Writing a letter to your younger self can be a powerful way to heal wounds from the past. Claire Munnings puts pen to paper to find out more…
We’re often told that journaling is a great way to process our thoughts and emotions, and research suggests that expressive writing can be useful when dealing with major life changes, stress or anxiety, and can even reduce feelings of depression. But what about penning a letter to yourself? It might make some people cringe with the supposed self-indulgence associated with it, but according to experts, this process of reflection can be hugely beneficial. When I was asked to try it for this issue of Natural Health, I initially felt nervous. What uncomfortable emotions was I going to unearth? And, was I ready for them? But, with the new year looming, I brushed away my concerns and decided that it was the perfect time for a little self-scrutiny.
To understand more about the process involved in personal letter-writing, I spoke to Nicky Clinch – a transformational life coach who frequently encourages her clients to complete tasks like this. “Writing a letter to your younger self can be a very powerful and healing exercise and, in my opinion, a fundamental one if we really want to heal the relationship we have with ourselves,” she told me. “Often, one of the biggest blocks stopping us from having an unconditional loving and accepting relationship with ourselves is the fact we are holding on to pain from the past. But part of making peace with ourselves now is being able to make peace with all of who we are and who we have been up until now.”
As Nicky explained, it’s important to understand that the mistakes we have made in the past are usually not done so maliciously or with ill intent. She’s a firm believer that we do the best we can with the information we have at the time, and we need to be kind to ourselves with this in mind.
“It’s about taking the time to really acknowledge our younger selves and letting them know that we now can see them more clearly with compassion, love and acceptance” she said. “This creates a feeling of peace and often a big relief. We can start to let go of the blame and judgement we have and start to welcome the possibility of acceptance.”
As someone who often dwells on the past and the way certain events panned out, I was intrigued by how writing could help relieve burdensome feelings of regret, grief and blame. So, what’s the best way to take on this exercise? Here’s Nicky’s step-by-step guide…
Prepare: Make sure you have allocated at least an hour for the exercise in order to give it the respect it deserves. Use a lovely piece of writing paper and a pen and make a choice about the specific time period you want to focus on before starting. It could relate to a part of your life that you’re holding on to shame or pain around, and it could be 40 years ago, or just a few months previous.
Begin: Address your younger self at the beginning and then write the letter directly to her. Start with acknowledging what that younger part of yourself must have been going through at the specific time you are focusing on. Take the time to list all the things you can see now that you were carrying inside. Use the second half of the letter to make amends. Apologise for any rejection, judgment or selfabandonment that took place inside yourself, and explain why you did these things.
Finish: It’s important to finish with making a promise that you are willing to keep. This promise should relate to being more compassionate and more supportive to yourself. Now, sign off with love from yourself. Then put your letter in an envelope, write your name and address on the front and put a stamp on it. Post it when you feel ready, or ask your partner to post it so you don’t know when they do it.
Read: It is remarkable how magical it is when your letter arrives in the post and reading it back to yourself can be very powerful.
Talking to Nicky about this, I could think of several points in my life that I could address – but one stood out. When my mum died in my late 20s, the weight of her death overwhelmed me and I berated myself for all sorts of things – as those mourning often do. But instead of letting myself really feel my grief properly, I threw myself into a new role at work, decided to revamp my house and focused on what my friends and family were doing. I know I’m not alone in acting in this way, but I often feel guilty for the way I forced myself to act during this time.
Addressing the letter to my younger self, I began by describing all the feelings I had at that time – the disorientating and overpowering sense of loss, the anger at the unfairness of death and the regret of all the things I hadn’t said or done.
My mum was brave, strong and incredibly resilient and would always put aside her own issues to ask after others and, as I wrote my letter to myself, I realised that in my actions I was hoping to channel a sense of her, albeit in a slightly skewed way. As the words flowed from my pen – almost without me thinking about them – I came to understand much more clearly that sometimes strength comes from enveloping and accepting your emotions, rather than turning away from them. I told the younger me that it was okay to feel this way and to let others see my pain. I acknowledged that I had not given her the space and time she needed to process the sorrow, and resolved to approach things differently in the future. And then, I apologised to my younger self and comforted her as I would do an old friend. By the time I’d finished and signed my name with love, I’d written nearly a full A4 page of words and a sense of calmness had settled within. With that, I sealed up the letter and laid it by the front door with a stamp attached.
Laying down these words had a profound impact on me and the act of writing resonated deeply. There’s certainly something quite powerful about looking at your own life and speaking to yourself with kindness and love, and it’s not something we do enough.
I’m yet to post the letter, but when I do – and it finds its way back to me – I’ll be retreating to a quiet spot to re-read it and let the words and my self-compassion wash over me.
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