JOURNAL WRITING has many purposes, but it is probably best known for its ability to help us process emotions — especially emotions that we consider negative or painful. I believe that when we resist our emotions, avoid, suppress, or ignore them because they are negative or painful, they don’t go away but lodge in our bodies. Lodged emotion can cause us to feel irritable and to behave in ways we don’t want, such as “taking things out” on loved ones or overreacting to small things. Unprocessed emotion can cause stress, illness, and disease.
On the other hand, writing through emotions allows us to fully feel them, process them, and move (or express) them through and out of our bodies, resulting in healthier emotional and physical states of being.
One of these negatively-considered emotions is sadness. Sadness can range from general feelings of melancholy to despondency and despair, and can be caused by a variety of experiences. For example, feeling hurt by the actions or words of others, or feeling anguish and worry for a loved one, if not resolved can result in sadness. Other reasons for sadness include disappointment, shame, regret, neglect, loneliness, rejection, and insecurity. Sadness can result from feeling pity or sympathy for others, as well.
When writing about and through sadness — or any emotion — it’s important to identify the source of that emotion, if possible. Often, we have buried hurts and traumas in the past, and it may take some deep work and time to identify and heal the sadness-causing wounds.
Journal writing prompts can help you identify and work through core causes of your sadness. Here are a few:
- Feel your sadness. Allow it to fill you, wash in and through you. Write about how that feels. Then perform a word association: Write down the word “sadness”; then write down the next word that pops into your mind; then the next one; don’t stop, but keep writing down words until no more words come. Look back over the list of words. What does it tell you?
- Close your eyes and take three deep, calming breaths. In your mind, travel back in time to when the sadness began. How old were you? What was happening in your life at the time? Does the sadness seem to be attached to a particular person or event? A loss, hurt or trauma of some kind? Write about as much as you can remember about the sadness and when it first began.
- If you can identify a specific event, person, or loss which initiated the feelings of sadness, write with as much detail as possible about that event and how you responded at the time. Did you experience a hurt or loss of some kind? What did you do with that hurt? Did you turn it inward? Hide it from others? Feel that you had to “be strong?”
- Whether or not you can identify a specific event — maybe it was a series of events over a long period of time — write about what triggers that feeling of sadness for you now. Does the sadness occur when you think about certain people? When you are alone? When someone says something hurtful? Do you find yourself overreacting in certain situations? Write about every situation you can think of that triggers that sad place in you.
- Once you have written about the source of your sadness, re-write your story with a different ending. This is fiction, but write is as a possibility. Imagine things happening differently. Or imagine that you handled your emotion differently. Write about having expressed your hurt to someone instead of burying it inside you, for example. Re-write your story as if it had actually happened the way you imagined.
- Another technique is to write a different interpretation of the same event. For example, if someone said something or did something that hurt you deeply as a child, look back at that event from your adult perspective. Can you perhaps see how that person was carrying his own hurts at the time, projecting his pain onto you, and that what he said or did had nothing to do with you? Distance yourself from that hurt and rewrite the scene as though you had that kind of understanding as a child.
As always, I invite you to leave your comments about these prompts and add suggestions for writing prompts that may help others process their feelings of sadness.
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