How Do You Feel Looking Back at Old Journal Entries?

How do you feel looking back through old journal entries? - illustration of a notebook

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 that me really is not suitable for public consumption.

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. I may have mentioned before that I tried journallu but stopped after a year or so. I found reading what I wrote a bit helpful. It was a measure of where I was in perspective to the present me (at that moment) reading.

  2. Itโ€™s really humbling, and it brings me back to a place where I feel so awful for the person going through that. I journal a lot about the events in my life going on and how Iโ€™m handling them, and going through old journals reminds me of all the impossible shit Iโ€™ve survived. Itโ€™s hard to read, and I often canโ€™t do it. But when I do, itโ€™s a really good reminder that I need to love myself. Because I have been through some shit.

    1. I admire you for being able to care for yourself, and see the person who wrote those entries as one who deserves love and forgiveness. That is a skill that I have yet to master.

  3. Magda Regula

    Maybe they wouldn’t sound silly to somebody else and even if they would the person reading it should be aware we all have silly thoughts sometimes.

    I don’t journal regularly but when I found something from the past I mostly didn’t know what I meant. The thing with my blog is, however to record how I think, so that needs to include at least some of my silly thoughts to reflect on my social naivity. If someone has a problem with it then… oh well, I don’t know.

  4. I donโ€™t reread old entires, but if I do have one that I find particularly meaningful or revealing I will share it with my therapist, fiancรฉ or both.

    I do keep all my journals though. I consider it a legacy to hand down. How entertaining or insightful they will be is yet to be seen.

  5. I try not to read my journals, it’s disturbing, and that’s not me anymore.
    I agree wholeheartedly about throwing them out.. (or setting them on fire) I have no interest in people remembering me as the person on those pages.

      1. Oh no.. we don’t want that!
        I would make a day trip to somewhere nice and open.
        If they still did viking funerals the journals could just be burned with our bodies after passing.. but for some reason people find those disturbing.

            1. Hopefully it’s not something our loved ones will have to worry about for a very long time (but I have made my wishes known.. I’m sure they can pull it off somewhere.)
              Have a wonderful Mother’s day!

  6. I have journalled consistently for many years now, although I haven’t kept all of those journals to this day, because I also often threw them away or deleted, for all sorts of reasons. Either I was worried that someone might read them, or I got rid of them on some sort of quick impulse, or I changed my mind as for what form do I want my journal to have which I did quite often, or I was just very dissatisfied with my writing. This is my chronic problem that whenever I write stuff, especially if it’s fiction, I initially think it’s really great and the best thing I’ve written so far, but when I re-read it after a while, sometimes even a few weeks, I consider it extremely cringe-worthy and get rid of it right away. So oftentimes when I write fiction I don’t even keep it but write it, read it, and delete it right away before I change my mind on its quality and feel disappointed with myself. I am much less critical of my writing where personal/non-fiction writings are concerned, but sometimes I still did have phases where I just couldn’t look at it without cringing. There are also some journals that I lost irretrievably.
    But I guess I’ve matured a bit the last couple of years regarding journalling, because I haven’t deleted any of my jjournals or entries ever since 2017. I do have some bits of my older journals, but I really regret that I don’t have them in their entirety, would be such a great way of keeping track and making sense of things and analysing them long-term, as well as simply retainning memories better.
    I’ve experimented with various forms of journalling – writing the entries as if they were letters, either to real people or someone whom I made up, writing a sort of mix between a journal and autobiographical fiction, where all the events were quite strictly based on what was going in my life right now but some not so relevant details and general circumstances were changed sometimes a lot, writing entirely in English or Swedish rather than Polish, doing stream of consciousness type writing, only writing about nice things, or only about the awful ones, just logging the mundane, daily life stuff that I thought could be relevant long-term, or only about my Brainworld, what I was feeling and thinking, but not the external world or only when it influenced what was going on in my brain. – Since 2017 though I don’t really stick to any particular form, I just write however I want. if something feels easiest to express in a specific language, I write in that language, or another entry in a different language, or a mix of languages. If I want to change my writing style, I just do for however long I feel such need. Some of my entries are super long, and some are merely lists of noteworthy things that I’ve been thinking of or that have happened recently/today or a couple short sentences. I also sometimes use books with journal prompts. So I guess my journal could make a very chaotic and emotional impression if someone was to read it, but since I’ve been sticking to writing this way without any boundaries whatsoever for so long and haven’t thrown anything away.
    I do like to re-read my old entries, but usually older than a couple days or weeks. I have a sort of habit that when I have the time during the day, I read my previous journal entries from this same day in previous years. It can be very interesting, and I also frequently come to the conclusion how silly I was, or, in particular, how bad my English was. ๐Ÿ˜€ Sometimes if I have some difficult situation going on that has happened to me in the past, I’ll go back to that time in my journal and re-read those entries to remind myself how I dealt with it then and how it ended up or simply to compare my current experiences with those previous ones. That’s why, as much as possible, I try to make my journal entries possibly detailed, because who knows, perhaps something that is absolutely mundane, obvious and so uninteresting to me now that it feels stupid to write about it will actually be a valuable and relevant piece of info for me in a couple years.
    Other than I feel comfortable with the way I journal now, I also think part of why I haven’t feel the urge to get rid of my journals is that now I’m much less concerned about someone reading it, it just seems quite unlikely. I have a password for the main folder and each text file is password-protected as well. i write in a mishmash of languages a lot of the time, so much so that sometimes if I read some more emotional entry after a couple years, I myself need a while to figure out what I was actually saying because at the time of re-reading my brain wouldn’t switch between languages quick enough. If I am able to (have enough vocabulary) I write about particularly personal things in Welsh, and, like, who would understand that? ๐Ÿ˜€ I always have the so called screen curtain on when I’m on my computer and when I write or read my journal around other people I always make sure that it hasn’t turned off or anything as it occasionally likes to do. But I don’t have a big problem with people reading it after I die. I mean, it does feel a bit odd to think about, but rationally I know I won’t really care. The only thing I care about is if my writings would affect someone negatively after my death, like if they found out about something that would be difficult for them. But I really doubt my family would read my journal as they don’t know the passwords and most of the languages that I write in. Back when I still only kept my journals on my Braille-Sense notetaker as I thoought it was more secure, I liked to imagine how some archaeologists would find my Braille-Sense after hundreds of years and extract all the stuff from it and read my journals as something of perhaps some historical value to them that could give them an idea what life was like at least for one individual hundreds of years ago. ๐Ÿ˜€ Sometimes I still like to entertain that idea and write to future people or AI lol.

    1. Writing particularly person things in Welsh seems like a good privacy strategy!

      I’m sure that would be very interesting for people hundreds of years from now to read old journals!

  7. I despise it. I wish I was more like a friend of mine who has a closet lined with shelves of journals that she’s kept since she was a little girl; but I’m not. My OCD plays a big part in my inability to keep diaries. I can’t stand my handwriting… especially when it just bleeds pain and despair onto the page. The thought that my crazy is best kept inside my head often seems the right one; but the problem with that is, if I don’t let it escape a little at a time, eventually it gets large enough to blow the door right off the hinges… and when that happens, all those negative emotions get flung on whoever is closest to me at that particular moment in time.

    I keep buying the damn things (pretty one which cost a modest amount). But ultimately, it ends up being a waste of money because I write a couple of pages and then days (or sometimes hours) later, I’m disgusted enough with my inability to be perfect that I either burn them (literally) or rip them apart and throw them away (hiding them at the bottom of the trash bin so that Mitch is unaware that I’ve destroyed yet another one).

  8. In looking back at journal entries made long ago, it appears I recognized the signs of bipolar long before I was diagnosed.

  9. I don’t regularly journal. I do belong to a group that meets via zoom weekly for journaling they give writing prompts and I usually share so it is not unfiltered.

    I do read back old blog posts. I got a bit paranoid during Covid and posted some things that sound really strange. I showed it to a friend recently and he said it made sense. I am not sure what to think. Sometimes I delete old posts or edit if I have changed my mind.

    I will draw doodles in my journal. Sometimes that is an easier way for me to express myself

  10. My only journaling is mainly my blog. I have a journal I have written in, but its what I use for my blog in the end.

    The only thing I have recently started doing which I will mention in my self-reflection post next week is I have created a wellbeing folder. Here, I have printed off my publish self-reflection blog posts, so I can look back at them away from the screen.
    I also make notes of anything I learn here, or something I want to make a note of from the mindfulness books I am reading that I am using as part of my life.

  11. I have deleted them on my current blog. They were mostly about dating, which depresses me to think about. I have privately archived two old blogs, one that was allegedly more humorous and one about my momโ€™s death. Sometimes itโ€™s interesting to read an entry or threeโ€ฆ

  12. Same-ish here. I usually enjoy flipping through the pages of the journal I’m working on because they’re full of fun brain dumps, ideas, and things I need to address. When I go back several years, I tend to get sucked into a black hole of emotions.

  13. Great post Ashley. I had journaled any brilliant ideas I had so I didnโ€™t forget them also peopleโ€™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 itโ€™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.๐Ÿ˜Š ๐Ÿ’•

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

    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.

  19. Mm, just realised l replied to myself!

    Ps so sorry for the typoโ€™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 โ€“ note to self plug in new k/b

  20. I think re-reading journal entries can be good for perspective. To see how far weโ€™ve come or what we might need.

  21. 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 ๐Ÿ™

  22. Iโ€™ve journalled forโ€ฆwell more or less thirty years or more I guess ๐Ÿ˜…(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 ๐Ÿ˜Š

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: