Journaling with others to find out what is really going on between you
Relationships with others begin with ourselves. How we see the other person shapes the relationship. Sometimes their negative behavior, which appears targeted at us, has nothing to do with us personally. The challenge is to sort out what is our old baggage and what is the other person’s.
An example of sorting out old baggage in my own life happened when I was introducing my Creative Journal method into a public school system. One of the elementary school staff seemed to be sabotaging the program. Seated in the back during weekly in-service workshops, she giggled and whispered to anyone sitting next to her. She was acting like a teenager, and I was getting more and more annoyed. This has to stop, I thought. Perhaps I should bring in the project director. After all, I reasoned, they were paying for the program, and their own employee seemed to be sabotaging. In other words, I would be going to an outside authority who, I hoped, would “handle” the situation.
After thinking about it for a while, I decided to turn inward and explore the situation in my journal. With a written journal process for healing relationships that I had been using for years, I described her behavior and how I felt about it. I wrote this with my dominant hand. I told her how frustrated I was with her disruptions in class and how sick and tired I was of having to ask her to be quiet or leave the room. There were some four-letter words mixed in there, too. No need to be polite. This was private writing, so she would never see it. These words were for my eyes only. I felt a huge release just getting all my feelings out. No holds barred.
Next, I used a method of dialoguing with others first introduced in my book,The Power of Your Other Hand. Switching the pen to my non-dominant hand (the one I don’t normally write with) I began drawing a simple picture of the teacher. Before I could even draw her facial features, I saw her face in my mind’s eye. She looked fatigued, anxious and frightened. She appeared to be quite vulnerable. This was new. I had never seen such expressions on her face before. Usually she looked closed, defensive or even belligerent and that had been how I saw and thought of her. Seeing through her defenses made me see her in a different way. She wasn’t out to “get me.” Rather, she was protecting herself.
Then, writing with my non-dominant hand, I let this teacher write a response to what I’d penned earlier. She explained she was over-worked, had some personal health issues and felt extremely stressed. The method of journaling through art and writing that I was teaching was new to her. She’d never used anything like it before in the classroom and was afraid of failing and looking stupid. After reading this, I felt empathy for this teacher. I no longer took her behavior personally, as if she were out to sabotage my program. This wasn’t about me. It was about her. Seeing her in a new light, I felt differently about this young woman. My perspective had changed.
On my next supervision visit, this teacher greeted me in the hallway looking relaxed and smiling for the first time. It was journal period, and she invited me into her classroom to observe her second graders. “You know,” she said, “I hadn’t seen the value of your method until now. But I recently came across my old journals from high school and remembered how keeping a journal saved my life in high school. Suddenly, I realized that what you have been teaching us to do really wasn’t so strange. It was something I was already familiar with, and I already knew the benefits personally.”
She laughed. “I know you told us about the benefits of journaling. And you were right. After a few weeks I am seeing how drawing and writing in a journal is helping my class emotionally and socially. I don’t have nearly the classroom management problems I used to have. Their grades are improving, too.” I told her how glad I was that she had seen the value of these methods.
Observing her second grade class was a joy. I was amazed at how clearly she introduced the day’s journal prompt and at the great concentration her students showed while journaling. You could have heard a pin drop in that classroom. When voluntary sharing time came, the students were amazingly articulate about their feelings and experiences. And all the others listened attentively. I was floored. This woman, who had seemed so negative about my work, became one of my biggest allies. She became a champion of journaling in the classroom.
I’ve done this journal activity countless times over the years and seen similar results. It has worked in all kinds of relationships: with friends, parents, kids, partners, work associates, clients, and more. I can’t explain what or how the change occurs, but it has happened so often that I don’t question it anymore. It’s a great way to stop blaming others, seeing them as the cause of the “problems” between you. Instead you can explore what is really going on. Often the information gained leads the journal keeper to some empathy (as it did for me with this teacher). Both drawing and writing with the non-dominant hand appear to open up functions associated with the right hemisphere of the brain: intuition, emotional expression and empathy inner wisdom. This is true whether you are right-handed or left-handed.
Try it yourself with someone you are having problems with. Here’s the journal prompt. There is an entire chapter on this technique with examples in my book The Power of Your Other Hand.
Journaling with a Difficult Person
Materials: Blank journal (no lines) preferably 8 1/2 X 12 inches, set of 12 colored felt pens or markers.
With your dominant hand (the one you normally write with) tell the other person how you feel about him or her, about the relationship in general, and about his or her specific behavior that is problematic for you. Include anything else that is troubling you in the relationship.
Choose another color and switch hands. On a new page, using your non-dominant hand (the one you do not normally write with) draw a picture of the other person. You don’t need artistic talent or training to do this. No one else is going to see this. You can make a simple stick figure, if you like.
Continuing with your non-dominant hand, write out what the other person would say. It might be slow, awkward and frustrating to use your non-dominant hand for writing, but it will be worth the effort. You will be tapping into your right brain emotional and intuitive centers. This is the case whether you are right or left-handed for writing. See what the other person says. You may gain some new insights into what makes this person tick.
For more see my book, The Power of Your Other Hand. www.luciac.com