Journal Writing Basics: How to Avoid Self-Deception

by Amber Lea Starfire on June 25, 2011

catnav-journaling-activePost #46 – Memoir Writing, Journaling – Amber Starfire
-

Pinocchio

“I suppose I have a highly developed capacity for self-delusion, so it’s no problem for me to believe that I’m somebody else.” ~ Daniel Day-Lewis

We journal for a number of reasons: We want to make meaning of our lives, better understand ourselves, see things in fresh ways, and most of all, to tell our life stories. But when we write in our journals, if we merely repeat the stories we’ve been telling all our lives we’re missing the point and power of journal writing. The power of journaling lies in its ability to help us question our oft-repeated stories, to access deeper emotional understanding, and to reframe or recreate our stories in new ways. Ways that help us heal and grow and become better people (better, as we understand it).

Storytelling is a basic human way of creating meaning. When we were small children, we listened raptly to the stories our parents read or told us, and we begged them to repeat our favorites. When we became old enough to create our own stories, but were still too young to discern the difference between a truth and a lie, we made up creative explanations in order to avoid getting into trouble. As we grew old enough to make better sense of things, but were still young enough to think ourselves the center of the world, we blamed others for our emotions: someone else made us happy or sad or mad. We effectively hid our own complicity from ourselves. We made meaning of those experiences by telling stories — first to ourselves, then to others — and the more we repeated those stories, the more real they became, the more they became our truths. This process of storytelling to make meaning of life’s experiences matures over time — we may take more responsibility for our actions and emotions, for instance — but it doesn’t, essentially, change.

So how do you know when your story is based on a form of self-deception and when it isn’t? The honest answer is that you don’t — at least, not right away. But you can, with persistence and gentleness, find out.

One effective method is to question your “facts” by asking, “Is that absolutely true?” (Other methods of getting beneath the surface are included in my blog post, “Telling the Truth.”)

Here’s how it works. Let’s suppose that most of your life you’ve said, “My mother loved me less than she loved my brother.” You’ve also written it in your journal. In fact, as you re-read past entries, you see that this “truth” has been a major source of pain for you. At the top of a new page of your journal, write your statement. Underneath it write, “Is this absolutely true?” Then, respond. Write about all the ways it’s absolutely true (only you can define what “absolutely” and “true” mean), and write about all the ways it might be true, but not absolutely. Make a mark next to the things you’ve told yourself before (”She called him every day, but not me.”) Then, write about all the ways it’s not true (”That time she was really sick, she called me first.”).

When you’re done writing, re-read your original statement and take stock of your feelings. Does it still ring true? Has it been softened in any way? If it doesn’t ring true any more, what does? If anything has shifted, try reframing your story: “All my life, I thought my mother loved my brother more than me, but I see now that I was jealous whenever she paid him attention.” Or, softer, “All my life, I thought my mother loved my brother more than me, but now I’m not so sure.”

Whenever you find yourself writing something in your journal that has a strong emotional charge or feeling attached to it ask, “Is that absolutely true?” and see where that question leads you. At the least, you will deeply explore an important emotional topic; at the most, you may uncover an area of self-deception, reframe a life story, and find healing and new hope.

__________________________________

For ways to use your journal, as well as writing tips and prompts, be sure to connect with me on Writing Through Life.
-

reflective journaling
-
Image Credit: Olivier Klein
-

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Matilda Butler June 25, 2011 at

Amber:

This is definitely a must-read post for everyone who already journals or who is thinking about journaling. Facing up to self-styled myths is difficult but you have provided a concrete way to get started.

Thanks,
Matilda

Amber Lea Starfire June 25, 2011 at

Thanks, Matilda. Yes, penetrating our own areas of self-deception is one of the most difficult things to do (at least for me!), but so important if we want to heal and grow.

Leave a Comment

Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category StoryMap Category StoryMap Category StoryMap Category Writing and Healing Category Writing and Healing Category Writing and Healing Category Scrapmoir Category Scrapmoir Category Scrapmoir Category Book Business Category Book Business Category Book Business Category Memoir Journal Writing Category Memoir Journal Writing Category Memoir Journal Writing Category News Category News Category News Category