I know I’m not the only one who has written a letter to someone who has hurt or betrayed me. During a turbulent, difficult time early in my career, I had a conflict with my supervisor and decided to write a letter. I expressed my frustrated, blame-filled thoughts, my miserable and fearful emotions, and described how I was hurt. Although it was difficult to recount my experience, something kind of magical happened in the writing of that letter – I was able to let go of many of my negative emotions and thoughts. The process of writing was instrumental in sorting out what was mine to own and what belonged to the other person. Clarity emerged. I was able to determine what was essential for me to verbalize to my supervisor, and what I could leave behind. Writing the letter was a healthy way for me to speak the truth and take responsibility for my actions.
Writing is an important tool because it assists us with telling, imagining, changing, and discovering our own stories. It can be a way of accessing our inner wisdom and authenticity. There are times when I am surprised by what emerges when I write, as well as later on when I revisit my words and am reminded of a positive quality I possess. Or I’ll find an insight which seems to be a flash of brilliance in an otherwise dark situation. Putting words to paper provides an opportunity to have a relationship with your thoughts and feelings that’s different from simply noticing them within your body and mind. It is a more neutral space that allows for wise discernment.
It’s important to put words to paper because it provides an opportunity to have a relationship with your thoughts and feelings.
Many people that I have worked with in my clinical practice have discovered variations of these same effects. One of my clients was able to set healthier boundaries with one of his parents who had continued to engage in verbal abuse as a result of writing a letter. Other people I have worked with have taken the opportunity to express their feelings to unfaithful spouses or former friends who have hurt them in some way. Writing serves the healing process because it helps you find your authentic voice within the situation. Whether it is writing a letter to an abusive or absent parent, or releasing old feelings of guilt, shame, and responsibility that are actually not yours, letter writing can give you a sense of freedom because it gives you the chance to exercise choice in how you see the situation.
I have also worked with many young people who use poetry or songwriting to express themselves creatively. Sometimes a song even starts as a collection of journal entries – odes to deeply felt, personal experiences in daily life. It is a beautiful gift to read or hear their words and, at times, to witness their ability to transform pain into art. It can be a process of empowerment and I often notice that hidden strengths and resilience come to the surface through creative writing. It offers the ability to make sense of your experiences, even those in which your choice was limited or taken away in some manner. It’s usually not the finished product that is of the most importance, but rather the process that it took to get there.
When you start writing, your relationship with yourself will deepen. It’s really no surprise that one of the most common times to keep a journal is during adolescence, a time when we are actively trying to sort out who we are and who we would like to become.
Finally, I would like to summarize some of the benefits of writing. This is not an exhaustive list, but it does contain some observations from my own experiences with writing, as well as those I’ve heard from others. Here are some of the valuable outcomes that may result from taking the time to write:
- Expression of emotions and feelings, especially the difficult ones that we prefer to avoid
- Expression of thoughts and reactions toward yourself and others
- Opportunity to reflect & sort out personal thoughts and feelings
- Finding themes that emerge which point to personal resilience or strengths
- Finding self-compassion or compassion for others
- Assistance with wise decision-making and discernment
For those of you who are reading this and are perhaps trying to sort out some stressors or deal with difficult people in your life, I hope you are inspired to pick up a pen and paper and start writing!
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