To help resolve any unfinished business that you have with another person, write a letter. This may be written to a person who has hurt or wronged you, and who is no longer a part of your life.
The purpose of writing the letter is to foster healing. Healing is a process, and you may never be 100% healed from your experience, but you can get yourself to a much better place. Doing this exercise will also help with processing what you went through. Additionally, it serves as a way to get some closure. DO NOT ACTUALLY SEND THEM THIS LETTER, this letter is for YOU. Keep it confidential.
Being hurt by another person can be traumatizing. If you are experiencing symptoms of trauma, then I STRONGLY suggest doing this activity with a professional counselor. Don’t try to heal alone, find someone immediately. Talk through what happened, they can support you. Let them know that you’re interested in trying this exercise. They can guide you through it.
There are also other methods to working through trauma, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy has risen in popularity.
While you’re working on this exercise, have three to five coping strategies that you can choose to do if you need to take a break. The strategies should help you to feel calm, and regulate you emotions and nervous system. This is extremely important. Writing can bring up difficult memories, emotions and physical sensations. It can be really hard.
Take a break and take care of yourself when you need to. Use a coping strategy or two. It may be helpful to have a list of your coping strategies written in front of you as a reminder. The letter doesn’t need to be completed in one day. Take your time. Only work on it when you feel like it. This is why I recommend doing this activity with a counselor.
I want to stress that your self-care is just as important as working on this exercise.
Writing this letter will help you to
- Reflect and process
- Feel emotions
- Think more slowly
- Problem solve
- Consider forgiving the wrong-doer
- Forgive yourself, if you need to
- Put your thoughts and emotions to paper
- Release pent up thoughts and strong emotions, like pain, sadness, and anger
- Find some peace, healing and resolution
- Empowerment and improve self-esteem
- Increase self-care and self-love
There are no set rules for writing this letter. You may find it difficult to start this process, just dive right in. The letter can be edited and re-organized to how you would like. Start with the wrong-doer’s name, like you are writing a letter. If you’re unsure of how long your letter should be, try aiming to write one to three pages just to get an idea.
Once you have that, you will better know if the letter should be any longer. The letter is to benefit you and to help resolve any unfinished business. It’s length doesn’t matter quite as much. The effort that you put into it is what’s important. Like a real letter, end it with your name.
Important things to consider including
- Things that you want the wrong-doer to know.
- Anything that you want to say to them.
- Talk about what they did to you.
- Share how you feel.
- Discuss your reaction to what they did.
- Talk about the impact that it has had on yourself. What areas of your life have been impacted? How has it been changed?
- Write about what you wish went differently.
- Include how you wish things ended with that person.
- Is there anything that you could have done differently?
- Allow yourself to be open to writing anything that comes up.
This is important
This is a challenging exercise, so take a break if you need to, re-visit it. Self-care is very important through this process. Work on acknowledging your thoughts and emotions. Know that they are natural and occur for a reason, but let them roll away (not sticking in your mind) as you write. Utilize coping strategies to regulate intense stress, anxiety, emotions, etc. Try to make sure that you’re in a good “mental space,” not overly anxious or panic when you write this. It is helpful to be able to think clearly and be focused.
When you’re finished
After you finish writing this letter, read it out loud to yourself. Reading it to yourself might be emotional because your brain will be processing the information slightly differently, hearing your own voice read what you wrote is powerful. Read it to a counselor, they will listen and be able to guide you. If you think that it would be beneficial reading it a second or third time, then do so. Notice if your thoughts and emotions changed the next time through.
Lastly, when you are ready, you completed the letter and read it out loud, destroy the letter for resolution (and confidentiality). There is symbolism in destroying the letter. It isn’t returning. Allow yourself to be healed and empowered. Love yourself. Notice how you feel while destroying the letter and afterwards. Do you feel physically lighter, like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders? Do you feel empowered? Did you sigh in relief or smile?
Once again, please talk with someone if you need to, don’t hesitate to reach out. It is rewarding to speak with someone, brain imaging research shows that talk therapy (psychotherapy) can be impactful right away. In my experience, after the initial session, the client shares that they already feel a sense of relief.
Download this exercise below.