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I can’t seem to care about my feelings. To me, all feelings are overwhelming because I either don’t know how to take care of them or I just don’t have the energy to. I feel ashamed of this helplessness and it’s been a big stumbling block in my relationships. However, all I’ve been able to do is try to avoid my feelings altogether.

The main way I avoid my feelings is by going in my head, analyzing where they come from. Understanding this helps me know that I’m not inherently defective for feeling overwhelmed and responding poorly. Analyzing my feelings also clarifies what I need to better control to keep my feelings from controlling me. But I try to control too much. Any chance for vulnerability is too great a risk. Being perfect in a perfect world is the only way I can feel secure. This means that in the real world, nothing is ever good enough for me.

Eventually, two self-help books helped me find a path out of this cycle. Facing the Fire by John Lee, on the importance of expressing all emotions safely. And Homecoming by John Bradshaw, on reconnecting with the feelings of one’s inner child.

I had already been using a journal and the notes app on my phone as a mental catch-all, but after reading these books, journaling has become a way for me to get to know who I am and what I’m feeling. As with any relationship, through consistent and honest sharing, I’ll start to care about that person — in this case, me.

This is definitely an ongoing process for me. Right now, it takes me a while to get away from the inner critic’s voice and in to mine. I also struggle with getting to how strongly I really feel about something because sometimes I feel ashamed of how nasty or childish these feelings can be. But I have gotten used to it, and see these feelings as an important part of me that are best expressed in my journal.

To get to the root feeling, I’ll try to speak from my inner child using short simple sentences such as “I feel lonely/sad/stressed.” Sometimes I’ll repeat these sentences over and over to stay with the feeling and resist analyzing or problem-solving. To me, staying with the feeling means staying with my inner child. I’m showing little Eric that I’m interested in what he has to say and that he doesn’t have to do anything special or drastic to deserve my full attention. Lately, a journal goal of mine has been to respond to my inner child’s feelings as adult me to make it a conversation. This helps me validate my inner child’s feelings and become more compassionate towards them. I’ll also journal my feelings through text messages to myself which makes it much easier to get into a conversation mindset.

Another journal goal of mine is to express more positive feelings. In some cases, I’ve noticed that the feeling behind a negative judgment can sometimes be a positive feeling. For example, recently at a store, I tried on a completely new style of clothes from what I’m used to. I instantly loved the change and bought a whole new wardrobe. I was bursting with happiness and pride for myself. I also felt loneliness for having nobody to share these feelings with, along with a sense of guilt and shame for caring so much about my appearance. I went to my journal, and instead of expressing negative feelings and judgments, I declared with uninhibited enthusiasm how happy I really was. It felt great to own my happiness which gives me the confidence to face my feelings without needing as much control.

So if you feel similarly, see if journaling works for you. It can be draining at times, but by having a safe place to get to know my feelings, I feel more secure in my ability to care for myself.