How to deal with past hurt

Past hurt, couple scowling

Past hurt is inevitable. It is almost impossible to go through life without conflict. There are always going to be people in our lives with whom we don’t see eye to eye.

Marriage break-ups cause more rifts than just those between spouses. Children are swept up in drama, families take sides and friends are forced into awkward situations.

Sometimes there are feuds over money issues, and some people can even bare a grudge for years over a misplaced word or a throwaway sentence.

In an ideal world, perhaps, we would confront these people in our lives. We might sit down and talk it out with them. There might be a row to clear the air. We could seek forgiveness or agree to put the past behind us. These are mature ways to deal with conflict that can and do work for many.

I’ve tried, but the past hurt is still there

But what happens if you’ve done all you think you can do, and nothing changes. The past hurts, and there is no salve or anaesthetic you can put on it.

You find yourself revisiting it, dwelling on it and feeling low because of it.

One very powerful approach is to write a letter.

Find a place where you will be undisturbed. You could go out somewhere peaceful in nature, or a library or a quiet room in your home. Alternatively you might choose a place that you associate with that past hurt. You could go somewhere that brings it all back so that the memories are sharp and clear.

Write a letter to each person that has caused you pain, or that you have hurt in the past yourself. Sometimes it is just as hard to let go of the guilt as it is to let go of the hurt. Explain exactly how you feel. Tell them the truth as you see it. Describe what happened and why. Tell them what you would like to do about it. Be totally and utterly frank.

You can do this because you are not going to send this letter, ever. This letter is for you. This is your opportunity to voice your feelings freely without needing to modify your words or be sensitive to others. You can swear, you can be angry, you can cry. This is all for you, but with the other person clearly in mind.

You will be surprised at how words unsaid can hold you in a place of pain. By expressing yourself on paper you let the words out and release yourself.

Now I’ve written it could I send the letter?

The short answer, as I have said, is ‘no’. This is all about your past hurt. The exercise was about dealing with how you feel and letting go. The letter was written for you. It’s not a letter for the other person or a letter for you both or for you all. This is not a proper communication, it is an outpouring. Sending this letter may express how you feel but it is unlikely to resolve the situation. It could make things worse.

Nevertheless, writing the letter may clarify your thoughts. It may change your experience of the past hurt too, so that you have a new perspective. Things that you write may give you new ways of thinking about the experience.

If, now that you’ve written it, you feel you would like to have another go at healing the rift, there may be another letter waiting to be written that you could send. Consider it, but give it a day or so before you write that letter, so that you are clear about your motives and your goal.

The benefits of letter writing can be very powerful, even for small things that prey on your mind. Write them in your journal, if you are sure it won’t be found, or write them on paper and dispose of them afterwards to be on the safe side. It is the act of writing the letter that does the work.

Robert Sanders is a therapist and life coach, supporting people in their present and helping them create their future.