Therapy, personal growth, change -- it's all hard work. Making the initial call is definitely the hardest part of therapy, but a close second is that middle stage when you're in the muddy trenches and the end seems far away. This is particularly true for the deep personal work that seems to turn your world upside down -- it's a marathon, not a sprint and like a marathoner, it can be useful to have some energy boosters handy for when you feel stuck, exhaustion creeps in and perhaps you consider giving up.
I recently stumbled across the practice of writing letters to oneself. The idea is that during tough times, words of encouragement can be meaningful, especially if they come from within rather than from an external source. It's like a combination loving-kindness/self-compassion/positive self-talk exercise. I used to be a dedicated six-day-a-week runner (note: USED TO BE, lol) and I often used positive self-talk to get through the challenging days, hills, and the last mile (I also listened to Bif Naked a lot). Repeating "This is just another hill. You've done tons of hills before and you'll do many more after this. It won't last forever. Look how far you've gone already," got me through even when I felt like I couldn't pull it off. So I wondered: could writing a letter to ourselves help us get through difficult times like the middle stage of personal growth and change?
The most meaningful words are your own, written in your own voice. Ideally, a letter to yourself will be written by you, have relevance based on your circumstances and come from a place of awareness and compassion. However, I understand that you might not be in a place where you can find the positive words you need to hear, or the sincerity to write them in a way that will resonate right now. Below you will find a letter that I wrote, which you can modify to fit or use as-is to provide affirmation and hope when you need a boost. It might seem hokey or fake, you might say, "I don't even believe any of this about myself," or argue that writing a letter to yourself won't work because it's like trying to tickle yourself. While I"ll agree that tickling yourself does not work (fun fact: your cerebellum won't let you), I'd encourage you to give this exercise an honest try. If you can, use the letter below as a jumping-off point to writing your own letter to yourself, and if that doesn't come easily just try reading this one every day for a couple of weeks. There is no right or wrong outcome, no success or failure -- this is simply an opportunity to try something different and notice what happens. My hope is that a space will open up where you can say with honesty, "I love myself today."
Love and namaste,
Dear (insert your name here),
You’ve done an immense amount of personal work recently. It’s made you a deeper, richer person. You know things about yourself you couldn’t have learned any way but through living this experience in all its ugly, messy confusion and pain. You know what you’re capable of, what you’d give to something you care about. You know what you bring to the table now, and you didn’t before. You’re no longer afraid or ashamed to ask for the same qualities from those around you.
Would you do it over again? Without a moment’s hesitation. In fact, if faced with a similar struggle in a similar situation, you’ll challenge yourself to consider what more you could give.
You may not be a model, you might have some bad habits, poor manners, or “undesirable” qualities, and a whole lot of complexity. But you’re a person of substance, depth, drive, and commitment. You’re someone another person would be so lucky to know they’d wake up every day feeling like they won the lottery. You want to feel the same. You deserve to feel the same. You will feel the same.
You used to be afraid that if you asked for the qualities that you bring to your relationships that you’d be denied, told you’re too needy, rejected or shut down. Well that’s not you anymore. It’s not about being entitled, demanding or needy. It’s about coming to the table with your whole self to give and saying to those you invite into your life, “You’d better show up too.” And if they can’t, they’re not a bad person, they’re just not your person.
If you don’t believe this yet, read it every day until you do, because it’s true.
(insert your name here)
Blog Author -- Jodie Voth, MMFT
Jodie is a full-time therapist and owner of Voth Family Therapy. She enjoys working with teens and motivated adults who are working through transitions and relationship challenges.