The healing powers of journaling

Returning to the CircleThis is the second in my series about writing to heal.

I’ve also found the healing powers of journaling, which I first wrote about for Rev. Linda M. Rhinehart Neas’ anthology: Returning to the Circle: Inspirational Wisdom from Women for Women.

The Power of Journaling

A friend gave me a little leather (or faux leather) bound five-year diary complete with tiny lock and key when I was in high school. And for a while I wrote in the teeniest script about typical teen-age angst especially about my first crush who gave me my first cigarette and first French kiss and then dumped me for a girl he met at summer camp. I think my parents must have thrown that diary out when they sold our house and moved to California because I never saw it again after I went away to college.

I took up journaling again during my thirties while my husband and our two sons and I lived for nineteen months on a remote island in the South Pacific. I felt so isolated on this tiny island that the best I could do was write long rants every morning before the boys woke up. Happily those rants turned into my first published article after we returned home.

Than I started to journal for keeps when our older son Paul was diagnosed as bipolar in 1993 and after his suicide in September 1999. Journaling became an obsession and a balm. It became my therapy, a daily habit. Writing through my grief totally turned my life around. It helped me heal because it allowed me to put my pain on the page.

The page was always ready without judgment about anything I had to say. The page never told me what to do, how to handle my grief, or how long to grieve. The page was there for my tears, my rants, my sorrow, my complaints, my thoughts and ideas. And it still is. I journal most every day.

My favorite journal by Clairefontaine

My favorite journal by Clairefontaine

At first I journaled in long hand in a notebook. Now I use the computer the notebook went by the wayside after I left one on an airplane. I just tap away with no stopping for editing. It’s total stream of consciousness. Also, the computer gives me the ability to have complete privacy the key to honest and open journaling. I keep my journal entries in a password-protected locked document file.

Lately, by participating in a weekly Twitter chat about the practice, (#journalchat) I’ve learned about several other journaling techniques. It is so inspiring to find out how and why other people journal and how much they’ve benefitted from it.

For example, I’ve learned to make lists of what I’ve accomplished in the past week or so, and what I have to do in the next few days. This gives me a chance to revisit the commitments I’ve made. Keeping this action journal holds me accountable even if I’m only accountable to myself. It gives me a way of taking charge and moving from thinking into living and doing – not just waiting for things to happen to me.

I’ve also just learned the confidence building practice of making declarations. Some I’ve made recently are:

  • I Am a poet
  • I Am a published author
  • I Am creative

I can leave these declarations, whether they are good or bad, as is or write a journal entry about each one at future times.

Another journal technique is to write in pen in a lined or unlined notebook and draw pictures and add quotes and clippings to accompany the words on the page. My niece’s collage journals look like works of art. Other journaling ideas include: writing down one good thing every day, keeping a dream journal, recording things that make us laugh, and creating a drawing or painting instead of words to express our thoughts. How we journal is our choice.

Most everyone I know has good and bad stuff going on in their lives. I learned journaling is a way to come to grips with that. Journaling through my grief gave me a wonderful gift. I discovered I could write, and I created a book from the memories I wrote down in my journal entries (Leaving the Hall Light On). I recommend everyone try it and learn the power that can be gained from journaling.






  1. I am so there with you, Madeline! There is nothing so freeing as scribbling’ it’ all out on a page! During a year of group therapy, back in the day, I used a very large drawing pad and colored markers (wide- and small-tip). The kicker was drawing, writing with my non-dominant hand. Interestingly, words came out in a poetry/prose form. Maybe I’ll try this again – very cathartic.
    You’re an amazing person, Madeline, and a role model. Thank you xoxo

  2. Madeline Sharples says

    Wow, Dody,
    I love your drawing pad and colored markers technique – and that you wrote with your non-dominant hand. I need to try that. Thanks again and again for your kind words. You are an amazing role model as well.

  3. I just wanted to say that your story of entering the world of journal writing mirrored my own, and it has become the cornerstone to my life and now my work. Spreading the word on a non invasive form of self healing is awesome 🙂

    • Madeline Sharples says

      Thanks so much, Sarah. I’m glad you’re making room for journaling in your life. We just have to keep at it. All best.

  4. Just wish to say your article is as astounding. The clarity in your post is just nice and i can assume you are an expert on this subject.
    Fine with your permission allow me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post.
    Thanks a million and please carry on the gratifying work.

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