Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 212, Why I Rarely Recommend Journaling for Widowed Moms.
Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief, to grow, evolve, and create a future you can truly look forward to. Here’s your host, Master Certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St-Germain.
Hey there, welcome to another episode of the podcast. I’m trying another one with video. It’s weird to watch yourself record a podcast by the way. I make no guarantees but as you listen to this audio, that the video I am referring to is actually available anywhere but it is my intention. And I just talked to my almost 16 year old about maybe he might want to help me edit my videos and turn them into YouTube videos, anyway we’ll get there.
Okay, so I wanted to talk about journaling because I sent out an email not too long ago about this subject. And I made a social post about it. And I got a surprising response. It was a really high interest level and also just a lot of people who were surprised at my perspective on journaling and not everybody agrees with me but that’s okay. So I want to talk about why I really just don’t often recommend journaling, specifically for people who are past acute grief. So let me explain.
I know that it is popular wisdom that journaling is a great thing to do, that writing down everything that’s in your mind and getting that out onto paper is a great thing to do. And I think sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. So let me tell you first when I think it is helpful and then second when it isn’t and then I want to give you some ideas of how you can navigate and know what to do instead. So in the early days of grief, what most people call acute grief, I think journaling can be very valuable.
When you are in a place of such dissonance, when your brain is trying to adjust to the new reality that your person is no longer living, getting that out on paper can be really helpful. I did a lot of writing in my early days of grief. And I’m not going to put a timeframe on that. But for me, the first six months I did a ton of journaling. I kept doing it just a little bit into the next year up until probably that nine month point. But in the early, my first few weeks after Hugo died, I journaled quite a lot. And I would personally write letters to him.
I had a journal and I wrote in it almost every day and it was kind of like, dear Hugo, I can’t believe you’re gone, I can’t believe this happened. Here’s what I’m worried about. I recounted the whole experience. It was really helpful for me, just like talking to a therapist was helpful for me to kind of help it make sense to my brain. Because we can find ourselves in a common but strange place where we intellectually understand that the loss happened but the predicting part of our brain hasn’t really caught up yet. So doesn’t feel real.
We know it’s real but it doesn’t feel real. And so for me, journaling was really, really helpful in that time, as was talking to my therapist. This is also why I created The Memories That Matter journal, because wish I would have had it. We’ll put a link in the show notes of where you can get that journal if you don’t already have it. I don’t remember what we’re selling it for these days but it’s very cheap. But basically I never really trusted my memory and I was always worried that I would forget the things that mattered.
And so I’m glad that I took a lot of time to write down things that I wanted to remember. Since that point I created Memories That Matter and it’s just 100 journal prompts because it’s hard to ask yourself the right questions. It’s hard to even know what you want to remember when your whole world just exploded. So that’s why I created that memory journal is because I wanted it to be an easier experience for other people. All the ideas come now after the fact. They weren’t so easy to come by then.
So I do think it’s useful early in grief to tell your story, get it out, get to that place where it feels like a solid experience in your body. You don’t just intellectually know it happened but you actually really truly feel it, that it happened. So I think that can be a great use of journaling and a nice outlet. But here’s where I don’t recommend journaling and why I don’t recommend it. Other people are already recommending it. You don’t need me to recommend that anyway.
When women come to me they are usually, or at least when they’re ready to work with me, they are usually in a grief plateau. They are in that place where their level of wellness was where it was before the loss, they dipped down to a lower level of wellness. And they’re back up, they’re back up to surviving. They’re not thriving by any means but they’re back out of bed, they’re back to work if they want to be. People around them are telling them how great they’re doing and how strong they are. And they kind of want to cringe and throat punch them every time they say that.
But we can understand why they’re saying that because from a distance it looks like we’re okay, but we don’t feel great. We’re not loving life in the grief plateau place. And if we aren’t careful, what can come from journaling will actually reinforce what keeps us stuck in the grief plateau. So think about the way you think about your life, the way you think about your future, the way you think about the death of your person.
When I was in that grief plateau place I was thinking things like, I’ll probably never be truly happy again. My best days are probably behind me. I should probably just be thankful for what I had. At least I know what true love feels like. Those were the kinds of thoughts I had about my life. I believed I could get by. That was one of my thoughts, I’ll get by. I’m going to make it. But I’m probably just going to focus on the kids because I’ll probably never be as happy as I once was.
So these are the kinds of thoughts and there are lots of other thoughts that you might have, but these are the kinds of thoughts that are very easy to think in a grief plateau. We also might start thinking things about ourselves as parents or about our kids. My kids are really going to struggle without their other parent. The wrong parent died. The fun parent died. We have thoughts about being powerless to help. None of these thoughts are wrong because thoughts aren’t right or wrong.
But it’s really important to remember that the more we keep thinking them, the more we validate them and strengthen them and literally tell the filtering system in our brain to find evidence of how they’re true, we start thinking them. We feel them and we do that on repeat and we cement them. And if I hadn’t discovered coaching when I was having these thoughts, I would never have known that they were optional. I just thought they were true.
And this is why journaling can be problematic because if we’re just writing down our crappy limiting thoughts, which are very common and we could pull all the widows and we probably all have a lot of the same thoughts. But if we just keep writing them down, we literally increase the frustration and stuck-ness that we feel. We literally block ourselves from changing them because we’re reinforcing them. So this is why I don’t recommend that.
Now, in Mom Goes On, I teach a different process for this. We do write them down but we don’t write them down for the purpose of reinforcing them. We write them down for the purpose of getting leverage over them. We write them down for the purpose of diffusing from them, it’s called cognitive defusion. It means we have cognitions in our mind, thoughts. And if we don’t know that they’re optional then we’re at their effect. We’re totally fused with them. So for me, that was my best days are behind me.
That did not feel like an optional thought to me. I was fused with it. That’s how I saw myself in the world and my future. And imagine, if I send my brain out with that thought, if I’m wearing those thought colored glasses, if I am asking the filtering system in my brain to look for evidence of how my best days are behind me, guess what it’s going to show me? All the evidence of my best days being behind me. It’s never going to show me. It’s literally going to block from me any evidence that doesn’t line up because that’s what the filtering system in our brain does.
So in Mom Goes On, when I teach it, I’m teaching that we write it down for the purpose of getting it out, for the purpose of diffusing from it, seeing the thoughts as separate from us as the thinker. And that is a very different use of journaling, it’s not journaling actually. We don’t even use the word journaling. It’s very different. We’re not trying to write it. We’re not trying to make it pretty. We’re not trying to keep it for posterity.
We are simply writing down the thoughts so that we can get some leverage over them so that we don’t have to keep believing the thoughts that aren’t taking us toward what we want. We can actually stop and interrupt the pattern instead of validating and strengthening it and cementing it which is what journaling can do. So what I want to offer to you is that you consider when to stop journaling. And here’s how I think you will know. If after journaling you feel better, if journaling seems to be taking you toward the life you want, keep doing it. Trust yourself to know.
If you actually feel worse after journaling, if journaling is taking you away from the future that you want, if journaling is just starting to cement the stories in your brain that don’t feel good to you, then it’s time for a different approach. So know when to stop journaling. Know when it is moving you toward what you want. Know when it is moving away from what you want and trust yourself. Then if journaling is not helping you, that’s when you can still write thoughts on paper but for a different purpose.
You want to get your thoughts on paper for the purpose of reframing them, for the purpose of diffusing yourself from them, for the purpose of replacing thought patterns that aren’t moving you toward what you want with useful thoughts, with beliefs that help you create what you want next, which in week three of my Mom Goes On coaching program, that’s, I teach you the exact process and we use it for a huge portion of the program.
My other suggestion is that you consider connecting with widows who are forward focused. If you are in a community of widows who are mostly there to have a pity party, who are really, and I know you’ve been in these groups, I know you know what this feels like. Sometimes it’s just people who are really just there to be part of the ain’t it awful club. Get out, move along, find another group. That will not help you because what will happen is that those thoughts that hold you back are going to be reflected back to you in the masses of that group.
They are all going to share those same thoughts and reading them over and over will make you start to believe them more and more, which will take you further away from the life experience that you want. Unless what you want is just to have a pity party. I’m not anti-pity party but I don’t think it’s what most of us want in the long term. We may want to have the occasional short term pity party. But we don’t usually want the long term pity life. We don’t want that. So get out of those groups, I highly recommend.
That’s why I like Mom Goes On, everybody in there, they’re spending money to be in this group. They don’t take it lightly. They are not doing that because they want to be in a pity party. They want to be there to move toward the life they want, to create what they want, to love life again which means they are more likely to point out your thoughts as thoughts, as opposed to reflect them back to you.
And the fourth thing I want to suggest to you is that again, get some professional help. If you really want to go fast, get some professional help. You can start practicing getting your thoughts out on paper for the purpose of diffusing yourself from them. And you can listen to the podcast and it will help you for sure. You can ultimately do amazing things with what you read, what you learn, what you hear. But if you want to go faster, if you want to do it in a way that feels supportive, if you want to do it in a way that has cheerleaders all around you then get professional help.
And it doesn’t have to be me, although I highly recommend my program because it really is the most amazing thing ever, Mom Goes On. There are others but consider joining a group that is specifically for widowed moms. Consider working with someone who actually understands grief and not just theoretically, not just because they’ve studied it, but because they’ve lived it. Someone who can spot the thoughts that really do hold you back, someone who can spot the thoughts that you would just be inclined to journal but that would keep you stuck, so that you can change them.
Because I swear to you, that is what’s in your way. That is what is in your way. The stuff in your brain, the thoughts about what’s possible for you and what’s possible for your life and what you’re allowed to have and what you can create and what you can’t. All of those stories in your mind that you can reinforce with journaling if you do it too long. That is what needs to change in order for us to love life again. I have just done this work for two long, it just is, it just is.
So with that, I will say a couple of caveats, one about everything I’ve talked about in this episode. There is no one size fits all solution, if there were I would just say journal for x number of weeks and then stop. It’s not that way. So you really do want to ask yourself, is this working for me? Is this moving me toward what I want or is it starting to hold me back from what I want? Am I just cementing all this stuff on paper that makes me feel even worse?
And trust yourself to know. And if it’s not working then it’s time to seek new tools. It’s time to find a different approach because what worked for you yesterday might not work for you today. And that doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. It just means that sometimes we need different tools and different techniques. And if we notice that something is starting to hold us back, it’s totally okay to let go of it. If you have identified as a journaller and you decide that journaling is no longer serving you. That doesn’t mean you’re a quitter, doesn’t mean anything bad.
It doesn’t mean you failed at journaling. It just means you’re actually really smart because you’re willing to explore different tools and techniques. And you’re willing to let go of things once they pass their useful life. Sometimes I feel a little preachy when I talk about this kind of stuff. But you really don’t need to journal and you really want to consider if it’s helping or holding you back. Alright, that’s what I have for you this week. I love you. You’ve got this. Take care and I’ll see you next week. Bye bye.
If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence.
Please don’t settle for a new normal that’s less than you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click work with me for details and the next steps. I can’t wait to meet you.