Circling to the Truth in Journaling

by Cheryl Hulseapple

birds circling

I used to struggle with writing in circles when I journaled. I quit journaling for months or years when I couldn’t break the repetitive patterns. Mari recently talked about how to stop writing in circles, and I would like to share my solution. I’ve been journaling consistently for nearly five years. Perhaps what has helped me will help you, too.

“What am I feeling right now?” In my experience, going in circles while journaling comes from getting stuck in a particular feeling, usually an overwhelming or difficult one, like grief, anger, or fear. The first thing I do when I find myself circling the same issues over and over is to ask myself what I’m feeling in that moment. To make finding the answer as simple as possible, I stay with the four basic feelings: happy, sad, afraid, and angry. According to a recent study, every feeling is a variation on those four. Knowing exactly what I am feeling is important because my feelings connect me to myself.

“What is my feeling saying?” Once I have discovered my dominant feeling, I ask myself what my feeling is saying, or “What is the thought behind this feeling?” For example, as I was preparing to write this blog post, I felt anxiety, which is a form of fear. When I asked myself about the thoughts behind the fear, I heard all kinds of insecurities: “I won’t have anything interesting to say,” “I won’t be able to organize my thoughts,” “I’ll agree to write the post, but then I’ll fail,” and finally, the catastrophic thought that has caused me to give up in the past: “I’ll always fail at writing.”

Finally, I ask myself, “In what context have I experienced these thoughts and feelings?” Are they really true in the present moment? Have I heard or felt them before? When, where, and (for the thoughts) from whom? If I’m getting caught in a repetitive circle, then it means I have heard them before. It also means that the circular pattern may not be occurring just in my journal, but my journaling may be reflecting a pattern from my life. The patterns reflect an experience of overwhelm, a state strongest in childhood, when I had the least power. So I go back into my history as far as I can remember, looking for past patterns of the thoughts and feelings that I’m stuck circling.

I won’t be able to come up with anything interesting to say. Is this true? It will be, if I avoid the fear and avoid writing. How early can I remember thinking this about myself, and in what context? I got this message when I was a child and adults didn’t seek me out for conversation.

I won’t be able to organize my thoughts. This was also true when I wasn’t given the opportunity to learn through frequent conversation with curious, positive, engaged, and engaging adults.

I’ll agree to write the post, but then I’ll fail. As a child, I tried to connect with the adults in my life, but my attempts failed. This pattern repeated itself in my failed attempts—through journaling—at connecting with myself. No matter how determined I was, I couldn’t get out of the circles until I found them in the past.

Through frequent and daily journaling, I’m giving myself the experiences that weren’t provided to me as a child. I’m breaking the patterns of disconnection and replacing them with patterns of self-connection.


Cheryl HulseappleCheryl Hulseapple is a freelance copyeditor and wannabe writer (with 28 filled journals) who lives in Schenectady, NY. She writes at least five longhand pages (otherwise known as Morning Pages) in a composition book nearly every day. She also seeks meaningful conversation with others doing the daily work of self-connection, with her children, and always with her child self. She is active on Twitter @cherapple and you can find her business website at