Full of rage at someone but not sure you can tell them? Feeling hurt and let down by a partner but fearful of telling them straight? Wish you could tell a parent exactly how they made you feel? I frequently recommend the ‘unsent letter’ as a way of expressing your feelings about or towards someone who’s made you mad, bad or sad.
The unsent letter is a form of writing therapy that encourages you to address a letter to someone you don’t feel you can talk directly to – perhaps a former lover, a friend you’ve fallen out with, or perhaps someone who has died. It’s a way of putting into words a deeply held thought or feeling that has somehow been damaging you in some way, or holding you back. The idea is that you write about your feelings openly – so they’re ‘out there’ – but you don’t have to send the letter. The point is to articulate and process your feelings rather then openly hurt someone else by sending the letter.
So you can rage about a vexatious issue connected to a significant person in your life, and it’s you who ends up feeling better. The unsent letter can be written by hand, or typed as an email – whichever you prefer. Just don’t press send!
Here are seven ways the unsent letter can help to channel your anger…
- You may find that during the course of bashing out words on the screen, or scribbling frantically on the page, your anger may gradually lose its momentum and subside into something more meditative, thoughtful and creative.
- The very act of finding the right words to express feelings can become a journey in itself. Crafting phrases, shaping thoughts, and giving them rhythm helped give a constructive voice to a destructive energy.
- Like dancing while no-one’s watching, and singing while no-one’s listening, writing that unsent letter allows you to express barely and brutally how are feeling – with no fear that someone will creep up behind you and admonish you for having those thoughts in the first place. There is no shame and no anxiety, and no need to hide.
- Letting your demons come out of the shadows, and seeing them in the brightest of lights on the page, can make them look much less scary and sinister.
- By writing without censoring you can spot when I call ‘victim vocabulary’. In other words, the ‘should, must, ought, had to’ kind of language. It can help to rephrase your thoughts with I rather than you – to say ‘I feel hurt’ when you do that, instead of saying ‘you hurt me’.
- It can bring to consciousness a realisation that you may also be complicit in the fractious dynamic that has been created. Maybe you aren’t completely the innocent, wounded party after all. Not easy to admit, but writing it all out can help you become much more objective about your role in the disagreement.
- The unsent letter can be a process of recognising the feeling, naming it, owning it – and then letting it go.Instead of holding onto the hurt or rage, and letting it distil into resentment, the feeling can lose its power and its meaning can become less significant. The page or screen now holds your anger so you don’t have to.
So, you may have to press ‘save’ on the email, but you don’t need to press ‘save’ on your anger.