What is it about journal-writing that causes personal change?
In my experience, the element of journal-writing responsible for a long-term sense of well-being comes from the opportunity it provides to feel heard.
With all types of communication challenges, from family squabbles to Middle East Peace Settlements, we have learned that being understood, and having the ability to share one’s side of the story, is a basic human need. Once fulfilled, it opens doors to so many other human gifts; affection, compassion, forgiveness, and generosity, to name a few.
In almost every Mediation and Conflict Resolution intervention, emphasis is placed on the mechanics of active listening. By allowing people from both sides of an issue to affirm the values they hold dear, even those with seemingly opposite viewpoints can find mutually satisfying conclusions. Feeling heard results in happier outcomes for everyone.
The Harvard Negotiation Institute, the Compassionate Listening Project, and the Center for Nonviolent Communication provide countless extraordinary examples of how feeling heard can cause miracles between warring nations, in the judicial system, on school campuses, and in our homes. Being acknowledged seems to be the starting point for personal transformation.
Journal-keeping is an excellent method for recording your own side of the story. By telling your truth, without having to prove anything to anybody else, there is no worry about looking good or pleasing others. Simply putting your concerns into your own words, you create a space to clarify the issues involved, to reconcile your feelings in the matter, and to compose a more thoughtful perspective. Not only does journaling help you to articulate your needs with other people, by itself it is a form of self-understanding and self-care.
What kind of world would we live in if everyone made the time and space for themselves to experience feeling heard?
Most of the time, complaints are nothing more than an undercover cry for acknowledgment. Often, we don’t really need (or desire) anything to change. We simply want some recognition for the situation we’ve endured, or the accomplishments we’ve made, or the effort we’ve given. I haven’t seen a scientific study on this (yet!) but I feel confident in predicting that people who journal consistently about their contributions, struggles and triumphs complain a lot less than people who don’t.
One woman who took my “Passion, Clarity & Purpose” journal-writing workshop last Fall expressed that she had felt disempowered and neglected in her marriage. She shared stories about not getting enough support for the things she cared about. She complained she was feeling miserable, being a caregiver without any appreciation. Throughout the course, her journal-writing seemed to center around the communication issues with her husband. She even felt guilty for taking the journal-writing class because she felt there were other things her husband expected her to do around the house. Then in the sixth week, about halfway through the course, she exclaimed to the entire class, “I haven’t even been appreciating myself!” A whole new view of herself came alive, just by giving herself permission to be heard. Today, she treats her journal-writing with a priority like brushing her teeth or taking vitamins. She writes with the purpose of becoming her own best advocate.
Here is a journaling activity you might try, for activating your own sense of being heard.
3 Steps to Activate Your Sense of Being Heard
- Start with a specific complaint, unfair situation, or conflict that you are currently dealing with. Take a few minutes to write out the nature of the situation, and the ways you’ve tried to deal with it. What has been said? How has it escalated?
- Then ask yourself these questions, and allow yourself to explore in your journal whatever comes up.
- Why is this bothering me so much?
- Why do I care about this issue?
- What values of mine are being violated?
- How can I communicate this, while also leaving space for the other person to feel heard?
- Next, read what you’ve written, and summarize your journal entry with a statement or two to affirm any conclusions, to pinpoint new openings for reflection, or simply to grant permission to come back to this subject again later.
A journal is a friend like no other, perpetually offering you an opportunity to have your voice heard, to have your feelings validated, to have your truth sought and told. Kathleen Adams, the founder of The Center for Journal Therapy, fondly refers to journaling as “the 79-cent therapist”. Ask any therapist: Most of what they do for their clients relies on the power of listening.
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