Journaling through Difficult Feelings

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I received a question recently on my Instagram account at thejournalenthusiast. The question is one that I felt deserved more time and space than a quick answer in reply on a social media platform. Additionally, it sparked my mind in forty different directions and that alone warrented taking a step back before hitting reply! Fortunately, I knew I had answers for her, but I wanted time to read between the lines she’d written, seek the Lord in prayer, check on my own best resources and weigh my answer. I am guilty of overthinking often, I know, but I also appreciated this opportunity to redivert my focus to one of my greatest passions…writing through difficult feelings and overwhelming emotions. I do it so frequently, I don’t think about it. I’ve written through enough challenges, difficulties and personal trauma to safely know the positives and negatives from this activity and where some of the boundaries lie. I hope this article offers a helpful answer, and told her I thought she wasn’t alone in asking these questions and let her know I wanted to invite others who may benefit into our conversation. Read on for my response to her questions.

The questions posed were:

  1. When you are angry or hurt by something someone says or does, will it help to write out your feelings?
  2. Is there a certain method one does to get relief from emotions?

I wanted to give three possible answers or courses of action to choose. Not knowing the person’s background who asked the questions required me to broaden my perspective and carefully consider my answer. I hate “pat” answers. I don’t like receiving them, and I refuse to give them. Hopefully behind one of these three answer “doors”, a satisfactory and useful answer will be revealed!

First and foremost, my faith guides my personal journaling practice. This I cannot deny, nor would I try. It is really hard to seperate my faith from my perception of …well, everything, so depending on where you are with your own spiritual journey, this will either resonate, or not. I trust you to take from it what you can. Having journaled over the course of a lifetime I can say there are times when journaling can be useful for dealing with hurts and difficult feelings, and there can be times when it might be impractical or detrimental. The better one knows themself through an journaling practice of self-reflection, the easier it is to discern where that fine line lies. My habit of writing prayers, master task lists, goals, plans, dreams and random ponderings means I choose where my focus is. The power of writing things out helps me keep things in perspective. Problems shrink or expand depending on how we allow ourselves to see them. Coming away with pen and paper can be helpful in creating distance from a specific circumstance and allowing a a broader context.

I think one of the most helpful passages from a faith perspective is found in Isaiah Chapetr 9. You may recognize the verse form Christmas cards and for Christians this verse celebrates the hope of Christ as the promised Messiah.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6 ESV

Believers who choose to journal have at their side a Wonderful Counselor who is willing to listen as they pour out their percieved injustices, hurts, complaints against others and all concerns that weigh heavy on the heart. This is no small thing. God is our witness. We give witness to the One who is silent but ever present when we put pen to paper and bring into the light what can be seen from not only our own perspective but a heavenly perspective. As we work through our words on paper we are able to consider all before a Mighty God by faith. If we have a problem with a person, we allow our Everlasting Father’s eternal perspective to speak into the situation so we are better prepared to lay down temporal emotions and carefully weigh our anger against what may be long-term consequences. We seek “wisdom from above”, sand ask for what we need from the one who is The Prince of Peace. It is my belief that we can be completely honest in our writing, and unashamed. We can as Hebrews says, “…come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (NKJ). My experience with journaling through angry feelings and difficult emotions has been revelutionary in my intimacy with God. He is not slow to reveal when I am off base or right on track, and how best to proceed. Sometimes seeing my honest thoughts and feelings written out before me is all I need for a reality check. The act of writing frees me from the bondage of negative cycling of thoughts and helps me release them safely on paper for minimal damage to relationships. I am not saying we should not confront the person we have a conflict with or the one who has hurt us, but that the first course of action for me is prayer, and praying with my pen. The act of writing serves a a catalyst for releasing the intensity of all the bottled up emotions…then they are a bit easier to round up, reign in and tame or deal with as need be. If you have questions about how to seek the Lord with pen and paper I have written on that a number of times. Check out: Ask, Seek, Knock: Seeking God With Pen and Paper

Next up, I highly recommend James Pennebaker’s writing exercise dubbed “Expressive Writing” . If you want to explore a healthy apprach to writing your way through anger, or other challenging emotions and thoughts I suggest you check out this site: James Pennebaker which will explain it and give you some great support. Meanwhile I did a short post here: Exploring Expressive Writing with James W. Pennebaker. A modified version of this style would be to 1. Pick a spot to write. 2. Write in the same spot each time. 3. Write for a set amount of time (15 minutes is a good start BUT any set amount will be fine) at the same time for 3-4 days in a row about the incident which is troubling to you. 4. Write whatever comes without censoring or editing. 5. After you have finished the set amount of days, you can determine what your next steps are to be. Do you need to talk to reconcile with the person who hurt you? Would counseling be practical and appropriate? Would talking with a trusted friend help. (Be careful this is not a vent or gripe session which will drag you both down!

Lastly, I want to share a journaling exercise from journaling’s reigning queen, Kathleen Adams called, The Unsent Letter. As a Certified Journal To The Self Instructor myself, I assure you this is a helpful writing exercise, and you can burn or shred the letter later if you prefer. It will be the act of writing that will allow you to deal with working through the emotions that need to be addressed and processed. Here are a couple of openers to start your journaling entry as an unsent letter as suggested in Kay’s excellent book Journal to The Self: “What Ive been afraid to tell you is… ” or “I want you to know how I feel about…”

As far as getting “relief” from emotions…that one is the mother of all questions, isn’t it? We were created as human beings who experience emotions. There is no getting around this fact. There certainly are a number of ways we can seek that relief…and many can be detrimental to our health, our lives, and the health and lives of others. So, here is what I can tell you…as one who has often asked God why he just didn’t make me without emotions…among other things. The best thing we can do is keep giving our feelings to the One who created us, as He understands us completely. We cannot avoid emotions, we have to learn to deal with them as best we can. I take comfort in knowing that God is OK with me expressing ALL of my emotions. We have had to work hard on how that looks though and it has taken a good portion of my adult life and all of my childhood learning to express my emotions well. And I am still learning as I go. God keeps leading me to be true to myself, honest with Him, and authentic with others. That may not be a magical answer but it’s the only one I know. I have tried running from my feelings, suppressing and denying them. I don’t believe that is God’s will for us. So, getting relief from emotions for me means being as honest as I can with myself, my God and others…and letting everything else go.

I hope this post will be helpful to the one who asked the questions, and maybe someone else. If you have a journaling question, please let me know in the comments. If you have a question about anything I mentioned, please let me know in the comments. If you want to say hello, just leave a comment…in the comments. Let me know how I can help, I am here! Keep writing it out!

Published by enthusiasticallydawn

Dawn Paoletta is the author of Journaling for Discovery and Delight. Her writing is included in several anthologies and her poems have been included in the Wickford Poetry and Art Exhibit and Books. Dawn is currently working on her next book. Inquiries at

One thought on “Journaling through Difficult Feelings

  1. Dawn: This is great. You covered the basics of journaling. For me, I started writing down how I felt as I was going through a very dark time in my life. It gave me perspective. Because of the new perspective, I made some changes in my life that have turned out to be very beneficial to me and to my family.

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