and then...privacy

"Here in your mind you have complete privacy..."

-Chuck Palahniuk

One of the most common apprehensions surrounding the journaling practice is the issue of privacy. There are a lot of remedies to this: painting over words, sercret codes, making pockets, locking the journal and the like. Many opt for digital journaling because it offers password protection. Analog journaling is unquestionably more beneficial, but I can understand the temptation of using a password. One of the major premises of journaling, after all, is the sanction of privacy. 

Of course, you don't have to have dramatically secret thoughts and feelings to justify filling a journal. But at the end of the day, there's a part of our brains that unlocks under the conditions of trust, singularity and privacy. And a journal is the safest and most productive way to unlock it. So I'll go ahead and say that privacy is a necessary condition of journaling. If your writing is shared, it should only be under your expressed permission. 

It should be noted that finding privacy is especially important in an era where some people seem to think that social media and texting supercede the limits of privacy and respect! *sigh* Don't even get me started on that. 

But since there's already so much literature on how to keep your journaling private, I wanted to address a separate issue: what do you do when that privacy is violated? 

It happens. It's happened to me a few times, and my journals were explicitly read twice. The first time by a classmate, the second time by a crush (yup)! I'll tell you about my experience to dispel the fear. 

Like many, I found that journals were my only refuge as a kid, and one of the few non-judgemental places in which I could live. In elementary school, my journal was read by a bully who gradually pilfered (stole) my collection of pens over the course of the year. She boasted that she'd read it, too, perhaps because my journaling habit was a point of confusion and sometimes envy from my peers (I learned that in retrospect). I confronted her after school and screamed and cried. I'd written a privacy warning on the inside cover of the journal and I couldn't believe that someone would violate that on purpose. She was at least as shocked as I was by the frankness of my confrontation, and frantically defended herself by assuring me that she'd only read the first few pages. It frightened me, and I bought a different journal with the hope that it wouldn't be recognized; but I didn't stop journaling. 

That same year, another girl who I considered my friend hid my journal from me and pretended to find it in order to curry my favor. The journal was very much damaged in the process. But I didn't stop journaling, and I didn't stop bringing it to school.

Later in life, a guy read my journal while I had my back turned. He ran into some sensitive information. I had a deep affection for him. He didn't feel terribly guilty, even though he knew full well that the journal was private. In fact, he got angry at me for chastising him about it in front of his friends. He also made it quite clear that he knew some distasteful things I'd written and I wasn't convinced that he wouldn't tell everyone what he'd read. 

But it didn't matter, because I didn't let it. I at least learned that the person was untrustworthy. I didn't stop journaling, but I journaled in poems for a long time. I wrote strictly in metaphors for fear that someone would find my thoughts on literal events or actual people. I actually found a lot of benefits to that method, and eventually stopped doing it out of fear.

People have taken or hidden my journals to get a reaction from me, too, because it's easy to see that they're important to me.  

It happens. Even with my value in privacy, I can think of some times in my life when I've crossed the boundaries of others without fully understanding the consequences or seriousness of what I was doing; and that's part of the point. While I wouldn't say I've ever done anything to rival the worst privacy violations that have been made against me, I know enough to say that it's rarely as important to the perpetrator as it is to the victim.  It's like an embarassing moment. It's the worst for you. No one will remember it as well as you, few will ever care. And those who do care won't make thoughts or words or actions that should be of any consequence to you. 

If there's someone in your life who you feel will want to read your journal against your wishes, remember that your journal comes with a premise of privacy. No matter who reads it an how often, they will know they committing a violation, and anything they read is superceded by that. Think of it this way: even though we all know it's easier than ever to find out information about someone onilne, we don't make all our information public to all. Because for every piece of information we don't share, we are setting a premise that we don't want it to be shared. You can't control other people, but you can control yourself and the message you project. 

But even if I hadn't learned those things, I would want to make one thing clear beyond excuse:

The trauma of those experiences combined never came within breathing distance of the freedom to be found in journaling.