Home Childhood Sexual Abuse Third person journaling through an emotional roller coaster.
third person journaling through an emotional roller coaster - surviving my past

Third person journaling through an emotional roller coaster.

by Matt Pappas

It’s no secret that journaling is extremely helpful in recovery from trauma because it helps us express and process our emotions in a healthy way.  So on the topic, have you ever tried third person journaling?

Generally, we tend to write in first person view;  I, we, our, etc., expressing ourselves straight from our own mind and heart, putting down on paper or keyboard, exactly what we are feeling. In the case of third person, it’s a way to look at ourselves from the outside in, as we work through a particular event or situation, using words like He, She, They, or referring to ourselves by name.

This is a unique way to write because get you to look at yourself in a different way, allowing you to have a more open-minded, non-judgmental view of how you handle what is happening in your life.  The ability to separate yourself from the emotions of the moment can really open your eyes to what you have endured at any given time.

Anyway, I was challenged recently to write about an annual event that always causes me a great deal of stress.  One of those situations where I have to just “suck it up and deal with it” while still taking care of myself as best I can…Mothers Day.

A day to celebrate mom, Mother’s Day is all about flowers, greeting cards, cookouts, and family togetherness. A day to celebrate the special woman who helped raise you. However, for so many, this is also a day full of stress, anxiety, worry,  and a day where many old memories have a way of creeping back up and trying to take over. Memories of abuse, emotional neglect, or perhaps a childhood that didn’t include even having a mother.

You know the emotions and triggers are coming, as they do every year, and even when we do our best to prepare they still embrace self compassion and understanding - surviving my pastcan be incredibly difficult to deal with .  Sometimes you just have certain things that, no matter how hard you try, still hit hard and take time to work through on a continual basis.

So this exercise is one where I’m just going to write about what it feels like leading up Mother’s Day, and then how the day itself went.  It will be open, raw, and honest.  It’s unlike my usual posts here, so let’s see how this writing unfolds and right now I’m as curious as you are as to how it ends up.

As it turns out, this would be an emotional roller coaster of a week, in more ways than I had anticipated.

Wednesday Evening: Matt is sitting here at his desk, and after chatting on Skype with a friend about this very subject, He is already beginning to feel the anxiety flaring up. Matt needs to remember that he is safe now, he is capable of taking care of himself, and he no longer needs to subject himself to invalidating situations.  He’s got healthy boundaries, which include low contact and Going Gray Rock with his mother. Still, though, Matt is feeling the twinge of guilt that inevitably flares up during the week leading up to Mother’s Day.

The guilt comes from the knowledge that Matt knows things about her that most do not. Things that others would likely never believe could be possible; that some of his family don’t even know much about, if at all. Matt knows that this guilt is part of his “survivor junk” and comes from the cumulative trauma of childhood sexual abuse, bullying, and emotional neglect and invalidation at home.  Even with years of recovery under his belt so far, he still has to work through the guilty feelings of:

  • Did Matt make all of this up?
  • He feels like an ungrateful son.
  • He feels like he is betraying the family name.
  • He knows if he ever confronted it his mother about what happened, it would likely not end well for him.

Friday Evening: Matt had a good afternoon at his daughter’s Nursing Pinning Ceremony, but the emotions were overwhelming both in good ways and also in a sad ways. The unbelievably pride that he feels in celebrating his daughter’s amazing accomplishment is inspiring and joyful, but it also brings back memories of times that he lost in her earlier growing up years. He’s trying to not focus on the past, but inevitably it comes roaring back.  It’s a struggle that he cannot allow to take over, but combined with the emotions of the upcoming Mother’s Day, it’s not going to be an easy fight.

Saturday: Graduation is over, and Matt is back home now sitting alone at his keyboard. The elation and pride he felt as a dad was consuming in the most positive of ways. His daughter graduated Magna Cum Laude, and has her BSN! She, along his two sons, are the 3 most important people in his life and he would do anything for them.

The apartment is quiet, save for the sounds of Celtic music playing in the background, but the battle rages on his head and heart.  Pride and Joy for his daughter is still fresh in his head after going through the pictures on his phone and remembering the events from earlier in the day, but the inevitable sombering emotions are still fighting for their place in his mind. This struggle will continue through the end of the weekend for sure.

Sunday: After doing his weekly Periscope livestream on Beating Anxiety, Matt knew that self-care was definitely needed. Not because of the livestream, but because of what was ahead; the annual Mother’s Day cookout. He had spent more time around his mother in the last two days then he had in the 6 months combined, so his emotions were on edge and anxiety was in full gear trying to take over.  He decided a nice walk along his favorite trail, near some creeks, was just the ticket. Plus he knew he could get a good 6000 steps in towards his daily goal. Today was a beautiful spring day, 70 degrees and sunny; the birds were singing and the creeks were running high from all of the recent rainfall.

self-care by the creek - surviving my pastIt also turns out he decided to do a second Periscope and just share some of the natural beauty and ambient sounds that nature was providing. This helped to not only calm the anxious feelings, but also ended up helping many others who joined the livestream.  He counted this as a big win, but the big test was still looming.

Upon arriving, the cookout was already underway, and after greeting his dad, he did his usual blending in with everyone else and kept distance from his mother while not intentionally drawing too much attention to himself in the process. The first couple hours went okay, but then as everyone settled in after eating to hang out and talk, he eventually found himself needing to interact with her. The anxiety grew but he kept it in check and answered questions in short responses; not rude or mean, but simply short and to the point.

Taking some walks around the creek bank, just down from the porch at his sister’s place, he was able to find peace in nature once again. That is one his go to self-care routines, and today it worked as intended once again.  Thank goodness!

After some more time had passed and people began to leave, he talked with his dad for bit more and gave him a hug before they pulled out. Immediately the anxiety began to subside and he sat down on the porch, watching the Cardinals and Woodpeckers fly back and forth between the trees and bird feeders. Ahhhhh, peace at last.

Reading this over a few times after writing it, I can embrace the kindness and compassion that my heart, mind, and soul deserve after a tough, emotion filled last few days. Allowing myself to feel self-compassion through this writing experiment has opened my eyes even more to the importance of not minimizing my feelings. embracing self-love, giving myself a break, and understanding that above all else, this journey of healing may be hard but I am worth it.

Consider showing more understanding and kindness towards yourself today. Self-compassion goes a long way in a survivor journey, not just in the tough times, but also to help reinforce that you are worth healing, every day!


Feature & Post Pictures taken by Matt Pappas. Social media pictures courtesy of Pixabay, designed using Canva. 


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Barbara Joy Hansen May 15, 2017 - 10:51 am

Again, thank you, Matt for allowing yourself to be vulnerable with your emotions, thoughts & feelings regarding Mother’s Day. I’m sure other survivors can identify as well as myself. My experiences weren’t the same as yours because my mother is with the Lord & I am missing her every single day since she went to Heaven in 2011 in the Springtime. I’m not sure you’ve come close to be able to expose what you went through in your childhood home with your mother but reading about your going there but keeping a distance tells me enough for now. You are keeping your distance for a reason perhaps unknown to yourself or to your mother which is necessary for your inner soul healing and ability to allow yourself to be near her but keep closer to your father. As a child of incest myself, it took me nearly 38 years to be able to tell my mother the dark dirty secrets that her dad did to me. As an adult, I knew deep inside myself that he had also done it to her when she was very young. Like you, I began uncovering all that I had gone through for decades which took many years as I was able to process it all. One male survivor of childhood abuse that I’ve worked with my Beauty Out of Ashes Support Group for years had such difficulty being in the same room as his mother. Every holiday was very difficult but as he processed what she & his dad did to him as a child, unthinkable crimes done to him & his sisters, he was able to work though his unprocessed grief. He has a very traumatic childhood & his mother denied everything she had done to him! But as I encouraged him to continue to work through each chapter with support from me when he came to the chapter of forgiveness I tell survivors never to forgive unless they are able to grieve their losses! But he seemed to want to tell his mother what she had done in betraying him as well as denying anything had happened between him & her. One day he wrote a letter telling her all that she had done to him as well as his father. He didn’t want to see her because he was afraid it just wouldn’t accomplish anything positive at all & he didn’t want to be further shamed. I thought what he did was incredible which might in some way encourage you or other survivors in their process of healing. After his deeply personal emotionally charged honest letter was written & shared with me for accounatability he drove to his mother’s house, rang the bell, slipped his letter through the door & RAN back to his car & drove off as his mother came to the door. He did his part. I was so proud of him! If you don’t own up to your own sins & acknowledge your part in the crimes you’ve done to your child you will never find healing. He has a broken family as many of us have had. But some of us are further along the path to healing because of our own willingness to use our voice to help that lost wounded child that needs comforting by our Heavenly Father who saw it all~!

Denise May 15, 2017 - 12:18 pm

I feel your pain brother. Great job. Keep the music playing. Thankful for your post. “Skal” on your daughter’s graduation!

Heather Tuba May 15, 2017 - 7:53 pm

Matt, your post brought tears to my eyes. I hope others will be encouraged to use this powerful tool. 3rd person work is part of expressive arts therapy as it creates distance from the pain until the person is ready. I loved your vulnerability. Thank you.

Charlie May 28, 2017 - 11:11 am

Loved the third personal journaling suggestion. Definitely gonna give it a go.

M June 5, 2017 - 1:07 pm

I tried to buy a mothers day card this year but they all said to a fun lady, my rock, my inspiration….so sad. And it is strange that I still wanted to send her a card…the woman who caused me to spend my whole life till now escaping her abuse (I am 43.) I deal with physical scars, borderline personality disorder, I see my son struggling because she was an influence on him too, my father says he still years her critical voice in his head…yes it is sad on mothers day when everyone else is posting pics of them smiling wit their mother. I posted a picture of a unicorn and its baby. Unicorns don’t exist. But we wish they did. I wish I had a good mother and that I got to be a child. Also I keep the depth of what she did secret. If my wonderful partner knew (after abusive husbands and cheating liars I am so lucky I recovered enough to find him!) would he be disgusted?


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