Writing Our Wrongs
How many of us have memories of our younger selves experiencing situations, and handling them WRONG? My guess is that it is more than a few of us. We tend to think back on our past, and judge ourselves harshly for how we responded or didn't respond in a particular circumstance. We judge a younger version of ourselves, against what we know now. And that isn't fair.
Today, we look at a technique used to help our present day selves, reckon with a younger version of ourselves, in a loving, kind, compassionate, and understanding way. Listen in as we discuss a style of letter writing designed to bring the past and the present together in a unified devotion of who we were and who we are now.
It's an emotional letter of acknowledgment, validation, appreciation, forgiveness, and reassurance... as we set out, Writing Our Wrongs.
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Writing Our Wrongs
As I sit to write some notes and prepare for this episode, it’s 6 am on a Friday morning. I’ve just finished my morning workout and my brain knows that it’s time to write. I always write on Fridays. It’s my routine. My schedule. My discipline. And I love it and hate it all at the same time.
I hate it because it can feel like pressure. I know that what I write today will be shared with you in a matter of weeks, and I don’t want to do anything less than my best. I want to share something valuable. I want it to benefit you in some way. But I also love it. Because it feels like pressure. Because I’m going to share it with you in a matter of weeks. Because I want to be challenged to do my best. Because I think this is something valuable to be shared. Because I believe it will be a benefit to someone.
I’m writing notes today in preparation of speaking to you about writing your own notes that can impact your life in a mighty way. We are going to talk about writing our wrongs.
First, I think we need to address this idea of the word “wrong”. Because my grey is wanting scream and say, “you can’t just throw out the word wrong. Wrong it too strong a word. It’s too black and white and call something wrong”. And my grey is not wrong in this thinking.
Here’s the thing… when I hear the word wrong, my immediate response is “according to what? According to who? What was the situation?”
And my ability to think like that comes after a lot of healing. A lot that was done by writing. And in turn, writing my wrongs.
Let me explain by using my job. I’m a therapist as many of you already know. I spend a lot of time with the greatest people on the planet. People who are strong, and resilient, and precious, and just amazing survivors. And many of them speak to me about the guilt they carry over decisions they have made in their past that were wrong. Many times, it is about a traumatic event that they experienced, and their reaction to the event, has been judged in their memory as wrong.
In some cases, the event wasn’t the trauma, but their reaction to it has now become what traumatizes them as they try to live their lives, but with the guilt and shame of decisions they made consequently to the experience.
Let me give you an example. And no, I’m not sharing someone’s story… I am speaking generally of what could be someone’s story. Let’s say I am speaking to a 35-year-old person who says they grew up in a home with domestic violence. Or maybe it was a one-time event that occurred. They tell me about a time when they were nine years old and their parents were in a heated argument, and they were loud and harsh words were being shouted and it was very scary. This person was terrified. It started when they were all in the living room watching a movie. This person, this nine-year-old, they froze. They sat still on the couch trying to sink back into the cushions, in attempt to become invisible. The argument continued to grow louder and intensity and then it became physical. The child then jumped up and ran up the stairs and slid under their bed as fast as they could. They lay there still, breathing hard and trembling… all too aware of what was continuing in the living room. They heard objects being broken and both parents’ voices as they continued to fight.
Now years later as they recall the event and their experience of it, understandably traumatic, they seem to focus their attention on the details of their reaction…
I just sat there. I ran away. I hid. And I say, “tell me about that”. I was such a coward. I should have done something. I should have told them to stop. I should have helped my mom. Or I should have helped my dad. I should have stopped my mom. I should have stopped my dad. I didn’t do anything. I was such a coward.
Now who listening right now, would judge this nine-year-old to be a coward? Who would ever listen to the details of this experience being recalled, and before you even heard them say what they thought of themselves and their reactions way back then, would question why they didn’t do something?
We wouldn’t do that would we? No. We would hear a grown person, but see a hurt and scared little one, talking about something that terrified them… and how they failed to fix it.
I talk to so many people in gown up bodies, with little kid hearts, being judged by their own adult minds. And it’s something that has to be sorted out to heal.
What is happening in my office in that moment, is a 35-year-old deciding that a nine-year-old should have reacted like a 35-year-old. And anything less, was a failure. But because they know they “failed” due to fear, they put it together in their own understanding as cowardice. And they carry the guilt and shame… which becomes its own trauma.
My hearts desire at that moment, is to scoop a nine-year-old child into my arms and say, “I’m sorry that happened. I’m sorry you were so scared. I’m sorry your heart still hurts. You didn’t do anything wrong. It was not your job to fix it. It was not your responsibility to make sure that the people in your home were safe. You were not a coward. You did it right. You did a good job. You needed to be safe in that moment, and you knew exactly what to do. I’m so proud of you”.
And you know, I will often say those words. And I hope some of them reach the scared and sad little one inside. But my voice is not the voice that will make a world of difference in this.
If you have a story like this, or a story where you know that you have judged harshly the little one in your past that had to make a decision, who reacted to an event, that had an experience that you are now carrying as guilt and shame, it’s your voice that matters, when speaking to a younger version of yourself.
And I’ll add this, yesterday, you were a younger version of yourself. This is not just about you as an adult and you as a child. This is you struggling with anything you have already said, done, or experienced that was painful for you… and has you now in judgement of being wrong within it.
Maybe it wasn’t a one-time deal either. For me, I know that one thing I’ve had to help my younger version heal from, is cutting. For over 20 years of my life. As an adult now, and a counsellor on top, I could go back and ask myself what was so wrong with me that I couldn’t choose a better way to cope.
But I’d be judging a little girl, a teenager, a young adult who didn’t have a better way when she needed anything she could to survive.
I could judge myself, and I have, over the kind of person I was a young wife and mother. I should have been a better wife. I should have been a better mom. I should have known better. I should have done better.
Go way back and I’d be saying things like, “you were so cruel. You should have known better. You should have taken better care of your brother. You should have stopped them. You should have spoken up. You were so selfish. You only worried about yourself. And you didn’t even do a good job of keeping yourself safe”.
I don’t know one person who would ever say those things to me. But I didn’t need to, to hear them. I had become the loudest voice in my ears, and I was not kind. I was not understanding or empathetic, or compassionate to my experiences at all. I was harsh and judgmental and really, unfair.
When the loudest voice in your head has been you, and it’s been you in an unkind way, the best voice to counter that and correct it and set out to heal it, is you.
A long time ago, I started writing my wrongs. I ask my clients to write their wrongs. I tell my kids to write their wrongs. We all need to do it. And this is how.
Write a letter to little you. Acknowledge the situation. Acknowledge the thoughts, feelings, and reactions to it. Validate them. Validate them all. Say thank you. Build-up and encourage. Forgive. Reassure. Share where you are now.
And I know that sounds like a lot. That can sound intimidating to write. But once you start, it just unfolds. You can have the list beside you of what I suggest including, but as you go through it, the words will write themselves as you begin to heal in a way no one else can do for you.
It’s not proper spelling or grammar or punctuation. It’s two hearts coming together. Like this.
Dear little Tina,
Today has been a hard day. I know you’re feeling extra guilt and shame today because that old memory popped up again. I feel your heart ache, your stomach go into knots, and the butterflies in your chest. I know it makes you feel bad about yourself, but I know it also makes you scared that others feel that way about you too. They don’t. But more importantly, I don’t.
This is the thing, and I need you to believe me… you were just a little girl. You weren’t supposed to know what to do. You weren’t born with a job, so there was nothing you could fail at. You weren’t one of the big people. You weren’t in charge of keeping everyone safe and keeping everyone happy. You didn’t let anyone down.
As a big person, I have called you names and told you that you were stupid and that you made terrible choices. I’m sorry. It wasn’t true. I was hurt and I wanted someone to blame, and I thought blaming you was the best. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t fair. You didn’t do anything wrong. I know you did the best you could with what you knew about yourself and life and the people around you. You did the best you could to be safe, and you did it the best ways you knew of. I don’t blame you for any of that. In fact, I want to say thank you.
I need to say thank you. You deserve to hear thank you. You did so good. You were so brave. You were scared but you kept going. You stayed alive. You stayed here. I’m here because of you. I get to live a better life now because of you. You took care of us. You took care of me and let me get here. Right here. To be able to write this to you.
And I need you to know, that thanks to you, we’re ok. We are. We are doing pretty good actually. Of course, we have lots to keep working on. Cause you protected that stubborn streak and that sharp tongue, thank you…
There is so much I love about myself and my life now. And I would have never been able to if it weren’t for you taking care of us. And I know there are a couple of things that you are so ashamed of. You just aren’t going to let me validate them and tell you that I understand… and that they weren’t wrong. So let me say this to those things then – I forgive you. I don’t want you to carry that anymore. I don’t want to carry that anymore. We don’t deserve to.
I want you to relax. To be at peace. I want you to be proud. I want you to hear me say that I think you are amazing.
I love you little Tina. I truly thank you for taking care of everything for me and letting me grow up to take care of you. I know how precious you are. I’m going to work hard to make sure you always know that. You deserve it.
All my love,
Do you have a letter you need to write? A few letters maybe? To a different you in different situations at different ages and developmental stages?
Because it is the truth. You are a different you all the time. It’s the same beautiful core, but in different experiences, with different understanding, knowledge, wisdom, and perspective.
We have to be really careful not to judge, based on what we know now, a previous version of ourselves who didn’t know what we know now.
Or in simpler terms, we have to be careful that we aren’t judging a nine-year-old, for not knowing what a 35-year-old knows.
We have to be careful not to be calling out the WRONGS, in someone who may have had no other option. Not that they could see. Not that they understood. Not that they had access to.
If you are listening today thinking of specific wrongs that you have been carrying, wrongs that have been plaguing you with guilt and shame in a younger you, a previous version of yourself… I’m sorry.
You do not have to carry that. You don’t deserve to carry that. I invite you to sit and make a list of things to include in your letter. Press pause and grab a pen. I’ll list them again right now.
Got a pen? Ok, write these suggestions down for writing a letter to little you. Try to include:
· Acknowledgment of the situation/event/experience
· Acknowledgment of thoughts/feelings/reactions/decisions made
· Validations of thoughts/feelings/reactions/decisions made
· Building up and encouraging
· Sharing where you are now and that you are ok… even if still working on lots of healing
I encourage you to write your letters. Lift the pain and guilt and shame that you’ve been carrying for too long, over wrongs that weren’t wrong.
Write your letters, so that you can write your wrongs.
You deserve this. You deserve all the goodness you can get. I love you guys. I love sharing with you. Can’t wait to be back next week.
Until then, this is good-bye for now, and we’ll speak again soon.