Out of Exile: Day Eleven – Research on Journaling

In Day Ten, I talked about denial and how we often minimize our losses by spiritualizing the events. But a woman wrote to Day Nine talking about the opposite problem. She had too much emotion. She needed to find ways to channel her emotion in positive ways. Good point. She said journaling was one positive approach she took.

I recently came across some research in Brene Brown’s latest book, Daring Greatly, that relates to journaling:

In a pioneering study, psychologist and University of Texas professor James Pennebaker and his colleagues studied what happened when trauma survivors— specifically rape and incest survivors— kept their experiences secret. The research team found that the act of not discussing a traumatic event or confiding it to another person could be more damaging than the actual event.
Conversely, when people shared their stories and experiences, their physical health improved, their doctor’s visits decreased, and they showed significant decreases in their stress hormones. Since his early work on the effects of secret keeping, Pennebaker has focused much of his research on the healing power of expressive writing.
In his book Writing to Heal, Pennebaker writes, “Since the mid-1980s an increasing number of studies have focused on the value of expressive writing as a way to bring about healing. The evidence is mounting that the act of writing about traumatic experience for as little as fifteen or twenty minutes a day for three or four days can produce measurable changes in physical and mental health. Emotional writing can also affect people’s sleep habits, work efficiency, and how they connect with others.” (p. 82) Penguin Group
Brown notes the AA saying: you are only as sick as your secrets. 
I will often offer my ears to people who have gone through pain. I tell them that I don’t have to
be their counselor. I just think everyone needs someone to vent to without apologizing for it. 

The evidence is mounting that the act of writing about traumatic experience for as little as fifteen or twenty minutes a day for three or four days can produce measurable changes in physical and mental health. 

Some people don’t want to talk or journal for fear that they aren’t trusting God. They
shouldn’t need those outlets. All they need is God.  Well, hello. Maybe God wants to give you
some tangible outlets. It’s not a sign of weak faith to want/need to share the pain of your
losses.
Are you a journaler? How has it helped you to process loss? What other ways have you found
helpful to share your pain in constructive ways?
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One thought on “Out of Exile: Day Eleven – Research on Journaling

  1. Lisa

    Journaling has helped me to maintain my mental wellness (not sure I can call it sanity). It helped me to preserve and put a spiritual hedge around my marriage/family as well. I have also learned to pray while scribing my desires, concerns, feelings. I didn’t have a need for journaling until I was married with small children and my family was steeped in ministry. I started with a small blank booklet that I received from a ladies retreat. They encouraged us to count our blessings literally. It was a journal to record the people and things for which we were grateful. So the focus was gratitude.

    My first entry was “thankful for healthy feet.” I suppose it was very similar to Ann Voskamp’s approach in her book “One Thousand Gifts”. 20 years later I still have the journal and still
    record in it. I have shared it with our two young teens and they like to know mama writes and prays for them.

    But when my family left the country for mission/humanitarian aid work, there were more times then not I was surrounded by people but still feeling very isolated. So I started another journal for when I felt angry. I typically used a BIG FAT BLACK marker and would regress to a monkey grip around the pen and wanted to carve my feelings in this journal. Some pages only had two words b/c I wrote so big and was so mad. This journal was for God and me to sort out thoughts, I didn’t worry about grammar, punctuation, neatness or how often I wrote. I wasn’t a diary, it was what my English highschool teacher called a “brain drain”. At the end when I outgrew the need for the anger journal I believe I tore it up and threw it in the fire. It had served it’s purpose and I fumed it up to God. No need to hang on to it!

    Yes, I do have a bit of drama on my side. I live with a house full of men. I have learned they can’t always relate to the intensity or quantity of my emotions. I’m not expecting them to be my “confidante” either. I can’t talk to them like they’re my “girlfriends”. But I have found Jesus can deal quite nicely with my emotions and he is a good, safe listener too. My journals are addressed to the Father in heaven and Jesus… 1 Peter 5:7 “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

    Support our Troops has also shared that journaling has helped many military people deal with their PTSD as they try to cope with reverse cultural shock and the suicide numbers. The article affirmed how powerful writing more than talking can be. Journaling does aid in the healing process. Here are the links:

    http://www.militarymentalhealth.org/blog/2012/03/struggling-with-ptsd-write-about-it/

    http://www.policymic.com/articles/48267/ptsd-supporting-our-troops-means-being-on-the-lookout-for-symtoms

    http://aw2.armylive.dodlive.mil/2010/11/journaling-as-a-tool-to-treat-ptsd/

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