How Do You Feel Looking Back at Old Journal Entries?

sad-looking woman holding a journal

Journalling is a fantastic tool for working through thoughts and feelings. It’s great to get the raw stuff out, but it’s not always pretty. So how does it feel when you go back and look at old journal entries?

I find it helpful to re-read recent journal entries, as in from the last week or two. That can help me see how my mental goings-on have been evolving, and it lets me see realizations I’ve come to or changes or progress that I’ve made. When I start to go further back, like several months to years, I’ll read what I wrote and think wow, I am/was such a doofus. For me, journal entries don’t age well; once I’m no longer connected to the mental place I was in when I wrote them, they just sound silly.

And when I say they’re silly and I’m a doofus, it’s not really a self-critical thing. When I journal, it’s raw and totally unfiltered, so it isn’t particularly presentable. I’m okay with that, and don’t have any interest in trying to make my journalling less out there. I figure if I can be out there with my journalling, that allows me to be less out there in the rest of my life. That’s a good thing, because journal me is not suitable for public consumption.

I think that’s part of why I throw away old journals when I get suicidal. I don’t like the idea of me being dead and someone reading raw, unfiltered me. When I was recently hospitalized, I took my current journal in with me in my purse, and it bothers me to know that people probably looked through it when they were listing my belongings in emerg, the assessment unit, and then the inpatient unit. I have no way of knowing whether they did or not, but given how shitty many of the staff were, I would be surprised.

I’m okay (most of the time) being in my head with that me, but that’s just for me, not other people. There are exceptions, though, not with keeping journals to myself, but going unfiltered. There are occasionally people that I decide I feel safe with, so I turn the filter off, at which point all hell may break loose, because unfiltered me is a scary thing to behold.

Anyway, bringing it back to journalling, I’m going to continue letting the batshit flow freely, but not dig it up again once it’s in the past. I don’t have any older journals now because they all got thrown out a few months ago. To keep from losing the useful bullet journal component in the future, I’ve decided to keep my bullet journal and let-the-crazy-flow-freely journal in different notebooks. The bullet journals I can keep, the crazy ones I can toss as the urge strikes.

So now it’s over to you. How do you feel about reading old journal entries?

88 thoughts on “How Do You Feel Looking Back at Old Journal Entries?”

  1. Great post Ashley. I had journaled any brilliant ideas I had so I didn’t forget them also people’s toxic behaviors. I journal right after it happens. Then I can look back and see that the same person keeps doing the same thing and that it’s not in my imagination. I struggle with doubting myself a lot. Also forgetting. When I see it written down I know it happened, that it was real.😊 💕

  2. That’s a great question. I keep a locked diary online that a handful of people read (and I read theirs and vice-versa). I always go back and delete the posts that are clearly written for therapeutic reasons when I’m upset about something. They come across like “rants” and don’t seem to have lasting value other than to remind me of that negative space. But I keep the posts that are more carefully written and I sometimes go back and read them later.

    Also before I ever post there, I read the last three posts. I do that to remember what I wrote so I don’t repeat myself, since other people are reading. Also it can inform or remind me of just what kind of space I’ve been in the last few days, and somehow such information can be useful.

    As for WordPress, it’s a bit different energy because I don’t really think of the blog as a “journal.” Sometimes I read older posts however to try to remember what I said, or how I said it.

  3. My short answer is I don’t know how I feel about old journal entries. There are times when I look back at old journal entries and say “wow I have come a long way since that entry.” But there are other times when the entry is very disturbing to me in realizing how bad things can get particularly if I am feeling bad that day. For now, I keep a bullet journal for each day that tracks my exercise and anything notable from the day – good or bad. For the most part I don’t look back at it. Just log bullet for the day and go on.

  4. So many of us hate to read what we’ve written from a “judging ourselves” point of view. It’s sad.

    I wish my writing sounded more free-flow – even my journals sound like me.

    I’ve kept most of mine. They’re in a box. It’s a big box. The online ones I download for backup so there are a few memory sticks too. I reread them sometimes, not very often, and my biggest takeaway after critical cringing is how hard things have been at times. I don’t suppose I’m unique in the tendency to minimize the ugly past we survived. Life should give us more celebratory t-shirts for making it through.

    Like many, I consider WP to be a form of journaling (one with a Grammarly extension).

    I’m not writing or journalling much these days which is on brand: when things feel the worst, I tend to go numb and radio silent.

  5. I cringe at anything I have written, until I have forgotten about it. When I read back those things that I don’t recognize, I sometimes feel alright about it. I journal in notebooks mostly at times when my demons try to take over. I sometimes read back and feel surprisingly calm about it. A ‘been there done that’ kinda calm. My journaling isn’t far off from my blogging, so it would rather pass as boring than as batshit crazy.

  6. I don’t read them. I write them and then get on with the day. recently l was deleting loads of the old dear Blogs, l read a couple and bored myself. So didn’t reread any more. Today l deleted 450 blog posts and of those some were saved like scrappy’s 4 Paws Diary entries. But l deleted 45 of the strollings and 25 of the musings and 25 of the Nature diary’s and the list went on. I looked through them purely for any interesting photographs, but l didn’t read any.

    I read something recently and it made an impact with me and of course it subject to much personal interpretation … but because it is somethiong l now believe in and have believed in for the last 18 months or so, l think that is why it struck a chord with me and was also one of the components to makig the final decision to delete the Guy blog.

    Today we write for the reading viewer, but tomorrow today’s content is already obsolete and even we will will not look back upon it.

    That struck me as true.

    1. Ps so sorry for the typo’s Ashley, l am being lazy, l have an old keyboard and some of the letters are faded and worn off. so l keep hitting the wrong keys – note to self plug in new k/b 🙂

    2. That’s a lot of deleting in one day!

      Regarding today’s content being obsolete tomorrow, I think it depends. The top three posts of mine with the highest traffic over the past month were all from 2018.

      1. Hey Ashley, l think there is a huge difference between say evergreen content and non-evergreen content. Prompt and say journal/diary/personal/everyday entries is mostly gpoing to be dead in the water within 48 hours unless it is of outstanding quality or impactive to the world but most personal stuff is not.

        It was something that was said regarding everyday content. One of the reasons l want to press more with my business blog is because l want the content to mean more than 48 hours.

  7. Mm, just realised l replied to myself!

    Ps so sorry for the typo’s Ashley, l am being lazy, l have an old keyboard and some of the letters are faded and worn off. so l keep hitting the wrong keys – note to self plug in new k/b

  8. Hi Ashley, thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    Looking back at my journals is re-living that part of the past. Those memories can bring back a smile, a frown and most of the time, I caught myself shaking my head at my younger self.
    Whatever journalled, the good, the bad or the ugly… were occurrences that made us who we are today.

    I felt a pinch when I read upon you throwing away your journals. But I believe that you had strong reasons for it.

    Looking forward to read from you, and in the meantime, take good care of yourself.

    Namaste 🙏

  9. I’ve journalled for…well more or less thirty years or more I guess 😅(since I was 7). I rarely go back to old diary entries, but if I do I can often understand exactly what I felt at the time. Sometimes I see progress, sometimes I see that things I struggle with now have happened before 😊

  10. I love this post. Reading old journals. I agree with you about the everyday journals dealing with emotions that are raw. Rereading older entries then a week doesn’t make sense and I tend not to keep them. However I do gratitude journals and inventory journals that I love to look back on as I can see the growth.

  11. I don’t journal often. Sometimes I wish I did so more. Other times, I’m glad I didn’t. My opinion changes (sometimes in rapid succession) depending on how I feel about what I re-read. I get to see how I’ve grown, or not… or I’ve grown but I feel ashamed of how much pain I was in. Sometimes I feel proud of myself. One thing I’m sure of, is that me being conflicted has probably been the most consistent thing about me lol.

      1. I’ve tried yeah. A few letters here and there on a private WordPress blog. It’s never worked well though. As a child, we couldn’t leave papers with words or drawings lying about or even in desk drawers. It was unsafe to do so when your belongings, recycling and even trash get deep searched on a regular basis…all the way up until I fled.

        I believe this is one of the reasons why the internal communication we have is mostly “many streams of thoughts, mental images, and “sent” feelings.

        When I write, my handwriting can vary a lot, like I’ve never developed consistent handwriting. I dont think it’s due to the others, because I always feel in control. Plus I don’t experience stuff I’ve read other bloggers report, like they “let go of control” and their hand draws stuff to a high level, or they can recognise whose handwriting belongs to which alter.

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