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I can't get emotional with journaling. Tips?

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by desined, Aug 27, 2022.

  1. desined

    desined New Member

    I've been journaling for 1-1.5 months, but I still struggle to actually express my repressed emotions on paper. Every time I write it feels like I only scratch the surface and can't actually get to the root of the problem.
    Moreover, sometimes I feel like I force emotions that actually aren't there, meaning that I intentionally try to get angry to get something out on paper.

    If you journal for TMS, do you have any tips on how to do it properly and effectively to trigger repressed emotions and let go of them?

    Thank you in advance
  2. TG957

    TG957 Beloved Grand Eagle

    Journaling never worked for me. I ended up giving up on it. After a while, I realized that posting here on the forum did more for me than journaling, not just my own posts, but even more so responding and trying to help others somehow took the edge out of my emotions. But I also meditated a lot and credit meditation for healing of my nervous system. Having said that, I don't think I ever experienced an explicit discovery of repressed emotions or release of those. Instead, my symptoms very slowly went away.
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  3. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    I, on the other hand, found the writing exercises to be enormously helpful when I did the SEP (Structured Educational Program), especially as it offers different techniques, to help find one that resonates with you. And I still free-write to this day - during stressful times (like all of 2020) I write every night, or I'll just drop everything and pick up pen and paper in the middle of the day. I have two pieces of advice for effective writing.

    The first is that I discovered that I was editing what I wrote down. My brain was literally saying "Oh, don't write THAT down - I'm sure it's not important, you can skip that, there will be other things that will work for this exercise". When I realized this, it was REALLY hard to write those things down anyway - I literally had to force myself to do it in spite of extreme resistance from my fearful brain. The feelings, or incidents, whatever they were, weren't, in fact, very significant, and not at all earth-shattering - yet when I examined them in detail (as part of the exercise) they revealed things about my childhood experience of myself, within my family and other relationships, that really explained so much about my sources of stress and fear - and facing these things was a significant turning point in my recovery process.

    The second piece of advice piggybacks on this, which is: don't keep what you write. If you know that what you write still exists to be read, it's hard to be 100% honest - and 100% honesty is essential, otherwise you're just letting your brain fool you into thinking you're accomplishing something.

    Don't use a formal journal, just use old notebook paper, and then dispose of it. This is the same advice given by our pre-eminent journaling expert, Nicole Sachs, LCSW, which she explains in her book JournalSpeak, but is also easily accessible through her other resources, including her podcast (but you need to start with #1, back in 2018/19, I think? to get the full benefit of her journaling advice). Just google Nicole Sachs The Cure For Chronic Pain.

    Another TMS professional who advocates tossing what you write is Dr. David Hanscom, MD, a spine surgeon who retired early to concentrate on getting the word out about this work, and creator of the Back In Control program, He calls it Expressive Writing, and I recently posted here, with a link to his short blog article on the topic, among other items.

    Last edited: Aug 27, 2022
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  4. Booble

    Booble Well known member

    Writing for me has changed everything. And it provided immediate success in stopping symptoms that I could not get to stop otherwise. (Hoarse voice, tight muscles causing pain that rotated between throat, chest, and tooth, and tachycardia in which I'd wake up in the middle of night or morning with heart and adrenaline flowing.)

    I do free flowing writing. I'll often examine a particular topic and just let loose and write whatever. I do it from a starting mindset of curiosity. I start with that topic and then see where it goes. For example I might start with:
    Car sickness
    And I'll start with describing my earliest memories.....
    - not being able to go past a certain part of town without getting sick
    - being afraid to go with my mum anywhere for fear of getting car sick
    - getting the car sickness feeling before we left the house when we had a long trip planned and my sister making fun of me
    - the smell of my mother's car.
    - the smell of the toll booth stop which would make me throw up
    - not getting car sick when I'd take the bus to camp

    As I write those kinds of things, the writing goes in all different places. How it made me feel. Why I think it might have been happening.
    And often it turns to all kinds of crazy. I can feel my young self during that time. I let that young self, I call her Little Booble, speak out, scream out. My page might then be filled with weirdness like, "Hate. Hate. Hate. Don't make me go! I don't want to go!"
    And I keep writing. I often start to get profound tiredness as I keep writing. I keep going if I can. I talk to Little Booble (in writing). Or move onward. And keep writing. It moves on to how and when I stopped getting car sick. And then I might ponder (write) about what it all means.
    At the end it always becomes positive. I draw pictures of balloons and little Booble holding them and releasing them. The balloons floating up and away.

    I'm sure it all sounds kind of crazy to read and I hope it doesn't scare you away from trying again at writing. For me it's been transformative. Whenever I have physical symptoms I turn my thoughts to the emotions. I think about what I might write about that day. Or if I'm able to time wise I grab my pad and start writing then.

    Unlike Jan and the others, I don't throw mine away. They feel too precious. I don't look back at them. At least I haven't yet. It feels like it will break the spell if I read them ... while I'm....ummm....conscious. When I write I get into kind of a strange hypnotic-like zone.

    Okay, well I thought it might help if I describe my process but I've probably scared you away from it!!
  5. Celayne

    Celayne Well known member

    On the scale of things that have helped me with TMS, I would put journaling at about 4 out of 10. The times it has been most helpful to me is when my thoughts are swirling and I just need to get them on paper to make sense of them. For bringing up deep emotions, meditation has been much more effective. But that’s just me.

    @desined, maybe you are trying too hard or expecting too much. Maybe your superego/gatekeeper consciousness is having too much control and not letting your primal id talk. If that’s the case, I would try to relax, not stress over the emotions that won’t come YET and keep writing.

    Is perfectionism at play for you? That could be a factor, if you’re expecting too much of yourself.


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  6. TG957

    TG957 Beloved Grand Eagle

    Just to make it clear: I am not advocating to stop journaling. My point is that while in its classic form it does work for a majority of people, it might not work for all. Each person is unique and so is the path to recovery. If one method does not seem to be working, try another one. I have always been of the opinion that in order to heal, we need to find our own way out. In my case, writing did help, but it was not a journal, it was posting here on the forum. Be your own doctor!
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  7. TG957

    TG957 Beloved Grand Eagle

    I am with you 100%. My biggest problem with journaling was that I was trying get a kind of a complete essay out every day. It was a complete writer's block every day. It made my anxiety only worse. Much worse.
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  8. Celayne

    Celayne Well known member

    I’ve always written a lot so journaling to relieve symptoms or uncover deep emotions wasn’t a unique enough experience to be that helpful. That’s my analysis of it anyway.

    People should do what works best for them. For me, it’s a weird jumble of so many things, but mostly it was just calming the f*ck down. . When asked what helped, I can’t even point to one thing.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2022
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  9. Baseball65

    Baseball65 Beloved Grand Eagle

    I have been cured of major TMS for a long time and I am not sure if I have EVER gotten a repressed emotion on paper...how could I? It's repressed and unconscious.

    Sarno was careful to distinguish those from the PRE-conscious which are things we may get too with effort or memory. Those are NOT the cause of TMS, but might be involved in aggravating it.

    It's the process itself that helps. I get up every morning...something is bugging me physically. I used to go through a bunch of stretches, physical therapies and so forth along with a list of my opinions about it....Catastrophic whining "oh no, it's worse" Suffering "It isn't getting any better, what's the point"

    Now, Knowing intellectually it is caused by emotional processes, I tell it.."I don't believe in you..your here to distract me from something that YOU (my unconscious) think is scary, but not only am I going to ignore your antics...I'm coming LOOKING for your ass!"

    ..and plain old grievance list writing, coupled with asking myself WHY those CONSCIOUS irritants are bugging me and what they effect...and after I have committed to it for awhile, I start to get impressions of patterns "shadows on the cave wall" like Socrates spoke of...and I slowly start to see an Image of this guy who has an aversion to really getting to the meat of the scary, shameful anger....Fears of abandonment,being ostracized, being wrong, being right...all of it

    I hit certain pockets of issues and ..."well look at that...as soon as I finally took a look at that , the symptoms stopped, or severely lessened....Might be on to something."

    and you are. If you read Mindbody Prescription, a woman has one of those OMG, got it all out in one session releases... But Sarno is quick to say she was the exception and not the rule. That's why we call it "TMS work".. it is work. But it will pay off... like all hard work.

    so, you need not hunt for deep profound stuff...plain old anger about co-workers, bad relationships, shitty jobs and politics is a great starting place...just remember to ask WHY it bugs you. The TMS is hidden in the 'why'
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  10. Booble

    Booble Well known member

    Brilliant, B-Ball!
  11. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    Indeed, @Baseball65 has reminded us that making lists is one of the first writing techniques introduced in the SEP! And I found it to be an incredibly effective way to get started. In fact, it was during a list exercise that I suddenly became aware of my brain literally telling me I didn't need to write down certain things that came into my head - and that discovery was a major turning point in my recovery.

    @desined and anyone struggling with this, just web search "Psychology Today write to reduce stress" and you'll find tons and tons of articles from that magazine alone, about the many ways in which just writing stuff down has been proven to help reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and, of course, physical symptoms. The various articles, going back at least a decade, encompass the many different ways this can be done - the most simple being to take a few minutes at the end of every day to list the things that are still on your mind. This has been shown to clear the brain, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep.

    To which I would add, see if you can end your daily list with just one thing (no matter how insignificant) to be grateful for.

    As always, there is no One Way way to do this - just try something.

    Also, and this is key: having expectations about the outcome of your writing exercise pretty much guarantees that you will not achieve that outcome. It is vital to fully understand this: having an expectation that can't be met is actually your TMS brain trying to keep you stuck, worried and anticipating the worst. Don't be fooled!
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  12. Booble

    Booble Well known member

    Right on!
  13. braveheart

    braveheart Peer Supporter

    I find the emotions flow more freely when I journal verbally. When I use pen and paper it's more of a cerebral, cognitive experience and not helpful. And my hand gets tired.
  14. BruceMC

    BruceMC Beloved Grand Eagle

    I think it's important to journal on those three classic topics that Dr Sarno used in his original therapeutic program: Stressors in childhood, adolescence and early life. 2) Personality traits, in particular perfectionism and goodism. 3.) Ongoing life stress events that you're dealing with right now in the present moment. Like any essay you should stay focused on the internal logic of your topic and if they suggests an argument or thesis stick with that too. To get to the unconscious content suggested by these topoi, I would use the techniques of automatic writing and free form writing used by the surrealist poets and artists of the 1930s like Andre Breton who used writing as a kind of Freudian depth analysis of the unconscious. Try to stay on topic and write really fast so that any latent content will manifest in your stream of consciousness before you get a chance to repress it into your unconscious. Think Virginia Woolf used this same stream of consciousness technique in her novels if I still can remember literature courses from Junior year in college today!
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  15. Booble

    Booble Well known member

    That's interesting. I notice that if my hand gets tired or if I get intensely tired then I'm usually on to something important that has been tucked away. Those are the times I make myself keep going. My thoughts will often then veer off on tangents to avoid whatever and my hand stops hurting and my fatigue goes away until I bring myself back to the important thing my mind doesn't want to reveal.
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  16. Booble

    Booble Well known member

    I agree with all that you wrote except this. Logic is the opposite of free flow automatic writing.
    The last thing you want is the logical part of your brain to take over. Let all the non logical parts spill their tucked away emotions, thoughts, and feelings. The only time logic comes into play, in my opinion, is when you get too far off track and you need to "step in" and get back on track and again toward the end when you may be comforting your emotional parts after a good messy, deep writing session.
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  17. BruceMC

    BruceMC Beloved Grand Eagle

    Maybe I meant to say: Stay focused on the internal emotional logic established by the process of free-association?
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  18. Booble

    Booble Well known member

    Fair enough. We all have our own techniques and definitions. For me I find if I try to apply the word "logic" it sends me in a different direction.
  19. Hedger

    Hedger Well known member

    In addition to the typical and very helpful "what to do", such as journaling, helping others, posting forums, listening to music etc. it can be very beneficial to stop all forms of fleeing from your emotions for a period of time (that you are probably not aware of doing):
    - Quit any type of stimulant you are using (alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, weed etc. All of them)
    - Quit all type of candy, deserts etc. Zero intake of this. Eat during limited hours, e.g. 8h window during the day, fasting the rest.
    - Have max 1h/day screen time on your phone
    - Quit binge-watching TV.
    - Quit all type of game playing completely (computer, phone, Xbox etc.)
    - Quit watching porn.
    - Quit being a work-a-holic, train-a-holic etc.

    I have met many persons who have problems connecting with their emotions through journaling or meditation or whatever, and all of them are over-using several of the above as means to flee their emotions - including my previous self.
  20. Booble

    Booble Well known member

    I don't think we have to be monks. That is not sustainable. I think it makes more sense to carve off a couple hours of quiet time each day.
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