I recently started doing one of the scariest things I’ve ever done…
I’ve been reading my old journals. They start at age 12 then jump to age 15 and carry on until my 30’s. I have never once looked back at any of my journal writing. I’m taking it slow. It is a very uncomfortable process. I cringe at every other sentence. I’m embarrassed of my younger self. I sound ignorant and self absorbed, most of it is a pity party. In essence, I am young.
In my counselling practice I spend a lot of time exploring with people how they can love themselves better, how to quiet the inner voice that repeats every negative message ever heard or felt throughout one’s lifetime. The goal is to become the friend, parent, or coach to yourself that you’ve never had. I’ll often ask people to imaging that someone else that they cared about came to them with the same thoughts or concerns that they have and ask, “How would you respond to that person?” Most people can generate compassion and wisdom when others share their worries and fears, it is much more difficult to do for oneself. While reading my old journals, I could feel none of the love or compassion for my younger self that I had encouraged others to have for themselves.
I decided to journal my responses to my journals (very meta of me, don’t you think?) Then I imagined someone coming to me and describing those feelings of revulsion (that I had just written about) towards themselves as they read their childhood journals. I proceeded to put on my counsellor’s hat and respond as I would to any person who had shared these things with me. I found that when I did that, I was able to see that child’s fears, self pity, and ignorance as being a normal part of childhood. I was able to imagine the hopes that child had and how, given the context in which that child lived, why they might feel the way they do. In short, I was able to find compassion for that child.
That compassion changed things for me. It felt like a re-write of my story. It felt like a shame lifter. It felt like I could forgive myself for being a child and even discover that no forgiveness was necessary. It was powerful.
I am seeing another unexpected outcome of that compassion. I am noticing glimpses of compassion for others in the areas that used to irritate me. I’ve known for a little while now, that many things that irritate me in others are things that I’ve not found compassion for in myself. I’m curious to see how this continues and grows as I carry on in this journey.
Another thing I’ve begun to do is to research some of the cultural events that were happening around that time, which I was influenced by. I’ve been looking at the media I was exposed to then, and found that I respond very differently to it now, in my 40’s than I did as a teenager. I am able to see how vulnerable I was to the messages which were often less than benign, and feel compassion for that girl.
I’ve been doing some research on various groups or movements that my family was a part of, while I was growing up, how they originated, and how outsiders saw these groups. I’ve been surprised at my emotional response to this. Anger about the effects that belonging to these groups and movements had on my life has, in some cases, dissipated. When I understand the bigger picture, the perspective from the outside, it somehow all feels much less personal and much less powerful. I’ve discovered that what seemed, at the time, like all powerful entities, were just made up of people, many of whom were much younger than I am now, when they had influence in my life. There are things that happened that I am now able to let go of and forgive. (See ‘Forgiveness,’ A Dirty Word? for my definition of forgiveness). I am also, on the other hand, identifying some wrong done that actually increase my anger. These are injustices done to me, that I had previously blamed on myself. I am still processing whether it is important to hold accountable for these things.
Over the years, I have spoken to friends and family who were around during those times of life and who have had difference responses to those things than I did. This has also helped me consider other perspectives about my various experiences. Their perspectives show me what parts of my responses may have been related to my particular personality and what parts may have been much bigger than me.
In previous posts, I spoke about attachment styles (The 4 Adult Attachment Styles) and about healing attachment wounds (Healing Attachment Wounds – Telling the Story). This journalling exercise has been a way for me to re-story my personal narrative. Stories have power. They have power to destroy and to heal. We can decide what kind of stories we tell ourselves and when those stories requiring editing.
I’m at the early stages of this journey with my journals, but am excited about the potential for further healing, for new perspectives that are already coming out of this review process. As I enter the second half of my life, I am finding renewed hope for what might be possible as I lay down some of the burdens and messages I’ve been carrying, to date and write new stories which will shape who I am, my choices, and how I treat others.
For further reading check out The Parents You Wish You’d Had