When I was about eight years old, I remember a particularly annoying night when my older sisters were picking on me… again… (a shocker I know). I had had enough! I don’t recall the details of the situation, but I got very angry and felt powerless to do anything about it. So, I decided to vent to my journal, writing less than flattering comments about my sisters and family. The words weren’t very nice. I’m pretty sure I didn’t “hate my sisters and my family,” but I was mad and frustrated. I think I was just trying to figure out what in Hades I was feeling! All I knew was that I didn’t like it.
Of course, my mom came across what I wrote. When she asked me about it, I was embarrassed and ashamed. I tried to erase it. However, she was less bothered about what I wrote and was more interested in what would lead me to feel how I was feeling. She wanted to understand. Even though I wasn’t entirely sure if I was in trouble or not, I was able to blubber out an eloquent “it’s just not fair.”
Even though I’m not eight anymore, I have continued this practice of venting through writing for most of my adult life. I am generally a happy person, but when I get into a funk…look out! I sort of feel bad for the piece of paper that has to put up with my emotions: Better the paper than someone I really care about. I have always thought it would be an interesting experience for anyone who reads my journal.
There are many other healthy, cathartic, and therapeutic processes outside of venting to a journal (exercise, deep breathing, going to the driving range, hitting tennis balls into a wall, drawing, listening to music, laughter, etc.). However, Brené Brown’s research in her new book, Rising Strong, has suggested that writing, or even talking to one’s self, can be a helpful, therapeutic process. She calls is “writing your Stormy First Draft.” What you write may be offensive or hurtful to others, but you aren’t sharing it with others. On the contrary, you are just allowing the emotion to pass in a way that isn’t damaging to your relationships. It’s your first draft, not the one you would share with others. Engaging in this process can allow for less strain on relationships, more self awareness, and an improved emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to put words to our emotions in an understandable way. A lot of times, we just don’t have the words—particularly in the moment. We have the feelings! But we don’t have the words. We erroneously try to come up with the words by hurling criticism or blaming others. It’s sort of like asking someone to give us a hug while we spray them with a fire hose!
I felt particularly validated by Brown’s research and open disclosure. In a “non-crazy way,” she shared personal examples of walking and talking to herself (hand motions and all!) to “grapple with her emotions.” Even though she said that her neighbors poke fun at her, I think it’s safe to say that this process has been a part of her gifted emotional insight, extremely powerful messages, and ability to describe interior experiences that so many have difficulty defining—like shame.
Whether it’s talking or writing, externalization–getting your thoughts and feelings outside of yourself–is therapeutic. You’ve got to get it out some how! It’s probably best to have a separate journal set aside for your emotional exploration. Or, find a somewhat sacred place where you can be completely authentic with
your thoughts without fear of misunderstanding or judgment from others. Brown says that if you would be embarrassed or fearful if someone reads your Stormy First Draft, you are probably on the right track in expressing what you need to express. Remember, this draft is not to be shared with others, but allows the emotions to become more understandable and pass through without causing additional harm.
The goal is self-understanding and to be understood by those we care about. We would do well to spend time letting our emotions out in a safe space so that when we share with our loved ones, we are more likely to be understood.
For the record, now that I am out of my eight-year-old tantrum, I fully recognize that I have two incredibly talented and loving sisters. I didn’t necessarily like them teaming up to tease me (and I am sorry that I may have taken it out on my younger brother!). I also reserve my license to return the favor of picking on them (teaming up with my brother) every once in a while as well! In retrospect, I am glad and grateful I was able to vent to my journal. Maybe they had similar Stormy First Draft entries about me?