If you are or have been a client of mine, I’ve probably said to you on at least one occasion, “Write a letter and don’t send it” or “Vent it all out in a letter- uncensored- but don’t send it.” And if you’ve gone ahead and actually written at least one letter like that, you are aware of all of the incredible benefits it provides. These therapeutic, unsent letters are probably one of the greatest therapy tools out there. Not only do I recommend them to my clients on a daily basis, I also write many myself!
The magic is in the “unsent” aspect of such a letter. Because you don’t actually send it to the person it’s intended for, you can say anything you like, even if it is downright vicious, angry, or even ridiculously over-the-top. The therapeutic aspect of writing such a letter has nothing to do with whether or not the person you’re writing it to actually reads it (or even receives it for that matter)- what feels so fantastic is that you have a safe place to say whatever you need and want to say without censorship, and without having to hear the other person’s reactions to what you have to say to them.
Sadly, for many of us, the person we’re so often upset with doesn’t have to capacity to just sit and listen to what’s bothering us without jumping in and defending himself or herself or shutting us down in mid-sentence while we’re trying to express our feelings to him or her. This is especially true when that person is abusive- it’s often very difficult (if not impossible) to express our feelings to someone who scares us or dominates us on a regular basis.
Here’s an example of what you might start off with in a letter to such a person:
I’m writing you a letter because I find it impossible to talk with you directly. When I’ve tried to tell you how I feel about the way you treat me, you’ve consistently interrupted me, blown up, and shut me down. By writing this letter, I am giving myself the opportunity to just say what I need to say, without someone else getting in the way of my doing that…
After you’ve gotten your feet wet, I would suggest covering the following areas for an abusive person in your life:
What that person did to you specifically which has caused you hurt and suffering (i.e., their words and/or behaviours towards you)
How the way they mistreated you impacted your life until now (i.e., what sorts of decisions you made and the types of relationships you entered into based on what they taught you to believe about yourself)
Make a declaration to them that you’re putting all of their abuse back onto them and freeing yourself from it’s effects from now on
Tell them everything you have ever wanted to say to them about how they treated you but were too afraid to do until now
Once you’ve finished this letter, I would suggest that you then write a very warm, loving, and compassionate letter to your inner child from your highest adult self. You might say things like this:
I am so sorry that you were abused by (the person who abused you).
I am sorry that no one protected you from him/her in the past, but I want you to know that I am here to protect you now.
It’s okay to feel angry, hurt, and afraid. It’s okay to feel anything that you feel towards this person and what they did to you in the past.
I want you to know that you’re not alone anymore. I am here and I am taking care of you and making sure that no one treats you like that anymore.
Sometimes, you’ll use this letter-writing tool as a method of figuring out where you’re at in a particular relationship and what your next step should be. For example, you may be contemplating ending a friendship that is no longer serving you. In this case, your letter might look something like this:
I feel that my needs for friendship are changing as I continue to change and grow. Over time, I have come to realize through experience that you cannot meet many of my needs in a friend so I think I need to let you go.
I guess I’ve hung onto you because you paid attention to me and wanted to be with me and were kind to me. I was lonely and you were a good companion- for a while. But as time has gone on, I am feeling increasingly suffocated by your attention and feel like it is now “too much”. It doesn’t feel healthy to me and I feel the need to take some space.
In this type of letter, I suggest adding some closure statements because you are in essence, ending the relationship. A really good way to find closure is by thanking that person for the gifts they gave you by knowing them. Things you may include would be: a listening ear, taking time to spend with you, and doing fun activities together. Even if you no longer want the relationship to continue, it can feel really good to end things by ‘dwelling on the positives’ about the good times you had with that person.
So enough reading- grab some paper and a pen and start writing those letters! I would love to hear your experiences with writing therapeutic letters and I’m sure my readers would too. Feel free to send me your feedback, along with an actual letter you wrote (or segments from one) and I will publish them anonymously for the benefit of my lovely readers. In this way, you can inspire someone else to write a letter they need to write and not send. Send them to: estherATestherkaneDOTcom.
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