I was sitting in a cafe one day having lunch and amusing myself with people-watching via the large angled mirrors that lined the walls. A young man was dreamily watching two girls at another table, and out of curiosity I turned to look directly at his feet to see which girl he was interested in, as his feet would point towards her. But his feet had a life of their own and they were stretching towards the handbag that one of them had thrown on the floor, ready to drag it towards him. Startled, I said to the girl, ‘watch out for your handbag!’ She grabbed it quickly and the would-be thief swore at me and strode out of the cafe.
Reflecting on this experience, I felt pleased that my understanding of body language had been of practical use but I had to admit I was quite shaken by the venom of the would-be thief towards me. He had bent towards me as he rushed out, hissing his curse and giving the impression he would have liked to have hit me. There was an aura of violence coming from him. When I got home, I wrote him an unsent letter and felt much better afterwards.
Taking it slowly
I was pleased (who wouldn’t be?) that I had prevented a theft, but I had acted quickly with no time for thought and I was shaken by the anger and hatred of the would-be thief. After the immediacy of the experience, it felt as if I went into shock. I didn’t want the experience to remain with me, so I wrote to him with indignation, blame, hope and forgiveness. I told him things I couldn’t have said to his face. The letter will remain in my reflective journal but it helped to imagine that he will read it.
There can be great therapeutic value in writing a letter that is not intended to be sent. The unsent letter can be written to a person, such as a client, patient, colleague or stranger. It could be written to an institution or a governing body. You can take the opportunity to say the unspeakable to the other person without them seeing it, and the expression of your emotion can be very cathartic. It is particularly useful in situations where you haven’t been able to gain proper closure or say goodbye to someone. This might be a patient who abruptly leaves your practice, an acquaintance who dies or someone that you have unfinished business with.
These letters can be positive or negative, but are best if they contain elements of both. My letter to the would-be thief contained hope and forgiveness in the last few lines. Writing negative unsent letters to another person on a frequent basis can serve to entrench bad feeling through self-justification and damage the relationship even further. Writing positive or affectionate unsent letters to someone about your happy memories can make you appreciate them more and enhance the relationship.