Say the Unspeakable: Writing an Unsent Letter

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Have you ever been in a situation of conflict with another person where you have so much you want to say but your thoughts and feelings are too messy to untangle or too barbed to speak aloud without causing harm?

Often we need a safe way to release emotions that have built up towards someone else, whether that is love, fear, anger, frustration, grief or a combination of any of these.

There may be a person or people, real or fictitious, in your present, past or even future that you want to say something to that you would never dare to say aloud – your most raw feelings, your darkest thoughts, your oldest truths.

Writing a letter to that person, a letter which you have no intention of ever sending, is a simple way to address him/her, to reveal your perspective on a particular situation, conflict or relationship dynamic. Because you are not going to send the letter, you can say whatever you like, no censorship is required.

Kathleen Adams writes in Journal to the Self:

Unsent Letters are marvelous tools for the “three C’s” – catharsis, completion and clarity.

Often in a situation of conflict, there is a lot of excess baggage that I carry around – words, phrases and whole monologues might cartwheel around and around in my head, not really getting me anywhere but keeping me embroiled in my spiral of (often negative) thoughts.

By writing an unsent letter, I can off-load some of the baggage onto the page, I can put it somewhere outside of my head and allow more opportunity for constructive thought and communication. This release is such a relief and diffuses even the most tense of communications.

Writing a letter can also bring closure to a situation or relationship that remained unfinished for whatever reason, or to shift out of an unhelpful dynamic that keeps playing out.

While a dialogue is two-way, the letter is a one-way communication. It allows you to say everything without interruption. There is something very satisfying about addressing the ‘recipient’ directly, which allows for a very frank disclosure.

In the past I have written unsent letters to my mum, my first love, my unborn child, an estranged friend. I have invited expectant mothers to write a letter to a caregiver from a previous pregnancy who played a part in a stressful or traumatic outcome. No matter how intimate or impersonal the relationship, an unsent letter can be an effective tool for catharsis, clarity or completion.

Give it a go…

There may be a context in your life right now that warrants sending an unsent letter to someone. Try writing everything you feel or think about the situation, spill all the mess onto the page – no holds barred.

Or if there is nothing current for you, you can think about an unresolved ending or irritating scenario from your past about which many thoughts have gone unsaid.

Afterwards, you may wish to destroy the letter – burn it, tear it up, bury it. If not, it is yours to keep as a reminder of this process.

Feel free to share any thoughts or feedback on your experience of writing an Unsent Letter here in the comments.