None escape childhood unscathed.
As a trauma therapist, I often recommend journaling as an adjunct to the work we do in sessions. The roadmap to healing starts slowly and begins with looking at strengths. The human spirit is resilient but is not without limits. Every life has a timeline. Early in the process, we take ‘time’ and use it along with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s spotlight of attention, to free the client to ‘travel their individual timeline.’ Trauma has the tendency to trap the mind’s attention and cycle it over-and-over the trauma details in an attempt to resolve it. This would be called suffering. Clients stuck in or marinating in the moments of the trauma are prone to decompensate emotionally and physically. Those that can move the spotlight of attention to time before and time after the trauma find emotional regulation and stabilization easier to navigate. In their own time, the human spirit and the human mind release the trauma for review – reevaluation, reappraisal, and reframing. When the time is right, journaling will approach the moments of trauma. Until then, it is natural to cordon off trauma for another day. We call this coping.
In the age of all things digital, I was intrigued when my favorite interior designer – Joanna Gaines – released a book that shares her personal journey of healing emotions by journaling with paper and pen. Her design books and magazines are filled with images representing a spirit at rest – organized, elegant, and minimalistic beauty. Her new book approaches emotions with the same organization, elegance and intentional beauty. The paper cover of the book shares a sweet photo of Joanna today that covers the hardback picture of a younger, equally sweet, Joanna. It represents the truth that the younger versions of us lie within, hidden by the adult version of us. This book takes us from the present, to the past, to the creation of a new future.
Life stories form the foundation of my clinical and research work – the stories of lived experiences. Reading her book allowed me to combine many aspects of my interests and professional work. It surprisingly touched on my own lived experience. Joanna describes the vulnerability of youth, the tendency to bury shame from micro rejections, and the inability to sort through the resulting emotions without a compassionate witness. In the case of her book, it is her adult self. She begins describing what she experienced being half – half-American, half-Korean. She details the experiences common to military children with American fathers and foreign mothers.
In trauma therapy, we use Internal Family Systems – IFS. In this modality, we look at what are termed ‘Exiles,’ the cordoned-off injuries. Healing childhood wounds and traumas often occur when our Protectors – like Joanna’s admitted striving to be intelligent, productive, efficient, and accepted –run out of energy. Joanna’s book begins by meeting up with her Exiles during a time in New York City. Like many trauma clients, Exiles reveal themselves at unexpected times, begging to be witnessed and tended to. It is as if comfort comes to them in measured ways and time.
Like many high achievers facing Exiles, Joanna describes how her initial attempt to fix her schedule, decrease her to-do list and add more self-care did not solve her ‘Exile’ problem. She describes her private process of journaling as her way of helping her Exiles heal. Joanna’s book demonstrates the healing power of journaling. I highly recommend her book “The Stories We Tell” to clients, trauma survivors, and those that love to read inspiring memoirs.
Here’s just a little bit of my story –
I, too, had a foreign mother and an American father. I loved it then, and I love it now that I grew up a military child. Some foreign military wives, hence, mothers, work hard to acculturate. While Joanna’s mother did, mine was one of the mothers that did not. My mother’s Protectors, her anger, and her fight were problematic her whole adult life. While this made things humorous at times, it also complicated things. But like Joanna, my mother was mine – and I loved her dearly.
A journal excerpt of mine – Mamele
forever my Liloush’kaa xo Lisbette
Gift yourself a journal. You might be surprised by what you find!
Consider this charity – https://www.militarychild.org/