It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Journaling: helping you to help yourself

Journaling has always been close to my heart although for the longest time I carried around a lot odd, self-imposed “rules” about it that caused me to approach it cautiously. Could it be that you have been resisting journaling for a similar reason? Below are some of the reasons I resisted journaling; how many of them apply to you?
1. Fear of being found out, of someone finding and reading my journal and then, fear of consequences for what I wrote (like being embarrassed or even punished);

2. Fear of inadequate writing skills—fear that my spelling, punctuation, sentence structure—would be less than professional;

3. The task seemed overwhelming;

4. I believed I had to “begin at the beginning,” to go back to my childhood and write the journal in chronological order;

5. Fear of “wasting time” on a pointless endeavour (because time should not be wasted and any time spent on myself was, by definition, wasted);

6. Fear of being “disloyal” to my family, that being truthful in the journal would somehow betray them;

7. Fear of opening old wounds, triggering myself, opening myself to a greater hurt than I was already feeling;

8. A nameless sense of dread would come over me when I sat down to write.

Can you relate to any of these reasons? Did you notice that the vast majority of them begin with the word “fear”? And if fear keeps you from journaling, then you are allowing fear to be in control of your life.

Some of you may think that journaling is pointless, that it serves no purpose, and that you could better spend your time elsewhere. Fine, I accept that as a valid point of view and, if that is your point of view, what are you doing for yourself in the time that you might otherwise be journaling? Are you seeing a therapist? Getting Reiki? Meditating? Hashing it out with your FOO? Are you aware that journaling can be done in addition to all of the above and can greatly benefit you? Just a few of the benefits of journaling:

1. If events are journalled as they happen, they provide a contemporary record of events. Writing while events are fresh in your mind allows to more accurately recall the actual words spoken and gives you the clearest view of the event, especially later, if you ever have to refer to the entry for validation.

2. Journaling helps us to recall forgotten or suppressed events in our lives that are subconsciously affecting us today. Remembering such events can help us identify the causes of current day fears and behaviours that are rooted in those forgotten events. I have a fear that borders on phobia of putting my face in the water. It affected my ability to swim to the degree that I had to take beginner’s swimming lessons twice when I was 12—my terror of putting my face in the water simply halted my ability to learn anything further, even with nose plugs and a face mask! I still haven’t recalled where that comes from, but I am sure it will open a lot of other closed doors in my mind when I do finally get to it.

3. It can help us identify patterns in our lives, either our own patterns or those of others. A good example is the realization I gained, through journaling, that my NM had been taking away from me things that I cared about for my entire life, that it was a pattern with her that went all the way back to my earliest childhood…and continued right into my adult years. Taken away from me were toys, pets, personal belongings, and even family members, like my father and my children. I had not forgotten most of the events, but it was not until I began journaling that I could see the pattern and from that pattern, I was able to see more patterns: she abandoned me as a 2-year-old and was forced to take me back when I was 4. Over the next 20 years I saw her try to deprive three different women of their children, actually succeeding in one case. I still haven’t figured out exactly what was behind that, but it cannot be mere coincidence, can it?

4. The records we keep in the journal can help us keep events fresh in our minds when we start backsliding and thinking “Oh, it wasn’t that bad…” or “She wasn’t really that mean to me…” It returns us to the here and now of exactly how we felt, exactly what transpired, exactly how the other party/parties behaved. It strips away the fog of softness that time and distance put over our memories and brings us nose-to-nose with realities we are better off remembering clearly, especially when a softening of those memories leaves us vulnerable to the predations and manipulations of others.

5. It can be used to open conversations that we cannot otherwise articulate. This can be particularly useful in dealing with a therapist. My first year in therapy I found it very difficult to say what was hurting me because each time I opened my mouth to say something, this huge choking lump would form in the centre of my throat and nothing would come out. I could chat about inanities, but the stuff I was paying a therapist to help me sort out would just stay stuck behind that huge paralyzing lump. I began printing out what I had written in my journal and bringing it to the therapist and allowing her to get the ball rolling. Within a few weeks I was able to push past the lump in my throat and initiate discussions, although a lot of what I wanted to talk about I could not even write about at that time. It was a useful tool in getting my therapy sessions started, rather than sitting there stifled, with tears streaming down my face, my poor therapist unable to help because she just didn’t know where to start.

6. It can be cathartic to just write down stuff that is bothering us. The simple act of reliving the emotions and pouring them out of you can make you feel better, at least in the moment. And you can get that kind of relief each time you write it down.

7. You may find a practical use as well…in some relationships with a narcissist it becomes necessary to take legal action against the narcissist: a restraining order or divorce or other action. In such cases, a journal that includes entries of the narcissist’s incursions into your peace, his/her abuses, your mental, emotional and even physical state as a result of those incursions, can be powerful evidence in your behalf.

8. It may become useful in explaining to friends or family members how/why you went NC with certain other family members. Sometimes when you try to explain, the incidents you can call to mind at a moment’s notice sound lame…and make you seem petty to the person you are trying to explain to. When they can grasp the sheer volume of emotional assault you have had to deal with, however, as they are more apt to do if you can demonstrate with a journal you have been keeping for a long time, you are more easily able to elicit their understanding. (That doesn’t mean you have to show them your journal, only that you have it to refer to, to help jog your memory.)

So what are the rules of journaling and what do you do about those reasons that keep you from sitting down to write? Well, there is really only one rule: each entry has to be about something that was emotionally significant to you. It can be joyful or sorrowful, it can be about depression or about triumph, it can be about events that happened when you were a toddler or feelings you experienced this morning. The only rule is that the entry has to have some emotional significance to you, even if it is only puzzling over something your NM did when you were 12, or speculation about something your spouse has been up to.

And those fears and roadblocks?

1. Fear of being found out, of someone finding and reading my journal and then, fear of consequences for what I wrote (like being embarrassed or even punished). If this bothers you, then you need to make your journal private. Go to Blogger and set yourself up a simple blog and, as you set it up, set the privacy settings so that it cannot be seen on the internet and then put a password on it. Use a password nobody would guess: for example, if you like horses, a family member might guess your password if you choose “HorseCrazy” for a password. If you are afraid of horses, however, they would never guess it was yours. A journal kept in this format gives you not only privacy (there is no book to find under the mattress, no file hidden in the computer), it offers you safety: if there is a flood or fire or other disaster, your journal is safely stored in Google’s servers, ready and waiting for you when you want it.

2. Fear of inadequate writing skills—fear that my spelling, punctuation, sentence structure—would be less than professional. You are writing this for yourself…nobody else. It doesn’t even have to make sense! All it needs to be good is for you to be honest in what you write. That’s all…honest about events, honest about your feelings, honest about how others have behaved. If you decide at a later date that you want to make some entries public, you can always edit them later for publication. But that may never happen, so just write—let it pour out of your heart and through your fingers and out of you.

3. The task seemed overwhelming. The best way to deal with any overwhelming task is to break it down into smaller tasks. In this case, instead of looking at it as a commitment to write a detailed book about your life, view it as a single essay, of any length you choose, about something emotionally important to you. And the next day, view it the same way again. Just one essay today and don’t think about tomorrow until it becomes today. And then you write just one…

4. I believed I had to “begin at the beginning,” to go back to my childhood and write the journal in chronological order. That was a big one for me and it really had me stuck until finally, one day, I just sat down and wrote about an experience that happened when I was about 12 or 13. While I was writing it, other experiences from my childhood popped into my mind…I jotted down notes and the following day I wrote about that. Each time a new incident popped into my head, I made a note and then later wrote about it. Incidents kept coming to mind until I had written down 46 memories in the random order they came to me. Those are the 46 Memories that started this whole blog.

5. Fear of “wasting time” on a pointless endeavour (because time should not be wasted and any time spent on myself was, by definition, wasted). That is a false belief that somebody else planted in your head. Not only is writing a journal not wasted time, time spent on yourself is well-spent, particularly if it leads to healing on your part. Anything you do to improve the quality of your life is time well-spent. You deserve it. And if this particular fear is one of yours, it affords you the topic for your first journal entry: Why I feel unworthy of healing…

6. Fear of being “disloyal” to my family, that being truthful in the journal would somehow betray them. OK, this was a tough one for me, right up to the moment I remembered that the conspiracy of silence was what so damaged me in the first place. Ask yourself this: do you owe loyalty to those who have no loyalty to you? Of course not. You do not owe loyalty to people who don’t care about you, who exploit you, who hurt and manipulate you to advantage themselves. If you think you do, then your loyalty is misplaced because you owe no more loyalty than is shown to you. (And doing their job, like feeding and clothing you and providing you with medical care as a kid is not a sign of either loyalty or love, it is discharging their duty to you. They have to do it or get arrested for child neglect.)

If you cannot wrap your head around this concept just yet, bear in mind that a) your writing is absolutely private and b) you can delete it when you are done writing. You will get a benefit—catharsis—simply from the act of writing it out, even if you feel you must delete it when you have finished.

7. Fear of opening old wounds, triggering myself, opening myself to a greater hurt than I was already feeling. This was a touchy one for me, because with almost every entry I wrote, I had to put a box of Kleenex next to the computer. I bawled through almost all of them, including the ones that were based more in anger than hurt. If this happens to you, when you are writing, it is a good thing! It means you are reaching those places within you that are hurting, dragging out into the light of day things that have been hurting you since they happened.

If the fear is too strong, let me give you a tip I got from my therapist: sometimes we are too close to the story and it is necessary to distance ourselves a bit in order to embrace it. It is easier to write about “her” than to write about “me,” as writing about me can really stab into the heart. So, use a distancing technique: give new names to all of your family members, including yourself, and write the events as if they happened to someone else. Give your own emotions and perspectives, viewpoints and feelings to the character who is playing you, and give full voice to the feelings. Once I began doing that, it was much easier for me to write and be wholly honest in what I was writing.

You may find yourself having “symptoms,” like crying or trembling hands, a blocked throat, headache or a host of other things. Try to push through those things—don’t suppress them or try to control them, just experience them and keep on writing. Write about them… “as she wrote in her journal her hands shook so badly she could barely type and tears flooded her cheeks. A thick lump formed in her throat as she remembered being silenced by her own mother and not allowed to even speak in her own defence against the lies her sister had told…” Push through it, keep writing: some of the best insights and epiphanies come at times like this.

8. A nameless sense of dread would come over me when I sat down to write. I carry this nameless dread around with me like my cell phone—it goes everywhere I go. Anytime I embark upon something that might not turn out perfectly, anytime I try something that someone might take issue with, anytime I start something new, I suffer from this dread. When trying to write, it manifests as writer’s block: blank mind to match the blank screen. Which is why I keep a list of topics to write about, ideas that pop into my mind while I am writing on some other topic. Right now, my list of topics for this blog has 14 items on it, 14 topics yet to be written about…and by the time I reach the last of those 14, I will have added probably another dozen or more. The only solution to that nameless sense of dread it to simply ignore it and get started anyway…it has a peculiar way of fading out once the writing (or whatever else I am doing) gets going. I think it is a holdover from the days when I was expected to do everything perfectly, even the first time I did it. My NM made no allowances for lack of knowledge or experience and an innocent error was punished no less severely than a careless mistake or even intentional sabotage.

Journaling is an excellent tool to get at what’s bothering you, a safe and private way to de-stress and unload some of the burdens you’ve been carrying around in your psyche for years. It allows you to work at your own pace, stay with an issue or event until you are ready to move on to the next one, move ahead or backwards as you see fit. It is cathartic, it provides you with a record of events and your reasoning behind the actions you took and gives you insights where you never had them before. At the very least, it is a safe, private place to blow off steam when you are stressed and when nobody you know really “gets it.” It is cheap, safe, and easy to embark upon.

Why not try journaling today? The only thing you have to lose is some stress...

8 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. I find it very encouraging.

    Sophia

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    1. Thank you, Sophia. I hope you can give it a try...

      Hugs,

      Violet

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  2. I asked my ACON to write out the directions for a project we are doing...he wouldn't do it...he was absolutely beside himself...was embarrassed and professed that I am the writer, maybe I should do it...he didn't trust himself to write out directions! this is how deep this damage goes...I have absolute respect and empathy for anyone experiencing this...

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    1. That is usually a manifestation of a fear of failure, or a fear or criticism. As an ACoN, he probably grew up with the experience of no matter how well he did on something, there was always room for improvement...an expectation of perfectionism. People tend to react to that expectation one of two ways: to become nit-picking perfectionists themselves, or to give up and refuse to try because no matter how much effort they put in, the result will inevitably be criticised.

      There isn't much you can do about this except to accept his limitations and suggest he see a therapist. The damage done by expectations of perfection go deep and are widespread. This is how very bright, capable of great success, become underachievers: instead of praise for their accomplishments and encouragement to stretch themselves further, they learn that no amount of effort will result in reward or praise and eventually the decide to stop putting so much effort into what will inevitably be found worthy only of criticism.

      I hope he can find some help because this is a terrible, painful way to live.

      Hugs and thanks for writing,

      Violet

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  3. I loved writing in a journal since being a young girl. Of course I had no privacy and my journal was often found and I was punished for the things I wrote in it. I am in the process of recovery and I am trying to process my feelings from the past. I luckily saved a journal from when I was 13!! It is truly heartbreaking to read it though. One entry I was punished for my twin brother jumping on me so hard that it knocked the breathe out of my lungs. He wasn't punished and NM told me that I shouldn't have involved her and now I can go to my room. I wrote in my journal what B**** she was and how mean she was and how I hated her. A week later I have another entry about her finding my journal. That of course didn't go unpunished and the crazy part?? I "edited" my journal entries. I crossed out all of the "mean, rude, horrible" things I said about my NM hoping she would see my lapse of judgement about her. It didn't help. She still read all of my journals, letters, emails and even let my brother do it. That is the only journal I saved though.

    But I am now journaling again! :) And even though I am early in my recovery process I am feeling so much relief~ Thank you for having a blog that so eloquently expresses such horrors you experienced!! I felt so alone when my therapist suggested the notion that my NM may be an NM. But I feel solace knowing that I am not alone and there are others that can relate. Again thank you!

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    1. You are very welcome...I hope this foray into journalling turns out better than your previous one!

      You certainly are not alone--there are thousands of people who share your experiences, thousands of people who have narcissistic parents and whose experiences mirror your own. And while it is sad, on the one hand, to realize how many people are suffering from the indignity and injustice of having at least one narcissistic parent, it is comforting to know that you are one of a large community, with brothers and sisters of the heart all over the world.

      Keep journalling and seeing your therapist...and please keep in touch.

      Hugs,

      Violet

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I don't publish rudeness, so please keep your comments respectful, not only to me, but to those who comment as well. We are not all at the same point in our recovery.