Have you ever wondered, ‘who am I’?
Learning (unlearning and relearning) who we are is lifelong process. Time and experiences change what we feel, think and even value in subtle and radical ways. I view the relationship we develop with ourselves as the MOST important relationship, and it serves as a foundation for our connection with others. Therefore, it is critical to take time to check-in with ourselves and say, ‘hello you, what’s going on in that mind and body of yours?’
When we feel connected and compassionate towards ourselves, we are better able to recognize and utilize our personal strengths, know when to say no and when to say yes, and be sensitive to what we’re feeling and needing. We can actively pursue the things that bring us joy, feel gratitude for what we have, experience hope when things feel difficult, and have the confidence to go after what matters. Sounds good, right? Yet so many of us feel disconnected, scattered, and uncertain about who we are or are too focused on what others want from us that we lose sight of ourselves.
My personal intention for 2024 is enhancing and investing in my self-connection. I want to listen to, nourish and care for, and connect more deeply with both my body and my mind. I’m an other-focused person which serves me well as a therapist and a parent, AND it’s made me vulnerable to losing sight of what I’m feeling, needing, or wanting. In fact, I’ve noticed that I’m generally not aware of my own needs until it reaches a level of urgency. For example, the busyness of my day will frequently have me forgetting to drink water even though I know that de-hydration causes me to feel irritable, foggy, and ‘headachy’. Does this happen to you too?
When I reflected on the practices that help me self-connect, the first thing that came to mind was journaling. When I was 8 years old, I received my Nancy Drew Diary (do you know who this fierce detective is?) and wrote about imagined adventures I’d go on with my friends, random things that I saw or did, and on one memorable day, I wrote about a painful interaction that happened with a family member. (And then scribbled it out lest my diary be found between my mattress and box frame and read). It was on this day that I discovered how writing could help me release my feelings, and in time, lead to insights and self-understanding that helps guide my communication, boundary-setting, and goals and purpose.
Ways to Journal
I frequently encourage my clients to journal or write between sessions, and it brings me joy when someone opens their journal in the appointment and proceeds to tell me about some important feelings, themes, or patterns they’ve observed and insights they’ve gained. I recognize that writing is not suited to all people, which is why I support people in also using art, stories, and poems to express and reconnect with themselves.
The key to journaling is to do it non-judgmentally and compassionately. Label emotions as emotions (happy, sad, disappointed, devastated, joyful, angry, frustrated, anxious, overwhelmed, or exhausted) and thoughts as thoughts (not truths or facts, per se). For example, ‘I feel exhausted’ or ‘I’m having the thought that I messed up’. This helps protect us from reinforcing negative or critical narratives often connected with underlying small t and Big T traumatic experiences. I also encourage you to let go of worries about spelling, grammar and even punctuation. Write in full sentences if it feels right or use point form. Allow it to be messy and real! Lastly, consider going back to previous journal entries and write yourself a compassionate or encouraging message in response. This helps rewire the brain and reinforce patterns of self-compassion and self-kindness.
If you’re new to journaling and curious about it, here are some options:
Guided Journals. Many journals come filled with beautiful words, inspiring messages and ‘prompts’ to encourage reflection. A quick online search or visit to your bookstore will help you discover what works for you. If you prefer, you can also use journaling apps, which offer convenience and gentle reminders to self-connect. I’m currently using the Give Yourself Kindness Journal*, as it encourages regular connection to all my emotions and thoughtful questions to balance the uncomfortable feelings with gratitude, hope and lots and lots of compassion.
Free-writing. Bullet journals, lined notebooks, scrap pieces of paper, the notes section on your phone, and sketch books- anywhere you can write (or type) becomes an opportunity to journal. There are no restrictions or limits on how you engage with your feelings and thoughts. Use glue, stickers, pens, markers, and digital images. Free-writing helps slow down and release the thoughts in our heads, AND figure out what we’re feeling and why. I like starting with: ‘I feel…’ (compassionately acknowledging what I’m feeling physically and/or emotionally) and ‘I need…’ (identifying how I can ease this suffering, care for myself, who I can reach out to support, or figure out if I can solve this problem or need to radically accept it). Responding to our feelings with what we need not only builds self-connection, it also fosters self-compassion and self-trust.
Self-trust involves digging deep and getting to know all that makes you, you. It’s mindfully connecting to who you are and learning the power of listening to and respecting your values, interests, boundaries, goals, areas of strength and growth, and overall, what matters. If you often find yourself often seeking reassurance or advice from others, consider using your journal to give yourself what you need to hear. You might be surprised by your own insight and wisdom.
If the process of journaling feels flooding at any point, pause and anchor yourself in the moment. You can focus on your breath or your heartbeat if that feels grounding or a comforting object, such as a blanket, pet, or stone. Focus fully and completely on it and create space from that which felt too much. Use the journal to guide conversations with trusted others and seek support as needed. If you need urgent support, please contact the crisis resources in your area.
Want to build self-compassion, self-connection, and self-trust? Consider attending the journaling workshop “The Road to Self-Compassion” or contact me for a free consultation.
*This is not a paid promotion. I connected with Rachel, the creator of the @giveyourselfkindness journal and affirmation cards, through Instagram and discovered we share similar values and a purpose to help people become kinder and more compassionate towards themselves.