Journaling is a powerful tool for healing from childhood trauma and toxic relationships. Once you make the decision to begin the healing process from a toxic or abusive relationship, you need to do many things to heal and it’s often not obvious what to do.
Sharie Stines, Psy.D is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
One thing that is very therapeutic is the journal. Following are a list of exercises you can do every day to help yourself reflect, feel, and heal from an abusive past and present. Remember this recovery truth: “You must feel your way through the pain; you cannot heal by going around it.” Writing helps you feel.
Where are you today? What areas of your life are causing you the most concern and emotional pain?
Describe how you feel about your early childhood.
What emotional needs are you trying to obtain from someone else? List the biggest needs you feel are not being fulfilled in your relationship.
Write the feelings you experience as a result of these unmet needs.
Now, think back to your earliest memories and think of a time when you had the experience of having these same unmet needs and the resulting emotions. Write about that time in your life.
Draw your feelings. Once you draw them using descriptive pictures and metaphors, observe them, notice them, and validate them.
Write your feelings of anger. Write a list of everyone you’re angry with and why.
Begin writing a letter to the person you are most angry with (this is not to be given or read to the person; it is for your eyes only and is a tool to help you process through and express your anger in a healing way.)
Continue writing your letter to the person you are most angry with. Write as much as you need to, until you feel complete.
If you have anger towards others, begin writing a letter to those people as well. Continue writing anything down regarding your anger until you feel complete with each person on your list. This may take many days to complete.
What unmet needs do you experience that you don’t believe you can fulfill yourself?
What prevents you the most from living life on your own terms?
Draw a picture of your family in your childhood. Draw the rooms in your house. Where was each family member located? Show who was violating boundaries; who was abusive; who was not present.
Draw a picture of your current family using same criteria as above.
Write a list of every negative thing you can think of that you tell yourself. Think of every self-critical and condemning message you repeat over and over in your head. Once you’ve completed your list, write a second list with a positive statement that is self-accepting and loving to counteract each negative message.
Write a list of positive, self-affirming mantras to start memorizing and internalizing in your life each day. Use these to replace the negative messages you’ve grown accustomed to.
Write a letter to your younger self—the self that went through a loss or trauma—from your today self. What would you say to comfort him/her? What advice would you give? Offer your past self the acceptance, validation, and nurturing that he/she needs.
Sit for a while and think about the different “parts” of yourself. Do you have a “young self,” a “party girl,” a “rebel,” etc. Identify the different aspects of your personality that tend to show up in your life. This list will help you as you continue the process of recovery. If you see that you have many unhealthy personas and very few strong or compassionate personas, you can see where work is needed.
Draw a picture of the different parts of yourself; reflect on your drawing.
Start getting used to writing from the different aspects of yourself. For instance, today, write how your “guilty self” feels. Once you’ve done this, have your inner “compassionate companion” respond.
Write about your childhood experiences in the third person, as though it happened to someone else (Once upon a time there was a little girl named Sally. She was a very pretty little girl…) After you’ve described your childhood and its effects on the child in you, read your story aloud. How does reading and hearing about your childhood from a different perspective help you develop self-compassion?
Think about your day. What types of thoughts have troubled you the most today? Write these down in your journal.
Now, from your “wise self” write advice to your “troubled self” about what he/she can do to create a solution.
Write a list of people you need to forgive.
Write a letter to each person on your list stating what you need to forgive and why.
Write a list of people whom you have wronged and from whom you need to ask forgiveness.
Write letters to these people as well.
Write a letter to anyone you have any unfinished emotional business to contend with. Be completely candid in your letters, describing what your feelings are and what you need to say to each person. As with all journal writings, these letters are for your eyes only and should be written with complete honesty and candidness.
Journaling is an important habit to develop in your life. These prompts should help you to begin the habit of writing and/or drawing each day to help yourself reflect and develop a strong relationship with yourself.
So many of us spend years of our lives looking for a hero in other people, when the truth is, the only hero that is really going to have the biggest impact on our lives is ourselves.
As you continue on your writing journey, keep writing to the different aspects of yourself. Have your “hurting self” talk to your “wise self.” Have your “unstable self” get advice from your “mature self.” This type of process will teach you that you can rely on yourself and you really don’t need others to fix you.
Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz realized that the answers to her search for home were already within her during her entire quest through the Land of Oz, so you must learn that the answers to your recovery search reside within your own relationship with self as well.