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10 Important Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Reading My Past Journals

10 Important Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Reading My Past Journals

I was sixteen or seventeen years old, drinking coffee in my habitual diner. I scrawled into my journal, as the waitress came by to refill my cup of diner-strength (read weak) coffee. She asked if I was keeping a diary. When I told her yes, she smiled and said, “That’s so important. Keep it up.” I started being more diligent about it after that, and I’m so glad I did.

Getting things out onto paper helped me stop obsessing over them, or just helped me vent in a safe way.

Looking back, I’m grateful for the breadcrumbs to my psyche I laid out for myself. Sifting through my past, I’ve found enduring truths about who I am and how I can improve my interaction with life now.

Here are 10 important life lessons I’ve learned from reading my past journals.

1. Things always seem way worse in the moment

As I go back over the situations I struggled through, I remember feeling really crumby, desolate even, over things that don’t seem like a big deal now. As time has marched on and I’ve come further along my way, things that used to seem huge fade into the inconsequential past.

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All that emotional pain and agony has become something I can barely recall; sometimes it even makes me smile to think of how worked up I was over silly things.

2. Not all relationships are meant to last forever

The people who have come into my life formed who I am in various ways. Wrapped up in my current day-to-day, I sort of forget that there are people out there, whom I don’t talk to anymore, who really know me. I feel autonomous and self-contained a lot of the time, but I’m not. I have affected people and people have affected me deeply.

In some ways it’s saddening to realize that you’ve connected with others on such a level, and you may never see them again. But the truth is, it’s okay. Some relationships serve a purpose during a season and then when that season passes, it’s normal and healthy to move on. They are what they are and when they’re not anymore, it’s really okay. You don’t have to stay connected to everyone.

3. It’s easy to demonize people when you’re hurt

Reading over past scenarios, I can see through my own hurt feelings and spot potential misunderstandings. In the moment I was blinded by what I wanted, what I was afraid of, or I simply had a myopic perspective based on my own mental maturity at the time.

Looking back, I can completely understand other’s motivations for things which seemed nothing but hurtful at the time. It makes sense. They weren’t trying to hurt me, they weren’t just huge jerks for the sake of it. There were circumstances I couldn’t grapple with; that’s all.

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4. It’s easy to idealize people when you’re infatuated

Conversely, there were people in my life whom I had on a pedestal and repeatedly tried to make relationships work with, when it really made no sense. Caught up in infatuation, or wanting to fit in with a particular group, I would excuse and dismiss obvious signs that showed incompatibility or pure disinterest.

I would try to force friendships or romances where there simply wasn’t a natural draw. From there I would beat myself up over never feeling accepted by these people, when I should have just accepted that they weren’t all I imagined them to be or at least not in how they related to me.

5. It’s important to write the good things down

As cathartic as journaling can be, one of the best experiences I have reading over old entries is when I come across something funny or just a nice day or happy time in my life. Sometimes I have completely forgotten about some really beautiful holiday I had with family, or a hilarious phrase one of my nephews said, and I get to recall it through my diary.

I wish I had written the good stuff down more than the bad stuff I was dealing with. I’m doing this more now.

6. Your biggest looming challenges will be accomplishments one day

It’s so encouraging to read about things I was so nervous about that I couldn’t sleep, which are now in the books. Things like going to college, getting to travel or moving to a completely foreign city were all intimidating things I wanted to accomplish so badly; now I’ve done them.

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I still have a ton more learning to do, literally thousands more destinations to visit and don’t see myself settling for just the one foreign city, but my new goals seem so much more achievable when I reflect on the fact that I’ve already conquered so many.

7. Mental maturity develops gradually

As insightful as I thought I was at the time, every single time I go over my old journal entries, the me who wrote my thoughts and opinions about things, seems like a younger and younger child. There’s nothing wrong with the way I was thinking back then, it was just where I was or as far as my mind had expanded at that stage in my life.

This is encouraging because any time I feel overwhelmed, I remember that there was a time when I would’t have been able to deal with things that are old hat to me now.

8. The path to your true passion can be full of detours (and that’s okay!)

There was a time when I wanted to be an actress, then a singer, I think a doctor was in there somewhere too. One consistency was my desire to explore. I was always curious and wanted to to see and experience more; to never feel like I had limited myself. In the long run, I’ve found that what I really am is a writer, but it wasn’t always clear from the beginning (even though my incessant journaling and writing stories might have tipped me off).

I studied film in college and then toured for a while playing in a band with my best friends. Through all of these ventures I was finding what fit. Everything I engaged along my path lead me closer to where I am now, to knowing more exactly what it is I’m shooting for.

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9. Finding patterns in your behavior over the years can help you check your behavior now

Like any habit, it can be difficult to recognize in the heat of the moment. The principle of writing things down and analyzing them to find patterns is recommended for people who are trying to pay attention to what they eat. It’s easy to convince yourself that you eat “pretty healthy” but when you actually write everything down and then review it, you might be surprised with the amount of not-so-healthy things slipping into your menu.

The same thing applies to other behaviors, like relational interactions. Everything seems justified in the moment, and in retrospect you can always fudge details in your favor. But when I’ve written it down and then read over it again later, I can see recurring ways I didn’t deal with things as well as I could have, or said things I didn’t need to say. It’s eye opening, and helps me check myself when I’m in a current conundrum.

10. You have to do it yourself

I’ve found that a lot of the time I was waiting for something: waiting to be picked, discovered, revealed. Not necessarily by any person in particular, but almost by life itself. I waited for things to unfold instead of diving in and figuring it out myself.

No one is going to tell you what it is you really want in life and exactly how to get there. How could they? It’s hard enough for a lot of us to nail it down with certainty for ourselves. Stop waiting. If something interests you, dig in and find out all you can. Through this refining and exploring, you’ll become more focused and life will open up in a way you couldn’t have experienced otherwise.

Featured photo credit: Close-up of a young girl writing into her diary, in the park via shutterstock.com

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Published on April 7, 2021

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

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2. They Make Everything Transactional

Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

Some statements to be wary of include:

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  • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
  • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
  • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
  • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

3. They Criticize Everything

One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

  • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
  • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
  • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
  • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

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This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

5. They Socially Isolate You

Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

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6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

  • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
  • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
  • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
  • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

Final Thoughts

It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

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