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Experiences with Journaling?

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by efed19, Mar 24, 2023.

  1. efed19

    efed19 New Member

    I'm curious about people's experiences & opinions on Journaling as a technique in addressing TMS. I started doing Nichole Sachs's JournalSpeak a few years ago and did it consistently for 2 years. Nichole is definitely all in on encouraging this approach. That said, I started to notice a while back that some practitioners & coaches like Alan Gordon, Dan Buglio et al in little snippets, more or less depending on you want to phrase it, question its value or at least its necessity.

    I started to realize that while JournalSpeak definitely had been important for me in understanding a lot of my past and bringing up feelings around certain people or events where I hadn't really engaged with those feelings, something more was going on. I had read of this "getting worse before getting better" and always assumed that that was the space I was in--just for seemingly endless periods of time. But I started to see that sometimes the journaling would stir up & keep me in the emotional pain. Yet, at other times though it would free me from it. But it is more of concern to me the former because more journaling isn't necessarily what gets me out of that. Sometimes I need to step away or do something different. Anyway, I guess I'm at a point where I'm judiciously questioning and exploring its value as a tool for me personally.
    Sita likes this.
  2. Sita

    Sita Well known member

    It doesn't work for me. I'm talking about journaling. I tried different methods and it's not for me. Has the opposite effect. Mindfulness and meditation help me much more. I don't have time to write a longer comment now but I'll come back and expand on it.

    Take care.
  3. Ellen

    Ellen Beloved Grand Eagle

    In the 10 years I've been on this Forum, the issue of journaling has been debated more than any other topic. Some people find it essential to their recovery, while many have recovered from TMS without ever doing it. Our brains are so complex and individualized that there are no strict formulas for TMS recovery. Also, there are many like me who tried just about everything all at once and recovered. But it is impossible for me to determine which of all the things I did (like journaling) were actually necessary to my recovery.

    So I think your approach of trying it, and then realizing that it may be counterproductive for your recovery, is exactly the right path. TMS recovery is a journey of self-discovery, and learning what propels us forward or what sets us back is an important part of the process. We are the only ones who can figure out what is best for us.
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  4. rand

    rand Peer Supporter

    I am one of those who had a quick easy book cure the first go around, then got stuck when TMS recurred in a more aggressive/impervious form. I did not do any journaling or really any emotional work at all the first time, I began feeling better within a week of reading Sarno. For my current symptoms I have tried everything under the sun, including journaling, and nothing has made a dent.

    In any event I've found speaking to someone about emotions/past trauma to be far more impactful that writing it down. Something about sharing vulnerable things with another person that actually makes me feel something about those life events, sometimes like a burden being lifted. Journaling, after a while, just began to feel like tedious numbing homework. And at some point you will simply run out of conscious memories/emotions to explore. Likewise, Sarno's suggestion of "thinking psychologically" when symptoms arise does not apply to me because my symptoms are 24/7, and I will simply lose my mind if I force myself to contemplate emotions and the past every waking moment, mostly just from shear boredom.

    Overthinking TMS healing has been discussed here a lot, I think this is a real thing. I just recently started psychotherapy with a skilled TMS practitioner, Dr. Sherman, this is probably the last thing in the TMS tool bag that I will be trying before I sail off into the sunset with the "forget about it and live your life" approach, there are really no other options left for me either way.
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  5. Sita

    Sita Well known member

    ^^^I agree with Rand's comment. Same here.
  6. Cactusflower

    Cactusflower Beloved Grand Eagle

    I journaled a lot for almost a year, even before I knew what TMS really was. It was on and off helpful.
    The same with talk therapy, which I will probably return to at some point… but my anxiety and symptoms peaked doing that work, simply because it triggered a lot of personality traits. After leaving those things behind with the intent that I can always do them when needed, I focused more on how those things I journaled about created my reactions to the internal and external world. I began to learn to respond instead of constantly react. I’m still doing that. Simple awareness really. At times I have revelations journalling, other times meditating.. I just take it as it comes now.
  7. Duggit

    Duggit Well known member

    I think Ellen has given you great advice, but since you asked for experiences and opinions I’ll add mine.

    I can attest based on my experience that journaling is not essential. I have never done it and I am no longer troubled by TMS or its equivalents even though I have a history of such symptoms extending over more than half a century.

    Before turning to my opinions, I have an observation about Dr. Sarno and journaling. Unless I missed it, he never used the word “journaling” in any of his four books and did not say anything about writing-stuff-down until his third book, The Mindbody Prescription. There he wrote: “List all the pressures in your life, since they all contribute to your inner rage. There are self-imposed pressures, typical of the conscientious perfectionist or the goodist, and the pressures of everyday life, including ‘happy things’ like marriage and children since they, too, represent great pressure. You should also list anger left over from childhood. Patients have found this to be a very helpful exercise.” He said basically the same thing in his final book, The Divided Mind.

    My opinion about why journaling can be "a very helpful exercise," as Sarno put it, is that if you set aside a time daily, say in the evening, to think about what happened during the day and how it affected you emotionally, at least you will be paying attention to your emotions. I prefer to do the same thing mentally rather than in writing because I can think faster than I can write and because I can easily do it throughout the day rather than having to take time out to sit down and write--and that is what I do.

    I prefer an approach like Frances Sommer Anderson described in a book she co-authored with Eric Sherman titled Pathways to Pain Relief. Anderson and Sherman are psychologists who worked for years in Santo’s clinic treating patients of his who needed psychotherapy to recover. Sarno wrote the Foreward in their book. Anderson advocates taking a “feeling inventory” by asking yourself throughout the day about things that happened in the last hour or so. Here are several examples she gave: “How did I feel when my supervisee didn’t meet the deadline and casually brought the work into my office without acknowledging that it was late? How did I feel when our nanny called to say that she had an emergency and had to leave immediately, possibly indefinitely? How did I feel when our 16-year old son showed up two hours past his curfew, undeniably drunk?” Notice that the questions are not vague “how how I feel” ones. They are specifically targeted: “How did I feel when person A did x?” and “How did I feel when person B failed to do y?”

    As for the worse-before-better thing, it is not clear to me that Sarno was acquainted with that. In The Mindbody Prescription, he wrote: “Patients often ask, ‘Won’t it make things worse if I concentrate on all the troubles and problems in my life?’ Paradoxically, no, for it is the failure to realize their impact on the inner mind that leads to such conditions as TMS, heartburn, migraine headache, anxiety, and depression. By identifying and dealing with sources of pressure consciously, you reduce their potential negative effect in the unconscious.”

    I added the bolding in the last sentence above. It is one thing to journal about how angry person A made you when he did x, but what about the consciously “dealing with” part? In my opinion, which is not based on experience since I have never experienced worse-before-better, getting worse before better means either you have not consciously identified the real sources or have identified them but have not consciously dealt with them. So how does one deal with them? I will now go out even further on the limb I am on with a personal example. Suppose my wife makes me angry because she did x or failed to do y, and I don’t realize I am angry at her because I am repressing it. I take a feeling inventory and realize I am angry at her and why. Now that I have identified the source, how do I consciously deal with it? I realize that I am projecting my perfectionism onto her and expecting her to be perfect, and I also realize that my expecting her to be perfect is both unrealistic and counterproductive or, in a word, stupid. I also realize that if I were to act out on the anger, that would be maladaptive--or in the same word as before, stupid. So I either drop the matter or, if it is really important, negotiate tactfully with her about it.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2023
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  8. efed19

    efed19 New Member

    Thank you, Duggit, for your response and for tuning me into the idea of a "feeling inventory". I plan on giving that a try.

    I suspect based on my mixed results with journaling that it might be worth me doing a little experiment in categorizing journaling topics and see if its specific areas (which intuitively, I already feel I know) are, as Ellen noted, "counterproductive" for my recovery.
  9. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    This very simple method of just making a list of things from your day is exactly the type of writing (not "journaling") which has been shown in many studies to be extremely effective in reducing anxiety and symptoms and even, apparently, boosting the immune system (check out the quick 14-minute podcast @Cactusflower posted here: Journaling and arthritis! | TMS Forum (The Mindbody Syndrome) (tmswiki.org) which is full of information about the findings of various studies, and an interview with a professor who was studying this in the 1980s).

    I have always liked the term "expressive writing" which I first saw used by TMS practitioner David Hanscom MD, and it is the term used in the podcast (and might date from the 1980s). I think the reason the word "journaling" is often not used in the various studies and articles (and there are many) is because the standard advice is to NOT keep what you write - you write it, and you toss it - thus you are not "keeping a journal".

    I like to call it "writing shit down". It's something I will typically do at the end of the day when I feel the need or the desire. I use crappy old notebook paper and just scribble illegibly until both sides are used up, then I toss it. If I'm having a hard time with symptoms or anxiety, I might grab a piece of paper in the middle of the day and start writing, and I will continue with the nightly practice for as long as it takes. Other times I can go weeks without writing at all. However, unlike @Duggit, I need the physical props. If I did this without the paper, my mind would manage to skip over something that I probably need to look at and write about. By grabbing hold of the thing as the thought briefly arises, writing it down, and allowing my emotions about it to expand on the paper, I'm more likely to address something that has been pushed down, and resolve it.

    I do one consistent thing every time I write, which is to try to come up with something that I'm grateful for. Sometimes it's obvious, other times it's not, in which case I pick something small - and there are a few times when it's really hard to think of anything I'm grateful for because I'm feeling negative, or maybe just blah. But I force myself to do it anyway (just like I sometimes have to force myself to exercise), and, as with the exercise, I invariably end up feeling better. Not a bad way to end the day.

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