How Keeping a Journal Helps Your Mental Health & Emotional Healing

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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-Year Blog Anniversary: Lessons From Writing About a Tough Subject, a Peek at the Creative Process & Some Music

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Today is the third anniversary of The Invisible Scar. And in light of this frabjous day (callooh, callay!), I thought I’d share a little behind-the-scenes content:

  • What I’ve learned in writing and running The Invisible Scar for three years
  • The creative process for The Invisible Scar articles
  • Favorite songs on my playlist while I write that you might like, too

Because despite this site not being a personal blog, I want you to know that a real person is here writing all these articles, and I care about you very much and keep you all in my nightly prayers.

Eight Things I’ve Learned From Writing About a Very Tough Subject

1. Know your mission

Before launching The Invisible Scar three years ago, I spent much time considering why I would start such a website. I felt an inclination to start one, but I didn’t want to start just writing without a defined purpose for it.

I knew a few things I didn’t want The Invisible Scar to be. For example, I didn’t want this site to have the same deeply personal, intensely detailed focus as the myriad blogs from ACoNs and adult survivors of abuse. Those definitely have a helpful, emotional purpose, but I didn’t feel called to create that sort of website.

After talking to my therapist about my ideas for The Invisible Scar, he encouraged me to share all the thoughts and knowledge in the spirit of a friend, someone who understands and who has learned so much. My therapist planted the seeds to get me thinking in the terms of writing a site that covers a tough subject but writes about it with hope for healing, a light in the darkness.

2. Experiment with word counts then stick with what works

In the beginning, sometimes I’d dash off a quick article on a subject that sprung to mind. However, at some point, I decided to stop doing those quick, brief articles because The Invisible Scar readers prefer long-form content. (Articles here hover between 2,500-3,000 words. One of the most popular pieces is 8K words long!)

Moreover, readers are making the time to come here and spend time reading thoughtful, researched articles. They want a satisfying meal, not an appetizer.

So, unless a compelling reason to present a short article exists, I’ll leave those to other blogs and sites.

I respect and value the time you’ve made to come to The Invisible Scar, so I’ll serve up some hearty helpings of food for thought and, I pray, encouragement as well.

3. Always give your readers a sense of hope, of healing, of encouragement

Writing about emotional child abuse is heavy stuff.

Reading about it is, too.

But since we’re here together to explore, discuss, and guide each other through the understanding of this subject, let’s always stay on the road toward healing.

Too many psychology websites or personal blogs focus strictly on the effects of the abuse (which is important, of course) but fail to let the readers know that, yes, they can heal. Yes, they can have good lives. Yes, adult survivors of emotional child abuse can move toward healing and find themselves stronger emotionally, healthier mentally, than they ever have. They just need to keep moving forward, keep attending therapy, keep praying, keep on the path.

4. Stay focused

As an adult with ADHD, I get distracted very easily and must continuously bring my thoughts back to tasks, activities, conversations, etc. Fortunately, the Evernote app, sticky notes, a color-coded calendar, and Sharpie-scrawled reminders on the palm of my hand keep me organized and production.

In a way, all that helps me keep this website focused on its mission as well.

Sometimes, especially when a tough subject encompasses so many different aspects of a life, I feel the urge to cover other topics that seem enfolded within the world of emotional child abuse. However, I keep reminding myself that the reader here is the adult survivor of emotional child abuse. At the heart of it all, that person is who I write for.

Remembering who I write for helps me avoid the various rabbit holes that I could jump down and follow and lose my sense of focus for this website.

5. Listen to what your readers are talking about

In January, I took some time from writing here to plan different topics to cover in 2016… However, sometimes what is on my mind may not necessarily be top of mind for readers.

For example, lately, many readers have expressed (via comments here, The Invisible Scar Facebook Page, and emails) concerns about the role of grandparents. What can be done when abusive parents become grandparents? What’s an adult survivor of emotional child abuse to do when he/she is asked about grandparents for their children?

Those questions were not something I considered exploring here at The Invisible Scar. However, I’ve been paying attention to what you are discussing, and I’m now scrapping my original idea for an article and gathering research and making drafts of an article focusing on grandparents. Because you care about it. Because you need to talk about it with your fellow adult survivors of emotional child abuse.

6. Always be learning

The worst teachers in high school and college taught from their memories of textbooks studied long ago; they came from a stagnant place of understanding. The ones who inspired, who made me want to analyze the material, to immerse myself in it, were teachers who constantly learned. They pushed themselves to go deeper into their education and to stretch mentally to acquire new information and understanding.

In writing The Invisible Scar, I hope to maintain that spirit of learning. Books, articles, and studies keep me fueled with inspiration and information. (And if you have any recommendations, do leave it in the comments!)

7. Know you sometimes just hit a wall and need a break

As I mentioned before, writing about emotional child abuse is a heavy, hard subject.

Sometimes, I feel drained (and may even cry) as I plan, research, and write articles because emotional child abuse is so wrong, so sad, so misunderstood by society. And then, I wonder why I’ve chosen to write about such a subject rather to write about clean eating, classic movies, history, and the hundreds of other interests I have.

And because The Invisible Scar is a one-woman project, when I hit that emotional wall, everything grows quieter here.

However, I don’t despair about my work here. I’m not scared that I won’t write again nor worried that I’ve failed in running The Invisible Scar. Since I’ve been a writer for so very long, I know that silence and thinking are an enormous part of the creative process.

Even though I’m physically not writing anything down, my mind’s back burners are quietly cooking up new articles and ideas. Meanwhile, I spend more time at the beach, for it’s my therapeutic center. My four kids and I go for long nature walks. I immerse myself in good, healthy activities.

Eventually, a glimmer of light appears once more. The back burners start bubbling, and I test what’s there, and I find it nourishing and good. So, I sit at my laptop once more and begin to write.

8. Haters gonna hate

Vicious and horrific things on blogs have been said about me and the purpose of this site. Emails full of venom regarding my focus on adult survivors have invaded my inbox (abusive parents really, really don’t like what I write).

People have told me to fuck off, to shrivel up and die, to stop writing.

However, I keep on writing from a place of truth and hope. For all the hate-filled emails, I receive far more telling me that readers feel understood, feel hope, feel like they want to start working toward their own healing and stop wishing to disappear. So, that’s why I keep writing.

In writing this blog and running it, I’ve had to deepen my prayer life, add more peace and quiet to my life, and to focus on what matters. And all the hate and venom and poison sent to me are not what matter.

My following Scripture quote serves me in time of difficulties:

My child, when you come to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for trials.
Be sincere of heart and steadfast,
and do not be impetuous in time of adversity.
Cling to him, do not leave him,
that you may prosper in your last days…
Trust in God, and He will help you;
make your ways straight and hope in him.

Now, for the second part of The Invisible Scar’s anniversary festivities, let’s take a look at…

The Invisible Scar’s Creative Process

As a professional writer and editor, I tend to overanalyze, well, everything. When at the grocery store, that quirk is not helpful. (Artichokes or asparagus? Should I get one? Should I get both? What about broccoli? Is that too much green for one meal?)

When writing and maintaining a website, though, that quirk does come in handy. Everything is possible fodder for an article. Emails, books, movies, conversations with friends, news articles… everything.

However, one has to sift through all the possibilities and weigh each one, keeping in mind what ideas will make for meaty, helpful articles.

For fun, I thought I’d share a quick look at how the creative process for The Invisible Scar articles:

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To wrap things up here on this fine anniversary, I’d love to share what’s been filling up my headphones lately.

The Invisible Scar’s Current Playlist

The Invisible Scar is fueled by the dynamic duo of prayer and music. It’s impossible for me to write without music pouring through my headphones.

Rather than load up the end of this article with my beloved selections by Joshua Bell, The Avett Brothers, Radiohead, The Innocence Mission, Yo-Yo Ma, The Head and the Heart (and so on), I’ll share three songs of hope for the journey…

* * *

Thanks, dear readers, for being such a lively caring group. You’re all so generous and thoughtful in your comments and in how you reach out to one another. May you continue on your healing journey!

Peace to you all.
(Veronica Jarski, founder of The Invisible Scar)

Veronica 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.