Journaling Through Your Emotions

By Kristen Clark

Feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy can be overwhelming; they can draw us into hand-to-hand combat with emotions of hopelessness and helplessness. The good news is feelings are not facts and psychologists suggest journaling as a useful tool for processing negative feelings and gaining self-awareness by thinking through the facts.

Not only is journaling a safe vehicle for venting and releasing negative emotions that would otherwise be bottled up, it is also a helpful tool for sifting through how we feel during our daily activities.  Our minds are often swimming with the busyness of our schedules and we don’t always get the chance to pinpoint why we feel the way we do in any given situation or moment.  Journaling allows us to do just that.  It also allows us to get to know ourselves better.

The act of putting feelings into words is also helpful because it lessens their energy and control over us.  A brain imaging study by UCLA psychologists revealed why verbalizing our feelings makes our sadness, anger, and pain less intense. Matthew D. Lieberman, UCLA Associate Professor of Psychology and a founder of social cognitive neuroscience, explains, “In the same way you hit the brake when you’re driving when you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses.”

Heidi Vermeer-Quist, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Des Moines, Iowa, suggests that people can more easily hit the brakes on emotional responses and process negative feelings in any given situation by writing their reply to these questions:

  • What are you feeling?
  • What are you reacting to?
  • How do you interpret the situation? (What is your automatic knee jerk reaction?)
  • What are other response options to the situation?
  • Which response option will you choose?

Coupling this journaling exercise with prayer can be a powerful approach to reaching healthier conclusions about ourselves, rather than letting emotions and feelings become the overarching reality that determine our value and worth.  Adding prayer to the journaling process allows God to reveal the very truth we need to see about ourselves in a particular situation; we can ask Him to shower us with wisdom and knowledge in our effort to gain self-awareness and think through the facts.

Proverbs 18:12-14 warn us to seek the facts before we respond in prejudice and risk crushing the human spirit. In context these verses warn us against prejudices toward others, but they also apply to the unconscious prejudices we may have toward ourselves.  The next time you’re feeling deficient in your value and worth, take some time to journal your responses to the questions above. Then listen for God’s personal message through your experience.  Feelings are not facts, and that’s something to celebrate!

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