Way back in the day when I was mired in a terrible relationship, my then-partner and I saw a couples therapist who recommended I keep a journal in order to have an outlet for myself. At the time, this felt painful to me: I do keep a journal, but I still can’t see the need for a partner who won’t converse. Actually what’s the point of a body hanging around the house dirtying the dishes, leaving size 10s all over the house and bras on the sofa if it doesn’t also provide some degree of company?
I don’t know what the therapist intended all these years later, but I was reflecting this morning that reality is not always pretty or the way it should be. My partner wouldn’t talk to me and so ultimately the relationship ended. I might have accepted that and talked to other people or she might have accepted that I needed a conversation partner and tried a bit more. Neither of us were able to compromise about this–you can’t only kind of converse. Believing she should talk to me might have made me demand she do so more insistently, but it didn’t change her behaviour. You can scream all you want but people are still free to do as they please.
The risk factors for the development of borderline personality disorder include abuse and a non-mentalizing environment: a social group in which no one is making sense of thoughts and feelings. Fonagy says that therapists working with borderline clients should enter into their own therapy not so much to address countertransferance as to maintain their mentalizing capacity because non-mentalizing is contagious.
I think now that journaling restored my mentalizing capacity. Of course, it doesn’t have to: you can say a lot about feelings and intentions without linking it to the sensory experience of emotions, and it’s the balance of sensation and thought which allows us to integrate our understanding of intention.
As a child, reading may have allowed me to explore the world of emotions in a safer way.
Words don’t have to but it’s possible for them to save you.