Q&A: Flare-ups after journaling

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Is it normal to get flare-ups after journaling? Is this a good sign or bad, and is there anything that I should do?

Answer by Georgie Oldfield, MCSP

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Georgie Oldfield, MCSP

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Journaling is a way for you to acknowledge the repressed emotions that have been building up and which the physical symptoms have been protecting you from acknowledging. It's normal to not only experience flare-ups after journaling, but also beforehand. Many of my patients have had flare ups, or even an onset of different symptoms such as cramp in their dominant hand, when beginning to journal or even just while thinking about it. As you prepare to actually acknowledge buried emotions by writing about them, unconsciously you may feel threatened and an increase in the symptoms are your mind's way of trying to protect you from having to deal with them, some of which may have been well hidden for many years.

Flare ups after journaling are also normal and this is often a sign that you are beginning to get to the root of the problem, or are just stirring up emotions that have not been dealt with for some time. Your symptoms have done a very good job of protecting you from these deeply rooted negative emotions and therefore when you begin to stir up these old emotions, a flare up is an automatic reaction to try and protect you from acknowledging them, which you unconsciously believe to be dangerous.

If you have an increase in symptoms before journaling, or another symptom that you recognise is trying to prevent you from writing, then it's important not to give in. Talk to yourself, tell yourself that you understand what the symptoms are trying to do. Tell yourself you are ready for this now and believe it will be better in the long run to continue writing and acknowledge these emotions that have been repressed for so long. Whether you have to change position, write on the move, do it little by little, or use the other hand try to persevere and usually the pain begins to recede.

If on the other hand you are able to write, but the symptoms increase afterwards, this can be an indication that you have stirred things up and may need to home in on the root cause when you next write.

Sometimes starting your next journaling session with a question can focus you more. e.g. What is underlying my increase in pain? Free writing, just putting pen to paper and writing without stopping, can allow your thoughts to flow onto the paper and often issues emerge before you realise it. Another technique to get to the bottom of things can be to use a spider diagram. Write in the middle of a page the main issue you need to focus on and then use arrows/lines to sub issues which relate to the main one. Writing a few lines about each sub issue can often bring up emotions for you making you realise that that is something that needs going into more deeply.

If you find it just too difficult, or are worried about, opening up old wounds by yourself, you may need the support of a professional, especially if it is emotions relating to any more intense traumatic events.


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