August 3, 2013

How to Let Your F*cked Up Childhood Go.

In the past couples of years, it has become a common practice for some therapists, self-help books, and even well-meaning friends to suggest letter writing as a way of go of painful things of the past.

Many times, these letters are written to parents whose children believed failed them in some major or minor way. Anecdotally speaking, I know a few people who have done this. Most report that it was incredibly therapeutic to do so. The majority chose not to actually send their letters to their intended recipients, but a few did resulting in some interesting consequences.

In one case, a father who was the recipient of such a letter was so upset that he did not speak to his daughter for several months. He even cancelled his annual plans to go out West and visit her and his son-in-law.

In another case, the letter resulted in a son learning more than he ever wanted or wished to know about his dead father. (In this instance, the mother felt that she was being unfairly blamed for what the son perceived as his mother failing to protect him as a child from an emotionally abusive father. The mother believed she had done the best she could under the circumstances and actually shielded the son from the worst of it. Presently, the relationship between the two remains shaky.)

Ultimately, I believe that the decision to share such a letter depends on the situation and the individual who wrote it. I personally believe that there are some things that need to be said and should be said, especially while all the parties are still alive. However, I also believe it’s probably a good idea to think twice before sending such a letter.

Here are some things to keep in mind should you ever find yourself in such a situation.

1. What is your intention?

In other words, what are you hoping to accomplish by doing writing the letter in the first place? Do you want the recipient to know how you feel or are you wanting more such as them to acknowledge that they hurt you and apologize?

If you are are aiming for the latter, be prepared that you may not get what you desire. You may have to let go of needing to hear “I’m sorry.” Often times, we wish or hope that those who wronged us will realize the pain they caused us and show remorse. Sometimes that happens and sometimes it does not. Unfortunately, there are people out there whom we know have hurt us and abused us, but they can look at us straight in the eyes and deny it.

If you are pinning your hopes on getting any of the above, then perhaps it is better not to send it or if you send it, then try not place any expectations on getting anything in return.

2. Try to keep the focus on you and your experience with that person—do not include others even if they give you their permission.

In the case I cited of the son and the mother, the son went on to say that she not only failed him, but his other siblings as well. Generally speaking, it is not a good idea to drag others into your predicament, even if they were there with you at the time. For starters, each person has their own unique experience. I’ve often heard children from the same family give wholly different versions of what it was like to grow up in the same household. It isn’t a case that they were lying. Rather, it’s the case that different people often react differently, even to the same situation.

Furthermore, even if you have someone who was around and shares your version of events word-for-word, they may not be ready to share their feelings or confront the person(s) they feel are responsible. Some people may never get to the point where they are. In the end, it really is about you and what you felt and experienced.

Also, you already have the potential for one family drama. Do you really need another?

3. If possible let, the intended person know you are sending this letter, especially if you want to continue to have a relationship with them.

They say timing is everything and in no situation is this more important than in cases like this. While there will probably never be an ideal time to send such a letter, some times are worst than others such as right after the death of a loved one, a major move, or recent health scare. In most cases, sending such a letter can wait.

If possible, try to let the person know that such a letter is on the way. You don’t have to go into details, but even just a little warning may help them prepare a bit rather than them just opening their mailbox or email and opening the letter with no idea of the contents.

Even if this person hurt you terribly and “deserves” to be hurt, it helps to be the bigger person in these situations lest you end up acting just like them.

4. Once you know the letter has been received and read, wait for them to reach out for you rather than you reach out to them.

This is a hard one because it is possible that the intended may never reach out or wish to discuss the things you brought up. (See #1.) This is something you have to be prepared for if you send such a letter. This goes well beyond any advice I or most laypeople are capable of giving, which leads me to #5.

5. When in doubt, seek a professional.

Friends are great. They can give valuable, helpful advice. However, some things need the kind of help one can only get from a professional. If you are having any doubts at all when it comes to dropping that letter in the mailbox or pressing the “send” button, then it may be a good idea to discuss this first with a pro. Also, s/he may be able to look at it and even suggest narrowing or broadening the focus.

For instance, saying “You hurt me!” is not the same as saying, “You hurt me when you told me repeatedly that I was no good in front of other people or never attended a single play or parent-teacher conference the entire time I was in school.” Also, there may be several issues involved with one person, particularly if it is a parent. (Perhaps that parent was emotionally abusive to you and physically absent a lot of the time as well.) It may be helpful to focus on just one or a few than list every single one and result in a letter that seems to go on forever.

A good professional may also be helpful if things do not go as you envisioned them and/or if there is major fallout.

In the end, all of us who have ever been hurt by those who were supposed to protect us need to have a way to come to terms with what happened and find some sense of closure. For many, getting it down on paper is an excellent way to do so.

However, the decision to send it or not is another matter entirely and may result in consequences you never expected, nor could have prepared for.

It’s often been repeated that closure is ultimately something you have to achieve yourself and cannot be given to you by another person. It’s true. Still, some things are better left unsaid and others are better shared. Only one person can make that decision for you, and good luck in your journey to reach that decision.

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Ed: Sara Crolick

{photo: via Pinterest}


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