Self-Parenting Journaling Exercise

by Dana Dunlap

Closeup photo of a decoratively engraved fountain pen and an open journal page, covered with handwriting in black ink.

My way of dealing with pain, for many years, was to remain very angry at my abusers and to spend most of my thoughts on self-criticism and abuse. One of the ways I learned to successfully resolve the anger and self-abuse was through a journaling exercise that I created. This exercise is also effective for relieving pent-up feelings.

It may sound like a strange process, and you might feel a little awkward in the beginning, but I promise you that if you stick with it, you’ll experience great amounts of freedom and relief from pain.

So, get out a pen and paper, or you can type on the computer if you’re more comfortable with that. I find pen and paper to be more effective because, at points, you might be expressing anger and you might even find yourself tearing the paper with your pen—and this can create a sense of release.

To start off, you will identify a few different parts of your personality. I’ve found that pretty much everyone who is experiencing depression, or who has experienced former childhood abuse or neglect, has these three parts as portions of their being.

You may give the parts names, or you may use initials. The three parts are the hurting child, the critical child, and the nurturing mother or father.

I gave my hurting child my own name, “Dana.” I gave my critical child the name, “Minerva.” I named my nurturing mother, “Mama.”

Please choose names, now, or choose initials—like HC for hurting child, and so on. Or you can choose to call them “Hurting,” “Criticizing,” and “Nurturing.” I find using personal names to be more effective.

Now that you’ve chosen identity names, we’re going to do what you might feel, at first, is awkward. We are going to have a dialogue between these three personalities.

You’ll start off by describing a painful or difficult issue that you’re presently having. An example might be avoiding contact with some friends or family.

You would start off with what you imagine your critical child would say. It might go something like this:

Minerva: “You’re doing it again. You’re procrastinating calling your family. What are you so afraid of?! You’re just being lazy and weak. Just call them, right now!”

Dana: “I’m too tired to call them. I’m afraid I’ll sound too depressing and make them uncomfortable, and maybe even make them not want to call me in the future. Or I’m afraid they just won’t “get me” and will tell me to get over it.”

NOTE: When you’re writing out these comments from each of these characters, write as much as you can possibly think of for each character to say. Let it flow out of you. It’ll be painful, at first, but the key to easing pain is walking through it first, then resolving it.

Next, the nurturing parent’s response is VERY important:

Mama: (To Minerva), “I see that you’re trying to be helpful, somehow. You’re trying to motivate Dana to make that call. Thank you for trying to help, but what you’re saying is not actually helping, at all. Dana is hurting and needs love and support.”

Mama: (To Dana), “Dana, I see that you’re really struggling right now. It’s understandable that you don’t want to make that call. Right now, your family member is not able to be as supportive of you as I am. I love you for who you are, right now, at this very moment. You care very much about your family and you will show them that care, in due time, when you are feeling better. But now, you need a break. Let’s stop and look at the ways you’ve been caring toward your family. They are…___________. You are a person of great value. Here’s what you have to offer the world…________.”

Then, continue the dialogue.

If the hurting child is still hurting, let them say more and let the other personalities respond. I found that if I did this long enough, it would make me cry, and the crying was like a catharsis and I would feel great relief from the pain, as a result. I wish for you that you have the same or similar result.