threatened, or belittled grow up without the inner resources that everyone needs to cope with difficult times.”

That emotional neglect leaves children vulnerable to such terrible relationships and situations.

“When children get little or no affection and physical comfort, they are vulnerable to anyone who will give them attention,” writes Hartwell-Walker. “Often they become sitting ducks for people who exploit them.”

That’s one reason so many emotionally neglected children end up as adult survivors in hard relationships or in tough situations. They often just want someone, ANYONE, to see them to hear them. And they often cannot discern who is toxic to them or who will be a good person. So, they often fall for people who will treat them with the same level of disinterest that their own parents exhibited.

Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect

Symptoms of childhood emotional neglect that show up in adults may include (but are not limited to):

  • “Numbing out” or being cut off from one’s feelings
  • Feeling like there’s something missing, but not being sure what it is
  • Feeling hollow inside
  • Being easily overwhelmed or discouraged
  • Low self-esteem
  • Perfectionism
  • Pronounced sensitivity to rejection
  • Lack of clarity regarding others’ expectations and your own expectations for yourself

However, adult survivors can heal and get to the point where they have emotionally healthy lives.

Adult survivors of emotional child abuse can find a better way, a brightly lit path, through counseling, reading about healing, talking to others in a support group, praying, etc.

You can heal in time. You can learn to re-parent yourself.

If you were an invisible child at home, know that you are not doomed to be forever invisible. Just because your parents lacked the intelligence, compassion, or just very basic human instinct of nurturing their young, that doesn’t mean you aren’t real, that you don’t matter, that you are unworthy.

Because you are worthy. As a human being, you have dignity. You matter.

Perhaps not to your parents, and that’s a very tragic truth to accept. It’s hard and terrible. Almost no one will understand what you mean when you tell people that your parents are “toxic” for you… but the readers here at The Invisible Scar do. I do.

You’re not alone.

We see you. We hear you.


veronica-jarski-managing-editor-the-invisible-scarVeronica Jarski is founder and managing editor of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad publications, such as Kapost, MarketingProfs, and Ragan. She also is the author of an e-book about waking up to the realization that one had an emotionally abusive childhood.

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