Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Journal Series: Some Techniques

In this installment, I describe a few of the different techniques that can be used by journal keepers to get to the heart of the matter. Sometimes it's easy to write about what's bothering you...other times, it's harder to get a handle on your thoughts and get the words out. At these times, it can help to use a different technique than a straightforward free-write.

Unsent Letters: An unsent letter is just what it sounds like--a letter that you write to someone else, which you don't intend to send. This technique is valuable because it allows you to speak to that person directly without fear of their reactions. You don't even need to write an unsent letter to a can write to yourself in the past or future, you can write to a body part that's troubling you, you can write to a situation...anything you can name, you can write to.

Lists: Lists can be a very powerful tool. When I'm feeling down, I have challenged myself to come up with a list of 100 things I love. As a self esteem booster, you can write lists of things you are good at or things people like about you. Or you can list things you'd like to do in the future, goals, dreams, ideas...even a simple to-do list for the day.

Altered Point of View: Sometimes, when trying to understand a situation involving other people, you run into difficulties because the only head you are actually in is your own. This is where writing from an altered point of view can help. If you are in conflict with someone, or trying hard to understand where they are coming from, try writing about the situation from that person's point of view. If nothing else, it will give you a fresh perspective.

Dialog: A dialog is a conversation between two people...or two things. You can write a dialog between yourself and someone else or between different parts of yourself. When I was in graduate school and feeling the pressure of two opposing forces within, the poet and the engineer, I wrote many dialogs between logic brain and creative brain, in an effort to seek balance.

Tomorrow I'll finish out the series with a list of resources--books and websites that I've found helpful.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

I written a number of the unsent letters, which are very cathartic. For bipolar folks, it's a good way to deal with anger and irritability, without destroying relationships.

I've done lists without realizing it's a journaling technique. And I've also written dialogs.

When I was really sick, and felt God had abandoned me (I'm spiritual but not religious, but I've read that many people turn toward God when they feel like they're dying), I used to write these dialogs between God and me. I figured if He wasn't going to answer me or show me any sort of sign that I'd get well, I'd write something that would comfort me, and it always made me smile.

I even discussed it with my Rabbi, just to make sure I wasn't going to be "smote" for sacriligious behavior!


Jazz said...

I've also found all of those techniques very helpful. Sometimes it's hard to just write it out in a free write, but if you have a different technique to try, it can give you a different perspective on things.

I've used altered point of view a lot in trying to figure out the best way deal with my reltationship (or lack thereof!) with my brother.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

I should probably use "altered point of view" for my brother and sister. They were so horrible to my mother the last two years of her life and fought with me about her care. And they were awful to me when I didn't get well fast enough. I don't talk to either of them, but I think some problems can't be ironed out in writing. Even if I could figure out their point of view, I wouldn't like them any better.


Jazz said...

I find the same with my brother. Altered point of view helped me appreciate why he doesn't contact me very often (because of the way his life is set up, he is extremely busy, and is one of those people who only seems to be able to concentrate on one relationship at a time), but it has not helped me to understand how he can be content with the life he has built for himself (a lot of financial insecurity because of mistakes repeated over and over), and why he seems destined to stay trapped in such a negative pattern of behavior...and I find it very frustrating that I can't seem to help him figure things out.

Lynn said...

For myself, I have found that trying to understand another person's point of view was not always healthy for me. I think that is because of whose point of view I was trying to understand. For me, it was a way to make excuses for other people's hurtful behavior and that blocked my access to my own real feelings about it. I was a mess without knowing the truth of my feelings. I think it was easy for me to do that, though, because the feelings were so unpleasant.

I think this approach would be very useful for parents to use to understand the point of view of their children and thus have increased compassion and understanding for their particular stage of development.

I really like this series you are writing about journaling, Jazz. What a great idea, and so honestly presented and well organized. Thanks.

Shiv said...

Some great ideas here, thanks!

Jazz said...

That's a very good point you bring up about using altered point of view to justify or excuse someone else's bad behvior. And it's definitely something to watch out for.

When I was in college I was in an abusive relationship, and I found myself doing just that--justifying his behavior and making excuses not to leave him. I can't recall if I actually used altered point of view to do it, but what I do remember is that towards the end of that relationship, I had stopped writing in the journal, and one of the last lines I wrote before I stopped was ...analysis seeks to destroy... What I think is that at some level, I knew that I was lying to myself, and I couldn't keep doing it in the journal. So now, stopping writing for any length of time is a warning sign to me that I might have some sort of inner conflict going on.

I think that one of the hardest things about journal writing is the challenge to be honest. It's hard to write the truth sometimes. It's hard because I don't always want to face the truth, and it's hard because sometimes I'm not exactly sure what the truth is.

Jazz said...

I also agree with you on the idea of parents using altered point of view to understand their children. I can still recall how clearly I felt when I was fourteen and so confused and hating everything. I don't think my parents had a clue. My son is approaching that age now, and I hope that some of the journaling techniques I use, and my own memory of how I felt, will allow me to help him through this part of growing up more than my parents helped me.