Journalling is a powerful tool for self-exploration. It helps one become more aware of:

  • how the past has shaped our current view of ourselves, others and the world
  • how we interact with other people and with current situations and experiences
  • negative automatic thoughts
  • the inner irrational beliefs about self, others and the world, that perpetuate and reinforce the negative thoughts
  • the unhealthy emotions that the thoughts and beliefs can trigger
  • the behaviours that they encourage us to implement, such as avoidance, anger, procrastination, stress, anxiety, criticism and judgementalism

Becoming more aware of these formations allows us to change them to:

  • positive automatic thoughts, built on rational beliefs about the self, others and world
  • create new healthy emotions
  • constructive and productive behaviours that form a basis for happiness and achievement
  • have healthier more honest and constructive interactions with ourselves and others through everyday experiences and situations

Journalling can be done in a number of ways:

  • diary
  • drawings, symbols and images
  • paintings
  • cartoons/illustration
  • poetry, narrative and drama

Below are a number of areas that journalling can explore, from a Psychodynamic Approach (exploration of past events, childhood, trauma, loss, for example), Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Approach (thoughts, feelings, behaviours, beliefs), Transactional Analysis Approach and experiences in Mindfulness-based practices.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Journalling about one’s Negative Automatic Thoughts and Positive Automatic Thoughts uncovers patterns and habits of thinking. They are contextualised and specific to presenting issues that happen in relationships at home and at work, experiences and events that are happening in the now, while driving, shopping, going out on your own or with others. They are the daily presence of one’s mind. Simply being aware of them and observing them helps one find out where stress and anxiety is being triggered and how challenging emotions are created by what we ruminate on within.

We can become more aware of our healthy negative feelings and unhealthy negative feelings. We can become more aware of our healthy positive feelings and unhealthy positive feelings. By exploring the differences between these we can find the cause of much of our anxiety and depression, for example. Journalling these issues increase our awareness and introduce more healthy and balanced thinking within.

We make all sorts of assumptions and behave accordingly in response to presenting situations and rumination on our past and futures; and most of the time we are unconscious we are doing it. Our behaviours can be destructive or constructive. An assumption we make is structured like this:

If I avoid thinking about the past I will be safe.

If I stay in bed I will be happy and safe.

If I say yes to everything that is asked of me everyone will think I’m a good person.

If I turn up late to the meeting I will be able to avoid being asked to take a leading role.

If I pretend to be sick, people will feel sorry for me and I will avoid being asked to do a job.

Behind each one of these behaviours are a number of beliefs and automatic thoughts that tell an interesting narrative about who we are. In fact they can sometimes tell a story about who we are that when we analyse it we come to a realisation that we don’t want to be that kind of person anymore or that we want to try a different behaviour. By looking at our behaviours and assumptions in journalling we can find a better person we want to be and so avoid the negative thinking, emotions, avoidance and procrastination that undermines our own happiness.

Irrational beliefs are central to our own destructive and unhappy lives and refer to our self, others and the world. Albert Ellis presented the Irrational Beliefs that underpin the Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) approach: that later evolved into Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). Here they are below:

1. I must do well and get the approval of everybody who matters to me or I will be a worthless person.

2. Other people must treat me kindly and fairly or else they are bad.

3. I must have an easy, enjoyable life or I cannot enjoy living at all.

4. All the people who matter to me must love me and approve of me or it will be awful.

5. I must be a high achiever or I will be worthless.

6. Nobody should ever behave badly and if they do I should condemn them.

7. I mustn’t be frustrated in getting what I want and if I am it will be terrible.

8. When things are tough and I am under pressure I must be miserable and there is nothing I can do about this.

9. When faced with the possibility of something frightening or dangerous happening to me I must obsess about it and make frantic efforts to avoid it.

10. I can avoid my responsibilities and dealing with life’s difficulties and still be fulfilled.

11. My past is the most important part of my life and it will keep on dictating how I feel and what I do.

12. Everybody and everything should be better than they are and, if they’re not, it’s awful.

13. I can be as happy as is possible by doing as little as I can and by just enjoying myself.

Our negative thoughts and behaviours are based on many of these irrational beliefs. When we start to change our thoughts and then our feelings we can also change our irrational beliefs into rational ones. The process of therapy is important in establishing the alternative and healthy beliefs from which we can build a happy and fulfilling life.

Transactional Analysis

In Transactional Analysis by Eric Berne we can use a number of resources to help us grow an awareness about who we are. Eric Berne used the OK Corral to help us find out how we perceive ourselves in relation to other people and that our transactions with other people tell us a lot about our irrational and rational beliefs. In one situation I might come to believe that I am OK while everyone else is not OK. This may describe someone with a deeply distrusting attitude to other people and the world, that no one is to be trusted, and someone who believes this has often been let down and treated terribly by people in the past. Each one of the quadrants in the diagram below describe the kind of person we are and by being more aware of this formulation we can choose other ways of being and thinking and seeing and doing.

I'm OK grid


The next diagram from TA looks at the different ego states we slip in and out of during the day. They tell us a great deal about who we are and our past. It also allows us to more mindfully choose how we respond and react to presenting issues in our lives. Below is a description of the different ego states –

PAC Model Descriptions

The Karpman Triangle explores how we respond to other people. Again it allows us to explore the kind of person we are and how we react, quite often unconsciously, in exchanges with our loved ones, work colleagues and people we meet. It is based on the 3 points of the triangle where we might fall into the Persecutor, Rescuer or the Victim in challenging situations. In therapy we can choose a fourth way – that of the compassionate adult. This position transcends the other three and creates the highest point of a pyramid.

Karpman Triangle