Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
When a person finds out how many different journals I keep, it is easy to discern that I am a believer in journaling. There is my dream journal, my “dream” journal, my emotional journal, and my memory journal. My journal for things that spontaneously pop into my head that I may want to remember later. My journal for story ideas. My poetry journal. My journals about/for my daughters. What can I say? I am a writer; it is my way of expressing myself.
Everyone needs an outlet for self-expression. Unfortunately, single parents are often caught without such outlets. The demands of daily life must have our attention regardless of our emotions or our needs. The children, the job, the grocery shopping, and teacher’s conferences…they all come before self. Once we have the time to tend to ourselves, it is often too late to call someone on the phone or the one we call is still busy with his or her own responsibilities. While talking to the children can be enlightening and productive, it is just not the outlet a single parent needs when it comes relieving their own stress or expressing their own hopes and concerns.
Journaling can be a blessed outlet. For example, my emotional journal… As adults and single parents, one of our responsibilities it to maintain control of the situation and ourselves at all times. We must always be mature and responsible, even when we don’t feel like it. Regardless, the entire gamut of emotions still exists within each of us - anger, frustration, pain, joy, confusion, fear, etc. Letting go and expressing these emotions at the moment they appear or in the ways we wish are often not appropriate. Many of us shove these emotions into some dark, recessed corner of our person and try to pretend that they don’t exist as we continue to tend to the responsibilities of our daily lives.
Unfortunately, just because those emotions are tucked “safely” away doesn’t mean that they disappear. In fact, they usually either gain strength or morph into something worse. With no outlet for expression and still needing to maintain self-control, I find that journaling can help relieve some of the pressure and provide a method for working through the emotions and developing a sensible resolution.
For example, when I journal emotions, I start with what many English professors refer to as “free-writing”. Whatever comes into my mind is what I write on the paper. It doesn’t have to make sense or be in complete sentences. It may not even pertain to the issue at hand, but whatever it is comes out on the paper. The key to free-writing is that you simply write - hand and mind in constant motion, no rests, no stops, no time to think - just write. Five minutes is usually sufficient to get the words flowing and by the time the five minutes are up, I will usually find that I could go on forever. However, then is the time for the real work. I try to examine my emotions in three stages: 1) What am I feeling?, 2) Why am I feeling this?, and 3) What can I do about it?
Being able to identify feelings is not as easy as it may sound. Being brought up as a genteel Southern belle, anger was an emotion that was taboo to me. For years I believed that I was never angry. I defined anger as hurt. Emotions being a complicated issue, many cultures deem particular emotions as taboo, or at the very least, undesirable. The facts are that all these emotions exist within every person. We can deny them all we want, but it won’t make them go away. I now know the difference between anger and hurt, and I claim them both. Rather than being taboo, I have to honestly say that sometimes it really feels good to be angry! Journaling is a safe place and a safe way to claim all your emotions, even those that you might find undesirable. It is private and safe, because it is for your eyes only. You can release whatever you are feeling without fear that anyone else will judge you. It is a very liberating feeling to claim all your emotions.
Looking at the root cause of these emotions can help us to determine how rational we are being about the situation. When emotions come into play, human beings can over-react, blowing situations up into something more than they really are. Making a list of the reasons behind the emotions can either lessen their severity or justify their existence. Either way, once this has been done, you are ready to deal with the emotions and their cause and effects.
Lists can also be useful tools when deciding the course of action (or inaction) to take. If your look at the causes lessened the severity of the emotions, you may find that analyzing the situation is all that needs to be done. In this case, deciding what to do is simple. However, if you found that your emotions were justified, then a calm and honest assessment of the possible actions that can be taken is in order. No one can tell you what you should do in any given situation. Each person acts and reacts differently. But a good rule of thumb for all is to refrain from making decisions in moments of indecision. If your emotions are still over-riding your thoughts, then it is not the time to make a decision on how the situation should be handled. Such decisions should be made when the mind is calm. Making the list of possibilities, however, will give you something to reflect upon and perhaps even a good laugh once you are calm and ready to make a choice.
There is one aspect of problem-solving that journaling cannot fulfill - feedback. Being able to discuss the situation with another is a wonderful experience if for only the opportunity to hear another’s thoughts. Unfortunately, this is not always an option. However, being able to organize your thoughts and feelings on paper and having them at ready so that you can review them in calmer moments can provide insight and is certainly more productive than stewing in your own juices, so to speak. If nothing else, you will find that the release that you gain from writing is a blessing in its own right.
A personal support group - friends, family, co-workers, a counselor - is always the best possible scenario for a single parent. However, even when we have all of these, they are not always available when we need them. A pen and paper are “at ready” anytime - day or night. You can provide yourself with immediate relief while organizing your thoughts for later conversations with someone in your support group. As an individual coping tool or for use in conjunction with other methods, journaling can be a wise outlet in any situation.