Putting our thoughts on paper can be a powerful experience – especially so with a journaling tool called Unsent Letters. Unsent letters can be a great way to attain all of one of the Four C’s:
The three most powerful Unsent Letters are 1) Letters to the Dearly Departed, 2) Letters for Amends, and Letters in a Bottle. Let’s explore each one.
Letters to the Dearly Departed
This is probably the most common unsent letter that is written. With a need to communicate all that has been left unsaid, this tool springs from a desire to continue the relationship in some form, for a specific purpose. Begin by “brain-dumping” your emotions in your journal. Once you have started to slow down in the journal writing process, turn your focus to gratitude and positive memories. Then, transition your journaling into granting and asking for forgiveness. Maintain a calm atmosphere. Steady, deep breathing will help if you feel your body tensing up or becoming emotional. Remember that this writing is for you – to release emotion and gain clarity and closure on a relationship. When you are finished, burn the letter, shred it, or leave it at the cemetery. Because the magnitude of the emotional release can be strong, be gentle with yourself for some days after writing the unsent letter. Relax and let the healing occur.
The Amends Letter
With roughly 20% of the population in some type of 12-Step or recovery program from alcohol, gambling, smoking, drugs or food – and recent evidence showing the 40% of that amount suffered some type of triggering childhood trauma, using the journaling technique of an unsent letter can be a powerful way to release strong emotion. At Write to Health, we have had clients who are overcome with a sense of gratitude towards a friend, family member or even God, for that person’s role in his/her addiction recovery. An unsent letter is a great way to put those emotions into words that speak from the heart – just one more approach to recovery journaling. You can always send this type of letter or use it as a preparation technique for a meaningful discussion.
By the same token, Write to Health has also had clients who were traumatized by a negative experience. An unsent letter in this regard can help to express and release anger, frustration, and grief in a productive, beneficial manner. If this is your situation, please review our newest Write to Heal online class to assist you in a deep level of release. In addition, remember that the important aspect of this type of unsent letter is the RELEASE of emotion through your journal in a positive, life-giving manner.
Letter in a Bottle
“Future letters” can be directed to a loved one (such as an infant or young child) or to our own future self. I’ll never forget the look in my teenage daughter’s eyes when she opened a time capsule bottle her second grade teacher had supervised for her students. The letter I had written ten years prior had now landed a primo spot in her treasured lockbox. In that letter, I lauded her amazing talents in music, academics and athletics, and expressed my appreciation of her inside and outside beauty. The love I conveyed to her made a deep mark on her soul, I could see, and had come at an important time in her life as a young woman. Letters to our future selves are also wonderful ways to explore change and growth in our own lives.
How far have we come and where are we going? I like to address each part of my self in the letter: physical, mental and spiritual. Some questions to start with might include: What is an athletic activity you’d like to explore? Are there books you’ve always wanted to read? How can you deepen your relationship with God? Other more general directions might include how we want to be different, or the same, in the future. Which aspects of your current accomplishments and relationships are you most proud? What is important to you today? How do you think this might change and how will you respond? Of course, another way to slice this pie is to explore your current and future selves in terms of life areas such as work, home, friends and community. Either way, it’s important that we maintain our journaling focus and see the exercise to the end.
As the main types of Unsent Letters, these three approaches are extremely powerful journaling tools.
Some additional unsent letters you might try include:
- A Letter to the Editor
- A Letter to prepare for a difficult confrontation or a negotiation
- A Thank you letter, and
- A Love Letter. Of course!