Forgiveness Letters: Powerful Tools for Emotional Release
When you go to therapy, or even when you want to make some personal change on your own, you often want to see results as quickly as possible. You want to find out what to do to be different, feel better, and improve your life. That’s all you care about. However, you tend to forget that your heart (and mind) must be emptied before it can be filled again. For this, there are tools such as forgiveness letters.
You must realize that you can’t create a solid future by ignoring those weak and damaged foundations that have been sustaining you. Transforming implies looking inside yourself, toward the past and those dark corners of your being that frighten you. It’s there that the key to your freedom will be found.
If you’re willing to carry out this brave process, you’ll be interested to learn about the tool we’re talking about today.
Why are forgiveness letters necessary?
Much of who you are is due to the experiences you’ve had in your interactions with others. For instance, the bonds you established with your parents, your early relationships with schoolmates, the first ties with a partner… All of these social opportunities shape you. They either make you feel loved and safe or damage you in a specific way.
As a matter of fact, you tend to harbor resentment toward those with whom you’ve shared certain stages of your life. For example, perhaps you feel that your parents didn’t accept you unconditionally, or that they compared you to your siblings. Maybe the rudeness or aggression you suffered in the classroom still hurts you. Or, being ‘abandoned’ by that partner you planned to stay with forever still causes you pain.
Although you’ve moved on and believe you’ve left these kinds of experiences in the past, in reality, they continue to have an impact on you. Indeed, resentment weighs heavy on you, hate restricts you, and anger can make you sick. Therefore, you need to transcend these stories, learn from them, and start to forgive.
What are forgiveness letters?
When you hear that you must forgive the past, you might feel like completely disregarding this advice. It’s hardly surprising. After all, you’ve been sold the concept of forgiveness as a metaphor for kindness, self-sacrifice, and justification of the mistakes of others. How can you possibly forgive someone in this way who hurt you so much? That would mean accepting their behavior and betraying yourself. In fact, just thinking about it makes you angry.
However, you have to understand forgiveness as being the decision to free yourself from the weight of the past. You don’t do it for others, to compensate them, or free them from their guilt. You do it for yourself so that their previous actions stop controlling your life and having an impact on your present. It’s a gift that you give to yourself that helps you move forward.
It’s not necessary for the other person to apologize or repent. Nor do you have to send your forgiveness letter to them to read. It’s a personal ritual and is dedicated to working on your own emotions. Nevertheless, you’ll be surprised by how powerful it is.
How to write a forgiveness letter
A forgiveness letter has a specific structure. It allows you to carry out a deep and thorough process. This ranges from the identification of your emotions to expression, processing and, finally, release. Here are the steps to performing this exercise:
Identify your emotions
First of all, determine what aspects or experiences of your past marked you negatively. What happened? Who were the people involved?
As a rule, in this search, you’ll find a multitude of relevant experiences with different protagonists. Ideally, you should write a letter to each of these people.
For example, you can start with your mother, your primary bond. Allow yourself to remember everything that you felt was missing from this relationship, that hurt you, or had an impact on you. Once you’ve identified these elements mentally, you can start the letter.
Vent your feelings
Start the letter by addressing the chosen person, as if you were speaking in the first person and make the intention of the letter clear. For example: “Mom, I’m writing you this letter to express what I’ve never been able to tell you”. Next, begin to express and detail all those past events that hurt you and the emotions they made you feel.
It’s extremely important that, at this step, you let yourself go. Don’t restrict yourself or put filters on your words. Remember, no one else is going to read it. Allow yourself to feel and express your anger, pain, sadness, hate, or any other feeling that comes to you. Forget morals and political correctness for a moment and don’t worry about your handwriting or the construction of your sentences either. Just write what comes to you.
Talk about all the experiences you need to, explain how you felt, how it’s been affecting you, and how it continues to do so. Express your reproaches, your desires, and your disappointment. Say how you’d like things to have happened. Don’t censor yourself.
Process your emotions
After you’ve vented your emotions, a process that’s hard and will have deeply moved you internally, it’s time to process those emotions. State your desire and intention to forgive and the reasons why you’re choosing to do so. For example: “Despite all this, today, I’ve decided to forgive you because I don’t want to continue carrying this pain around with me” or “I’m forgiving you because I don’t deserve to live with bitterness in my heart” or”I’m forgiving you so I can move forward without the influence you’ve exerted on me for so long”.
If you’re able to do so, you can contextualize what happened. It’s worth remembering that, as a rule, the people who harmed you are, themselves, damaged. They probably didn’t give you love because they didn’t receive it either. Understanding your past and your circumstances can help you release yourself. You might add: “I understand that you did the best you could with what you knew back then, but today I’m breaking that cycle of pain”.
Learning and gratitude
Several investigations have found that, with this kind of emotional release, many people manage, not only to overcome adversity but even come out of it stronger. In fact, they acquire valuable skills from their experience. This is known as post-traumatic growth.
One of the main keys to achieving this kind of growth is to learn from your experience. You need to be able to see how what you’ve lived through has contributed to your personal development and what it’s taught you. Indeed, never be in any doubt that every situation you’ve ever experienced has taught you something.
For example, if you suffered the wound of abandonment during your childhood, you’ve probably become a more empathetic and loving person. Furthermore, you’ve likely developed the kind of autonomy and independence that others lack. Obviously, you’d like to have been able to avoid your suffering but, once it’s happened, it’s your right to observe and value the qualities that you’ve developed as a result of your pain.
Therefore, this section of your letter of forgiveness is intended for your own learning. It helps you to be able to see beyond your pain and extract lessons from it. To thank yourself for having been able to build something valuable from what you’ve experienced. You might say, for example: “I appreciate that this absence I’ve experienced in the past has taught me to always stay by my own side and never leave myself on my own”.
Use forgiveness letters as a therapeutic tool
Once you’ve completed the following steps, your letter is complete. Now, it’s time for you to get rid of it in a way that’s symbolic and significant for you. You can burn it, rip it up and throw it in a stream, or do whatever you feel appropriate. However, remember that you don’t have to send it. This process is just for you.
Forgiveness letters are excellent for bringing certain stages to an end and for mourning purposes, but also for ‘cleaning up’ the past before starting any kind of therapy. In fact, without this prior step, any attempts at change may not be successful. Thus, even if you’re reluctant at first, feel that it’s not necessary or that it’s too painful, trust in the fact that writing a forgiveness letter will be the first step toward the freedom you seek.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Acero, P. (2012). Crecimiento postraumático y construcción de sentido en la adversidad. Cuadernos de crisis y emergencias, 2(11), 7-12. http://www.cuadernosdecrisis.com/docs/2012/Num11vol2_2012_crecimiento_postraumatico.pdf
- Reyes-Iraola, A. (2014). El uso de la escritura terapéutica en un contexto institucional. Revista Médica del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, 52(5), 502-509. https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/4577/457745484010.pdf