I have to admit...I've been sitting on a draft of this blog post about my story for over a month now, resisting my next steps.
I find myself deeply aware of the vulnerability I feel in sharing my story with you, even in this brief and contained way. There's likely many variables that go into my hesitancy to publish this post, but my sense is that the biggest contributor to my trepidation is the fact that I didn't believe my own story for most of my life. It's still fairly new for me to tell this (honest) version of my story to others, which makes it feel unknown and risky and a bit nerve-wracking.
But I've learned the difference between the discomfort that says "run the other direction!" and the discomfort that says "you're ready to overcome your fear"--and I know this discomfort that I feel right now is the "overcome your fear" kind.
So I'm taking a deep breath...and moving forward....now.
Up until several years ago, I bought into a false narrative about my life that protected me from emotional pain, relational tensions, and cognitive dissonance. I told myself and others what had been told to me--that I came from a good middle-class Christian family, had a sheltered childhood, and knew nothing of trauma or genuine adversity. I believed I was the person other people thought I was--brave, strong, independent, competent, likeable, high-achieving. It felt good to see myself and my life experiences through this lens.
But then I became a therapist...and that ruined everything (in the best way possible).
Some people enter therapy training programs to heal themselves and fix their problems, but that wasn't me. I truly believed I was just interested in psychology and wanted to be helpful to others; I didn't see myself as being in need of healing or possessing problems that needed fixing.
By the time I graduated, though, something was beginning to shift. The book knowledge I gained in the classroom called my attention to parts of my life I'd ignored or dismissed, but what really did me in were my (amazing, courageous, wise) clients.
As I listened to their stories and their dreams about what they wanted to change in their lives, my clients' words took on new meaning within me. The words I heard from my therapist chair shook loose memories and understandings of myself that began to rattle around, stirring up new thoughts and feelings, begging for my attention and care. By the time I graduated from my therapy training program, I was knee deep in psychological rubble--I knew the time had come to sort through it.
In my confusion and distress, I turned to the trusted friend I'd depended on in the past--my journal. It had been a long time since I'd put words on a page just for myself, easily three years or more, but I quickly felt right at home as my thoughts tumbled out of me, cohering into sentences and paragraphs that began to capture and contain the chaos within me.
As I journaled, everything I believed about myself and my story began to unravel--and a new story began to take shape. It was simultaneously terrifying and liberating (it still is).
My supposedly idyllic childhood had actually been complicated, confusing, and stressful--and I'd felt excruciatingly alone as I navigated it all. Trauma was something I knew intimately, it had wired every fiber of my being from a young age. The brave, strong, independent parts of myself were qualities I'd depended on to get me through that painful and lonely chapter in my life. My likeability was actually intense, all-consuming people-pleasing, a skill I'd cultivated to prevent (some of) the melt-downs and rages that had happened in my home. And my achievements were a substitute for being genuinely seen and understood, trophies I clung to that helped me believe I was worth something because deep down I questioned if I was ever really loved.
With each word, each page I journaled, I began to see myself with new clarity. And, with this real me in view, I began to love myself with fresh compassion.
With a heart that was open to myself, I started letting others see parts of me I'd kept hidden (my flaws, struggles, fears, self-doubts) and this sharing made room for deeper connection. With a road-map to my past, I was more oriented to my stressors in the present and better able to soothe myself when anxiety threatened to overwhelm me. With a mind that was grounded in my own priorities, wants, and needs, I started giving myself permission to live the life I really wanted on my own terms, without seeking trophies or accolades or approval from anyone else.
I want you to know, in case you are on a similar journey, that while that may sound beautiful and comforting (and it is!), it often didn't feel that way at the time. Yes, my journal entries held gems of self-acceptance and even self-appreciation, and these glimpses of an emerging future were so precious to me at the time that I printed these excerpts out and carried them around inside an oversized envelope everywhere I went (I'm serious). Yes, my journaling often felt cathartic and orienting. Yes, the words I journaled helped me to take actions that were desperately needed to support and care for myself.
But those highlights were diamonds in the rough, brief vistas of a promised land during a long and arduous journey. I often wrestled with myself, questioned myself, even criticized myself in my journaling. I unearthed and described aspects of my life I'd ignored for good reasons. I gave passionate voice to gut-wrenching feelings of grief and anger and abandonment.
Journaling during this time in my life didn't always feel helpful or hopeful--yet those uncomfortable, unsettling, distressing moments with my journal were ultimately such an important part of my transformation. Learning to be in conversation with the ugliest, harshest parts of myself was essential to learning to treat myself with compassion, kindness, and acceptance. Naming, believing, and claiming the most difficult parts of my story was central to living with authenticity, self-awareness, and emotional balance.
While journaling continues to serve me and support me in a myriad of ways, the work of believing myself and loving myself is now well underway. My journal helps me continue that work, but it comes with greater ease now that I've had so much practice traveling these beloved pathways. My needs are evolving, and the beauty of journaling is that it's evolving right along with me.
If you're in the process of re-writing your story and believing yourself, I see your courage and tenacity. I want you to know that no matter how hard it is right now, someday you will look back with such gratitude for the work you are doing right now.
If you struggle with accepting and loving yourself with all your flaws and human failings, I see your heartache and your longing for a better relationship with yourself. I want you to know that a different experience is possible; if you feel a shift, if you notice the beginnings of your unraveling, trust it, get curious about it, open yourself up to a new story about yourself.
As you just read, journaling was and is powerful for me--and it may be a key to what you need right now, too. If you've never tried journaling before, my mini-course, Starting Journaling will give you everything you need to get started. If you've done some journaling and would like to be more intentional about writing toward a better relationship with yourself, my free resource Flourish: Weekly Journal Prompts to Help You Nurture Yourself can guide you.
Whatever else you may choose to take from my story, I hope these words will shake something loose within you:
You're worth believing. You're worth loving. Always.
When a client says to me, "What should I do about xyz issue?" I usually respond with, "I'd love to help you answer that question, but I'll need to ask you a few questions before I can answer that." That's because there's rarely a one-size-fits-all solution to any issue, challenge, problem, or area of change. The best way to find a custom-fit solution, one that is personally tailored for a client's unique context, is to learn as much as possible not only about the issue, but about the client's strengths, tendencies, resources and opportunities.
Similarly, if you were here with me right now and you asked me, "Laurie, how should I go about starting or growing my journal practice?"
I'd say, "I'd love to help you answer that question, but I'll need to ask you a few questions before I can answer that."
Journaling is such a great tool to use to understand yourself, support yourself, and nurture yourself toward a better future. You'll be so glad you have it on hand once you get the hang of it. But here's the thing--journaling is deceptively simple to start (just write something anywhere!), but it often takes more effort, intention, and practice than you might expect for it to become a sustainable, consistent, reliable habit.
And because we're all unique people living in unique circumstances, there's no one-size-fits-all pathway to a meaningful journal practice.
There is, however, a fairly universal process that can help you learn more about what might be most likely to work for you as you start or grow your journal practice, and that's a process of self-assessment that can help you take inventory of the variables that may impact your journaling. Knowing yourself, knowing what works for you, knowing what limitations you are likely to encounter--these are all important pieces of data to draw upon as you create and shape a journal practice that works for you.
Take a few minutes to read through this list of ten quick self-assessment questions. It may be helpful to jot down your responses, but you can simply make mental notes if you don't have pen and paper handy right now:
If these questions spark other self-assessment questions, go ahead and ask yourself whatever else comes to mind. The more you engage this process of self-assessment, the more guidance you'll have on hand to help you along your journal practice pathway.
Now that you’ve given some thought to the areas above, here are two more questions to ask yourself (they make great journal prompts, too!):
Whatever steps you take from here, remember it's okay to take it one day at a time, one word at a time. It's going to take some trial and error to find your footing with journaling, so give yourself permission to start imperfectly and to make some mistakes along the way. This list of questions and this process of self-assessment is here for you, anytime you need it as you keep experimenting, learning, and refining your unique journal practice.
Need more help getting started? Check out my mini-course, Start Journaling!, it will hold your hand as you start journaling with ten whole days of inspiration and easy-to-implement instructions.
If you've ever been in any kind of relationship (and you have, right?!), you already know the messy joy of trying to get along with another human being. Relationships (at their best) are exciting, beautiful, supportive, stimulating, and life-giving. Relationships can also be effortful, ugly, heart-breaking, stifling, and soul-crushing (it's a huge bummer--and it can be pretty darn confusing, too).
As a private practice therapist who specializes in relationships, I see the good, the bad, and the ugly in human entanglements every day. I'm also, of course, a person just like you, who has lived (and continues to live) the wide variety of experiences relationships have to offer.
While there is so much about relationships that I will always hold loosely and will never pretend to fully understand, there are a few things I've learned for sure in my work as a couples therapist about how we can experience more of "the good" that relationships have to offer.
I'm going to share them here, but with a bit of an unexpected twist--all of these lessons apply to our relationship to self, and more specifically, to how journaling helps us relate well to ourselves. Here we go!
Showing up is the most important thing you can do for your relationship.
When couples start therapy with me, I often joke that scheduling sessions is half the battle because it can be so darn hard to find a time when both people are available to meet. Not always, but a lot of the time the degree of difficulty a couple has with scheduling correlates with the degree of disconnection and disengagement in their relationship.
Making time and space for one another, simply showing up to the other and to that relationship, is truly at least half the battle of having a great relationship. If your life is too full to invest in being present to someone you care deeply about--then your life is too full, period! It may be time to re-evaluate your priorities, take some things off your plate, and get creative about how to free up more time and energy for your relationships. Just like you can't be physically healthy without putting in consistent time and effort to eating well and being active, you can't be relationally healthy without putting in consistent time and effort.
Journaling is a way you show up in your relationship with yourself.
If you want to have a good relationship with yourself--one where you treat yourself with kindness, compassion, and care--you have to show up for yourself. It's truly half the...(say it with me)...BATTLE. When you make time and space for journaling, you're making time and space for YOU and you alone. It's a rare opportunity to turn all your attention and energy to little old you with no need to be responsible for anyone or anything else.
If you're life is too full to invest in journaling regularly (or any other form of relating to yourself that is meaningful to you), your life is too full, period! You may be giving too much to other people, too much to your work, too much to life responsibilities. Learning to say "no" to other people and demands and to say "yes" to yourself is easier said than done, but with enough practice it does get easier and the results are SO worth it.
Conversations are the most effective way to create change in your relationships.
You might think my job as a therapist is to "fix" relationships (I used to think so, too), but it's ACTUALLY to help people have better conversations with each other. I firmly believe (and consistently witness) that when two people can be in dialogue with one another in productive, respectful, honest ways they can conquer just about any hurdle or challenge that may emerge.
While it's awesome that's possible, the truth is that it's super hard to have those sorts of conversations--especially when the stakes feel high, as they often do when you love somebody a lot. It takes a lot of emotional maturity, self-awareness, open-mindedness, and patience to dialogue well. It's not about skills or techniques about what to say or how to say it (though some of that can be helpful), it's largely about developing the kind of inner resources that enable you to engage with others in change-producing conversations.
Journaling is a conversation with yourself that enables change to your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
While dialogue seems like it requires two people, it's completely possible to have a dialogue within ourselves. Whenever two or more perspectives, voices, or part of our self are present, we've having an inner conversations. Writing a "pros" and "cons" list related to a potential change is a simple example of this--the part of us that is "for" the change speaks back and forth with the part of us that is "against" change. As we play out this conversation within us, new clarity can emerge about what we want, need, and prefer to do.
There are all kinds of variations on this that we can play with in our journaling. The gentle, affirming voice within us might get into a conversation with the critical voice within us. The ambitious part of us might want to talk to the part of us that values rest and relaxation. Our anger toward a friend might want to dialogue with our compassion toward that same friend.
Just like how conversations with others take inner resources more than techniques, the same can be true of journaling. While journaling provides us with a fantastic laboratory to experiment with better ways of talking to self, it doesn't magically change our self-talk. We have to develop our self-relationship inner resources with plenty of intention and practice both on and off the journal page.
Being deeply honest with someone else is risky, but it's also the heart of genuine connection in relationships.
There is often a pivotal moment in couples therapy where all of the sudden, someone gets real. Really real. When that happens, the whole atmosphere in the room changes. The show the couple has been putting on for me and for each other, the one where they talked about and acted in the way they thought they were "supposed to", comes to an end and the work on the relationship finally begins.
It often feels a bit shaky, chaotic, unpredictable, even unhinged when the honest truth first shows up between two people. My stomach usually drops with empathy for the wild ride this couple is about to embark upon. But I also know deep down that once everybody buckles up, the ride is actually a lot of fun. When authenticity and vulnerability can be practiced in a relationship, genuine connection becomes possible--intimacy flourishes in truth-telling spaces in lively, adventurous ways.
Journaling can open up deep honesty with yourself, which can feel risky, but is also the heart of a genuine connection to your authentic self.
As scary as it can be to be honest with someone else, it can be just as scary (if not scarier) to really get honest with ourselves. When we finally acknowledge what's true for us (instead of what we think is "supposed to" be true for us), we may have to feel new feelings, make hard decisions, and let go of people or pathways that aren't working for us. It can get pretty messy and uncomfortable.
But just as connecting with someone else requires the risks of vulnerability and authenticity, relating well to ourselves takes risk, too. The writing we do in our journals can open the door for us to hear our honest voices with greater clarity--and it's important for us to acknowledge that can be unsettling at times. If you find yourself writing something in your journal that makes your stomach drop, don't panic--remember this, too, is part of treating yourself with kindness. And then buckle up for the lively, adventurous ways you're about to (re)connect with your authentic self.
All of this is a fancy way of saying:
Relationships take work, but the rewards are rich.
Journaling takes work, but the rewards are rich.
If you want to journal toward a more satisfying, rewarding relationship with yourself, everything I create and offer here at World Balm Studio is here to help you do just that. Check out our resources + experiences and sign up to receive journal prompts and inspiration each month with Word Balm Monthly.
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Hi there, I'm Laurie, a private practice therapist and an avid journaler. I write about the intersection between journaling and therapy, helping you cultivate greater emotional and relational wellness via journaling pathways filled with self-compassion, self-nurture, self-discovery, & self-trust.