“Do you use a journal?” I ask Arielle, a new client and a 46-year-old executive. As if ashamed, she lowers her eyes for a moment, then looks up again and answers, “No, I never know what to write about.” I assure her that journaling doesn’t have to be complicated. “Start with jotting down one or two words to describe what you feel in your body,” I suggest. “There are many benefits to journaling. It is a great way to get to know yourself on a deeper level.”
This is our first session together. Arielle is becoming aware of the intimate connection between her thoughts and her feeling in her body. When she arrived for our time together, I noticed that her face was rigid, and her breathing was shallow and fast. Her entire body looked tense as if she were in danger. Through tears, she tells me the reason she contacted me. “I feel very stuck and trapped in my relationship with Danny,” she cries, “I don’t know what to do. We’ve been together for years, but we’re both miserable.”
Start From a Place of Presence
“Let’s make sure you’re present and connected inside so that we can look at what is going on for you,” I suggest. I teach Arielle a simple presence exercise of looking around the room and naming objects and colors. Once she’s practiced this out loud with some energy, I lead her through a breathing exercise. Afterward, I notice Arielle settle and become more energized. I reflect that she seems calmer and more present. She acknowledges that she does, indeed, feel better.
I say, “You can’t solve anything when you’re tense in your body and worried in your mind. It’s like a never-ending loop. Breaking out of this loop starts by prioritizing your body state from tension to relaxation and your mental state from worried to present. Journaling about what you feel in your body is a great start. Just start by answering the question, “Is my body feeling tense and constricted or relaxed and expanded?”
Establish Healthy Daily Routines
As we continue with Arielle’s weekly sessions, I suggest additional ways she can use her journal. Like many others, Arielle can benefit from journaling by learning more ways to describe how she’s feeling inside.
She’s beginning to enjoy waking up in the morning, preparing a cup of tea, lighting a candle, and practicing the presence and breathing exercises. Following this, she takes a few minutes to check in with herself and write about her body and mind states.
“I didn’t know I had so much going on inside me!” she exclaims. I smile. “Yes, it’s a rich and fascinating experience to attend to your inner voice. Your journal gives you a way to listen inside and sort through your thoughts and feelings. It helps you support yourself in healthier and life-affirming ways.”
Explore Your Early Beliefs
Early on in our work together, I led Arielle through an Integrative Body Psychotherapy exercise called the “Primary Scenario.” During this exercise, we look at the “early movie” of her life and examine what she learned to believe about herself because of the emotional atmosphere in which she grew up.
In this exercise, Arielle is astounded to learn about the unconscious belief she’s held about herself since before she can remember. It’s a feeling of empty hollowness in her body. Her words to explain the feeling have always been “there’s something wrong with me.” She realizes that this feeling appears whenever she’s feeling upset, alone, and disconnected from someone she cares about.
I point out how this feeling and her accompanying beliefs about herself lurk in the background of every decision and choice she makes in her life. “Now,” I say, “it’s time to claim your life and tell yourself the truth.” I coach her to write the following words in her journal:
This feeling of empty hollowness is how any little girl would feel didn’t receive loving, energetic attunement. The little girl always felt there was something wrong with her. The truth is that she was a regular, sensitive child who was learning who she was from parents who were stressed out and fearful. This feeling is not about now, it’s not about me, and it never was. I can now tell the truth.
Upon writing her new mantra, Arielle exclaims, “I love this because it doesn’t make my parents or grandparents bad. They were doing the best they could in difficult times. I don’t have to believe that there is something wrong with me anymore.”
Interrupt Old Patterns by Writing a Daily Mantra
I encourage Arielle to write this mantra in her journal every day. I say, “This is a very early theme, and almost everyone harbors a negative belief about themselves when they’re feeling down and out. You’ll be surprised how many times it comes up for you daily.”
I remind Arielle to tune in to what she’s feeling in her body. “If you feel the empty hollowness, it’s likely that you’re also telling yourself that there is something wrong with you. You can interrupt your old pattern by doing the presence and breathing exercises and writing your mantra in your journal.” I assure her, “This is the way you can show up for yourself in a new way, connect inside, and tell yourself the truth.”
Take Charge of Your Internal State
When combined with presence and breathing practices, journaling is powerful. It helps you take charge of your internal state. If, like Arielle, you are ready to take the next step, you don’t need to do it alone.
You can heal the child who still lives inside you. If you are looking for guidance, I encourage you to read my book, The Secret to Loving Yourself: Profound Little Messages to Change Your Life. I wrote this book with my good friend and fellow Integrative Body Psychotherapy colleague, Beth Bardovi.
The messages we offer in the book are far more profound than affirmations. They are the messages every child longs to hear from their parents. The Secret to Loving Yourself: Profound Little Messages to Change Your Life introduces several journal practices and will help you embody loving and attuned parenting messages, so you don’t continue to look for them outside yourself.
If you’re ready for more advanced personal development, try my new online program, The Core Self Transformation. This course will introduce you to the process of looking at the “early movie” of your life, just like I did with Arielle. It will also teach you some of the ways you developed coping strategies and defenses to shield you from the lessons you learned in your early movie.
Finally, I am excited to announce that I have launched a free webinar series for individuals interested in understanding their emotional life from a new perspective. In these webinars, I teach my breathing practices, introduce ways to help you become more of who you are, and answer questions about my blogs and online program. You can reserve your seat for upcoming webinars and access previous webinars on my website. I look forward to greeting you in the virtual world!