It’s probably abundantly obvious, and I know I’ve said it before too, but I really, really love words. But here’s what you may not know: I like bad words a lot too. Not just swear words, although I admit that I have an affinity for those as well, but angry words. In fact, angry words, frustrated words, and desperate words have caused a lot of problems for me over the years. I know that there are plenty of people who struggle to express their biggest emotions in words, but I am not one of them. In fact, when I watch someone struggle to find the right way to express something, I am liable to jump in and try to do it for them, which is rarely OK.
Jesus, put your arm around my shoulders and your hand over my mouth.
Being a chatterbox is fine as long as you’re careful and mindful of the words that come out. I didn’t do that, and that got me into a lot of trouble. It’s a myth that the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body (I googled it), but, for me anyway, it’s probably the muscle that does the most damage. I have made many mistakes that started with saying something in the throes of anger. In some cases I simply vented emotions to anyone in the vicinity, but in other situations I spoke words of accusation and threats to loved ones. And that is never OK, regardless of the situation.
I could have saved my friends and family from the pain I caused them by simply venting my emotions through journaling, allowing my vitriol to present itself in ink instead of insults. If I had recognized the healing power of writing in the moments of anger as well as sadness or joy, I could have moved through my anger, fear, and disappointment in a simple, safer way for me and those around me. One of the beauties of the written word is that it may be hidden or destroyed when the words on the paper have outlived their use. Not every word I write is meant for someone else to read. So if you’re considering journaling to help you process emotions and work through frustration and anger, I highly recommend you try it.
The movement of the pen on paper or your fingertips on the keyboard can, by association, enable you to think deeply about hard things. For most of us, processing negative emotions like anger, dismay, fear, or grief is both painful and difficult to do. No one chooses to feel this way because it’s uncomfortable, and very inconvenient. You can’t plan for sadness, anger, or grief because it always arrives uninvited. It’s never a welcome guest, and when it’s present we can’t wait until it leaves. But grieving in a way that allows you to release difficult emotions without inducing greater problems is usually not a skill we develop without practice.
Anger presents its own set of grief-related pitfalls because, while typical grief reactions include tiredness and despairing thoughts, anger can actually increase your energy. This is true regardless of whether you are a person who wants to confront the problem and force it into submission or the type who wants to keep her thoughts under lock and key and go on with her own comfortable, routine way of life. Perhaps this energizing reaction to a perceived loss or threat is evidence that we were created to love ourselves and others, and anger is a response to the threat of lost connection. However, the angry reaction that is so ingrained in (me) some of us can, when observed carefully, bear witness to the righteous anger of our Father in heaven.
Remember that time when Jesus almost started a fight?
Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers!”
In this passage Jesus exhibits righteous anger, defined as anger toward “an offense against God or his Word” (Bolinger, crosswalk.com, 17 Jan 2020). In this case, Jesus modeled that a crime committed directly against God should be met with righteous anger, but note that the offense here is against God, and Jesus, as the son of God and the second member of the holy trinity, had also the mind of God. Most of us aren’t likely to experience true righteous anger like this, and vandalism wouldn’t be accepted for it either. The anger you may feel when your son or daughter is bullied at school or the unshakable desire for justice felt by the oppressed doesn’t entitle you to unchecked outbursts or rage.
But this is the beauty of journaling when you are angry. You can use the pent up, furious energy brought on by injustice to write down your reaction, why you feel neglected or abused or disregarded, and how much it hurts to be in the position you’re in. You can, if it helps, pour ugly, angry, even hateful words onto a page, provided that you will be the only one to read it. It may sound like permission to give in to the anger and rage, but what this sort of “emotional dump” writing can offer is a release from the tension that ties knots in our hearts when we’re hurt, and by releasing it onto paper, instead of a family member, friend, or social media, you are relieved of the angry knots and cleansed of the worst portion of the pain enough to allow the grief of the situation to take a seat in the chair that anger left behind.
To be clear, this sort of written emotional release should not be something you give to others or allow them to read. When I’ve used this practice I’ve found that it’s best to use a paper journal with a distinct cover that I can keep hidden in a drawer or on a shelf. Remember, journaling is an exercise for you to help you work through emotions in a healthy, healing way, so while it might be good to share this kind of writing with a therapist or counselor, you also need to protect yourself from any retribution that might come if your very private words were shared without your knowledge.
When using journaling as a method for emotional processing and healing from acute, recent, and/or especially traumatic circumstances, you may find that grieving worsens for a time. This can be common when you begin journaling because of your anger but the release of emotional tension allows you to grieve the wrong done to you. Not all anger gives way to grief, and not all grief comes out feeling like anger, but it’s important to know that these two are commonly linked. From my experience anger and grief come as two separate and distinct phases of the grieving process, with some overlap when the anger begins to give way to tears, but this pattern isn’t there every time, and it may not be there at all for some people. Grief often masquerades as anger, though, so if you are processing anger in a healthy way, and particularly if you are journaling about your anger to help yourself cope with it, you may discover that anger is the wolf’s clothing hiding the emotionally wounded sheep within you.
And if that happens, congratulations. That, dear friend, is progress, a healthy transition in the right direction for emotional recovery and healing. Give yourself space, time, and solitude to allow grief to release itself, whether that happens in a pleasant spring shower or a torrential downpour with a flood watch posted. Journaling does not require you to dwell in the negative, nor does it push you swiftly toward normalcy. What it does do is map out the emotional progression of your anger or grief so that you can plainly see what that process looks like for you. Knowing your typical progression of emotions will allow you to see how God is working through each moment, each hurt, and each tear.
God’s guidance and care for you in the midst of anger, trauma, and grief, as shown through journaling for recovery, will enable you to know him as the counselor and healer of your wounds. Knowing from experience that God is walking with you in times of anger and grief will reassure you that he cares for you, even within the worst hardships. By noting these things in a journal, you will, over time, create a record of God’s faithfulness in the twists and turns of your life, a testimony to his compassion and care for you and for those who love him.