Writing Exercise for Emotional Healing
I recently discovered a processing/healing writing exercise from a podcast called Be You Podcast by coach and spirituality and wellness enthusiast Jill Herman (link to the episode is below). I tried it out with a recent trigger and felt like I was able to detach from obsessing and ruminating thoughts about the person/situation as well as decrease my arousal resulting in more acceptance and peace because of this exercise. Therefore, I wanted to share it.
This exercise can help you move through difficult emotions that come up when you are triggered within a relationship or by an event that occurred in our lives. I believe triggers are a gift, showing us where we need healing, but that does not mean they are easy. In fact being triggered is very difficult. But it is often through facing the hard stuff where we find acceptance and freedom in our lives.
Here are some guidelines for the exercise:
You will be writing 3 letters to one specific person or experience that is related to your current trigger that you will NEVER send to this person or even show anyone else; these letters are just for you.
Dedicate some time alone to work through the trigger with this exercise and limit your distractions. Give this exercise your full attention.
Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. Don’t worry about what anyone else might think or whether it is well written or kind or fair. Don’t hold back.
YOU CAN NOT JUDGE YOURSELF DURING THIS EXERCISE. If you judge yourself, this exercise will not work for you.
Write these letters out with pen and paper. Writing by hand provides a perceptual-motor experience that helps to create richer and fuller learning experiences. Healing in many ways is like a form of learning, gaining greater awareness and understanding into ourselves, our feelings, and our life experiences. Writing by hand also involves pathways in the brain that go near or through parts of the brain that manage emotion so it can help us access and connect to our emotions in a way that pressing keys on a computer is not able to do.
The most healing writing contains concrete, authentic, explicit detail, linking feelings to events. Such writing transforms the writer from a victim into something more powerful: a narrator with the power to observe. When we write to express and make sense, we reclaim some measure of agency in our lives.
If at any point this exercise feels too overwhelming, pause and/or stop. Nothing gets processed when we are dysregulated and outside of our window of tolerance. This does not mean you need to be completely calm when you do this. I did this exercise while I was distressed. But if something inside of you is wanting to stop or is saying this is too much, listen to that.
You can then try to focus on centering with one hand on your heart, one hand on your belly, taking in slow, deep breaths. Breathe in slowly imagining your lungs are being filled with air until they are completely full and then exhale slowly, imagining your lungs are being completely emptied. Like a balloon being blown up and then deflated.
The first letter is a rage letter.
Write down everything you would like to tell this person that is contributing to you feeling angry, mad, pissed off, frustrated, annoyed, livid, irate, furious, enraged. “I am mad because….” What feels unfair? What feels like an injustice that occurred? What feels like a boundary violation? How do you feel threatened, attacked, judged, or disrespected? If that angry feeling could talk, what would it say? If that angry feeling could act, what would it like to do?
Don’t hold back. Give yourself permission to say everything you wish you could say and even things you did not know you would want to say. Do not censor yourself. Even if it is strange, inappropriate, something you would never say or do, ect. If it comes up for you, write it down, even if it shocks you. Allow yourself to be ugly, swear, be mean, go off, have a tantrum. Allow yourself to experience this release, to give words to the feelings you are feeling.
To help you feel like you can let loose a bit while you do this, I will share something that came up for me when I did this that was shocking and strange. I wrote down “I wish I could rip your face off, throw it on the ground, rub my foot back and forth over it until it breaks up into little pieces and schmears into the ground, and then poop on top of it.”
Where did that came from, I am not sure, but it was what came up, so I let it out. Would I ever do anything like that, absolutely not. Do I even actually have a desire to do that in real life, nope. Yet it was a way my emotion brain, which speaks to us through emotions, body sensations, and imagery, wanted to convey the anger I was feeling in that moment, so I let it. Writing that down hurt absolutely no one and instead it helped me release the anger of the trigger I was experiencing.
So let yourself go there to. Let it come out of you. Feeling is healing. Plus this is a gift both to yourself and the people around you to release your anger in a healthy way as compared to it building up and coming out sideways either explosively and/or passive aggressively.
Also, only focus your anger toward the person or experience. Saying something like “I hate myself for trusting you” will not lead to the release we are looking for. Change it around to something like “you are the dumbest person I have ever trusted” or “you never deserved my trust.”
Write until it feels complete.
Optional: When you finish, if you would like, stand up and engage in sound, breath, and/or movement as this is what helps move emotional energy somatically. An example of this would be stomping your feet while shaking your hands up and down and taking deep inhales in, while grunting/sighing on the exhale.
The second letter is a sadness letter.
Write down what you would like to tell this person about what is making you sad. “I am sad because….” Write from the perspective of sadness; if sadness could talk, what would it say? What is painful between you and this person? What does it feel like you lost or are losing? What hurt about what happened? What is feeling miserable? What was injured or feels damaged? What is tender, aching, or raw? What feels sensitive or vulnerable? Again, let yourself write it all out without censoring yourself.
Let yourself cry if you feel tears coming and breathe through the tears. Let yourself have this release too.
Write until it feels complete.
Optional: When you finish, if you would like, stand up and engage in sound, breath, and/or movement as this is what helps move emotional energy somatically. An example of what this might look like is deep breathing, rubbing your arms or giving yourself a hug or gently touching your face while you gently hum.
The third letter is a gratitude letter.
You will want to make sure this gratitude is authentic and real to you. Which after moving the emotional energy above, you will likely now have access to feelings of gratitude related to what this relationship/situation has taught you and/or how it has helped you heal and grow. “I feel grateful for….” What do you know about yourself because of this experience? What characteristic trait(s) are you growing because of this experience? What are you learning from this person and/or experience? What change for the better is a result of this? Express gratitude towards this person for being a part of helping all this take place in your life.
This is where a shift in perspective will come from. Allow this to happen.
Write until it feels complete.
When you are finished, acknowledge how huge it is to complete this exercise. It takes courage to face our feelings like this and you deserve to be so proud of yourself for having done this exercise.
Once you are done with all these letters, release them fully by burning, tearing, or shredding them. If you would like to, you can keep the gratitude letter to remember the new perspective.
I hope you find this exercise beneficial. If you are on an emotional healing journey, I believe in you and I am so rooting for you!
Link to the Be You Podcast episode called “Radically Shift How You Feel About ANYONE” released on 12/12/2022: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/radically-shift-how-you-feel-about-anyone/id1536055026?i=1000589836503
Blog by Malinda King, MA, LPCC
Photo by Alina Vilchenko via Pexels