How do you process pain?
I used to take one of two routes when it came to processing my pain.
- Ignore it. Because that helps in any situation, right? ?
- Blab it. Yes, I use the word “blab” because, at that moment in time, I talked indiscriminately about whatever the issue. Don’t confuse blabbing with honesty.
My options looked like an ostrich, head fully in the sand, or a young child with their fingers stuffed in their ears or that same ear-stuffed child chattering about her day with no real connection or thought to what she is saying.
Can you relate to either of those ways of handling pain? Or do you have another “go-to” method? Think about it. Now say that method out loud, so you hear it. (Unless you’re somewhere public where they might find you odd for talking to yourself. Ha!)
Every person has a default response to strong emotions. Don’t judge your reaction. We’re not concerned with whether your default mode is right or wrong, right now. I just want you to think about it and identify it.
During my recovery from suicidal depression and PTSD and my husband’s porn addiction, I learned healthy ways to process my pain. And it helps me daily—all these years later.
My two default ways to process pain lacked a healthy resolution.
By ignoring it, I stuffed the emotions, which further deepened my depression, shame, and guilt. But, by blabbing it to no one in particular only brought temporary relief when someone sympathized with me. I didn’t resolve or deal with the emotions. I just talked about them.
To proactively process your painful emotions, you need to “close the loop.”
Close the loop comes from personal productivity guru, David Allen, in his book, Getting Things Done. It’s:
Anything pulling at your attention that doesn’t belong where it is or the way it is creates open loops in our mind. These open loops waste energy and cause anxiety.
To create peace and calmness in your mind, it helps to get these things out of your mind onto paper (physical or digital) using journal prompts. And then figure out your next step.
But how do you do that?
During recovery, I learned to use guided journaling.
You reflect on a series of prepared questions that help you work through whatever is happening in that open loop.
At first, this felt a little stilted and formulaic. But as I continued to follow these steps daily, my thoughts unlocked places in my mind and heart to process the pain.
Where do I start?
Here are the 5 journal prompts I used initially:
- Today I feel:
- When I feel this way, the thoughts that go through my head are:
- When I feel this way and think these thoughts, I want to:
- My choice today is to:
- Today I will:
These questions help you process through the aftershocks rocking your world in the first days and weeks of recovery. But, you don’t have to stay with these initial journal prompts.
After using this process daily for several weeks, I discovered that my journaling took on a new form.
Remember, journaling is personal, so how you do it doesn’t have to follow a formula. Once you become comfortable jotting your thoughts down and closing those loops in your mind, you discover a process that works for you. And that’s the ultimate goal.
How much time do I spend?
Another question my coaching clients ask is, “How long should I spend journaling?”
Great question. I suggest you spend 10-15 minutes once a day. Preferably, you add this as part of your normal routine, whether morning, afternoon or before bed. Decide what time works best for you, and then schedule it like a meeting, so it doesn’t get lost in your day.
There are days when I journal for 10 minutes and others where I write for an hour. Sometimes, I write in my journal more than once a day because I need to process through something that has me distracted or floundering. The tactile process of writing out the issue and my thoughts bring a sense of peace and calm. Many times, the answer to what’s bugging me comes as I’m writing. It’s an “aha” moment the writing process unlocked.
What should I include?
What should you include in your journal? Anything you want. This is your journal so use it as you wish.
Do you need to sketch out an issue? Then do so. No one is grading you or hanging your artwork on the fridge for all to see. Do you need to include a snippet, notecard, email, or text message? Go for it. Whatever you need to do to process through the open loop is appropriate. The key here is to do what you need to do to help you close the loop on whatever distracts you from what you need to heal.
What are the benefits of journaling?
Journaling helps you:
- Calm your mind
- Acknowledge and release your stuffed emotions
- Explore your emotions (very important)
- Name your negative thoughts and process them to gain freedom.
- Enhance your self-awareness
- Learn about your triggers
- Reduce anxiety
- Manage your stress
- Process your pain
- Switch from negative thought cycles to a positive perspective
PositivePsychology.com lists 83 benefits of journaling if you want to explore more. Journaling each day on one of those benefits would give you enough topics to propel you right through the next two and a half months!
I think the most encouraging benefit I’ve seen from journaling is my emotional, mental, and spiritual progression toward wholeness.
Initially, I needed the guided journaling questions to develop the habit. Today, I journal almost daily about:
- what I’m learning,
- questions I’m ruminating,
- experiences I need to process,
- wins, failures,
- life moments,
- prayers, and
- much more.
Every moment spent journaling helps me move toward wholeness.
As a coach, I encourage my clients to start with guided journaling using these journal prompts. This process helps calm the crazy thoughts whirling in their heads. It identifies their fears, worries, and concerns. Often, in the process of journaling, my clients discover keys to enhance their healing. And pathways toward trust, forgiveness, faith, and a deeper understanding of God’s love.
I’m fairly certain this isn’t the first time you’ve heard that journaling is good for you. BUT what if today is the first time you took a step toward making journaling a pathway for growth in your life? What if it really happened this time? Reach out for some accountability and encouragement. It changes your today and every tomorrow. Let’s talk.