Writing a letter “to” your toxic or abusive parent can be healing. It can bring a lifetime of memories and emotions to the surface, allowing you to examine them and work through them.
Although I feel like I’ve already reflected on my past plenty already, there are many things I still haven’t truly come to terms with. For instance, I’m aware of how my past affected my present and the effects of the abuse I’m living with. But there was still something nagging at me.
I realized that I never got to say my piece to my mother. I never truly told her how I felt or the effects her actions really had on me.
I’ve tried on many occasions to tell her my side or to get through to her only to be constantly interrupted and have everything turned on me. It was frustrating, upsetting, and frankly, pointless, to talk to someone like that.
When I read Mothers Who Can’t Love, the author, Susan Forward, said that writing a letter to our parent is the most direct and effective way to get to the core of our relationship with them.
By writing a letter, we can tell our side of the story without fear of criticism, contradiction, or interruption from our parent or anyone else.
Many of us likely reflected a lot about our past already and we might think we’re in touch with what happened to us. And maybe we are. But writing a letter can still bring new clarity.
Writing my letter, which I’ll mention more about later, made me realize some things I didn’t before.
Please note that writing this letter is simply a way to process your trauma and come to terms with some things. It’s a way to tell your side with no backlash. The letter you write is not meant to be given to your parent.
The Letter Template
As you write your letter, a lot of different emotions will come up. Whatever those feelings are, they’re completely valid. It may be hard to experience, but you’ll work through it.
Please take all the time you need to work on this. Don’t push yourself too hard and go at your own pace.
As you write, try not to worry about grammar, wording, or anything like that. Try to avoid self-censorship or holding back. If it helps, physically write this letter with a pen and paper. Just let the words flow out.
This process is for you. It’s okay if it sounds messy or unorganized. If you really want, write everything out first, then come back to edit it after if you really want to “polish” it. But first, just let yourself express everything with no hesitation or fear.
Forward designed the letter in a structured way to make it easier for us to get to the core of our negative experiences and what continues to haunt us today. This letter is divided into four parts.
However, you don’t have to strictly follow this template. As you write, your thoughts and feelings might be all over the place. The template can help you get your thoughts in order and give you some direction on what to say. But don’t let it hinder your expression.
As I was writing my letter, I realized it’s easy to have the different parts spill together. As long as you work through each part, it’s okay if the letter isn’t how it’s “supposed” to be. The point of this is to help you, not restrain you.
Part 1: “This is what you did to me”
In this part of the letter, get out all the experiences, feelings, and thoughts that you have bottled in. “This is your moment”, Forward says. Tell your story and don’t downplay it.
“This is what you did to me” is bold, honest, and direct. It’s not meant to be gentle or polite. Your parent’s actions hurt you. Tell them how it hurt you.
Things that were extremely important and harmful may seem small to you because you’ve suppressed them so much. So try to write down the “little” things, too, if you can.
Writing everything down might help you gain access to memories you’ve previously pushed away. Being able to access those memories allows you to explore them further.
As you write, it may feel like you’re engaging in self-pity. But in this case, that’s okay. It’s okay to feel sorry about the things you missed out on. You went through a lot. The important thing is to get it all out now so it won’t manifest in negative ways later.
Part 2: “This is how I felt about it”
As you go through this process, strong feelings will inevitably come up. Take this chance to try to look more closely at how you felt as a child.
Were you sad, furious, lonely, terrified, ashamed, unloved, burdened, exhausted, trapped, bullied, manipulated, ignored, and devalued? Did you ever feel worthwhile, smart, safe, understood, carefree, happy, important, loved, cherished, and respected?
This part of the letter is dedicated to helping you stay with your feelings rather than push them away like you might’ve been doing all this time.
Additionally, try to focus on feelings rather than thoughts. Recognize the difference between statements starting with “I feel” and “I feel that”. Think about “how did it make me feel at the time?”
Every remembered feeling is valid and important. Some emotions and their intensity might also surprise you. And if you feel overwhelmed at any point, take a break. There’s no need to push yourself.
Part 3: “This is how it affected my life”
This part of the letter focuses on the connections between what happened to your younger self and the choices you’ve made since then. You may have reenacted a lot of your upbringing without realizing it.
Describe the negative, even toxic lessons you’ve learned from your parents. Explore how they’ve affected different aspects of your life – personally, professionally, and romantically.
Think about the self-defeating choices you’ve made so far in life and how what you learned from your parents could’ve shaped those choices.
Do your best to notice connections between then and now and how the past is connected to the present.
Part 4: “This is what I want from you now”
The first three parts of the letter focus on how your parent treated you and the harm it has done. It shows the amount of influence they had and continues to have on your life.
However, you are someone who can shape your own life.
In this last part, try to tell your parents what you want from them now. Putting into words what you want from someone who has hurt you can be empowering.
You may not know what you want or how, and that’s okay. There’s plenty of time to think about it. Besides, you can always change your mind. Or maybe you don’t want anything at all, which is valid, too.
Try to go from where you are now and see what it’s like to state your preferences in an honest, direct way. Try to remain assertive.
For example, instead of saying, “Let me be myself”, say “I want you to accept me for who I am”. Using words like “let” shows that you’re still asking for permission.
This part of the letter is not about asking for consent or approval on what you want. You are directly stating what you want.
Writing this part might seem scary. You might not think you have the right to shift the balance in the relationship. But you do have the right to decide what you want regardless of what you were taught or told.
After Completing the Letter
Once you finish your letter, Forward recommends reading the words aloud. She said writing is only 50% of the work while reading it aloud is the other 50%. It allows you to literally hear your truths.
You can read it aloud to someone you trust, someone who will not judge or discount your experiences. It can be a therapist or a loving friend or partner.
After reading, you can simply burn the letter or delete it forever. It is not meant to be sent to your parent. And please do not send it to them. Writing this letter is for you, not for them.
Giving your parent the letter would likely cause more harm than good. Abusive people are unlikely to recognize their own mistakes or feel any remorse over what they’ve done.
If they do receive your letter, they will likely turn it around on you. They’ll find a way to blame you for their actions. They will make it your fault. So please do not give your parent the letter. Don’t let them discredit and invalidate everything you’ve worked on so far.
If you insist or eventually decide to give them the letter, please be prepared for possible backlash.
Writing My Letter to My Abusive Mother
I’ve known about the letter-writing exercise for a while. Although I’ve written countless emails and texts to my mother, hoping for her to hear me out, I’ve never written a letter like this – uncensored, direct, and unafraid. Before, I was always holding back.
But with this letter, I was able to truly express what I felt. I was able to, in a way, finally tell her off for all she had done to hurt me and others I cared about.
You can read my letter here. I’ve tried to cover each part of the template at least somewhere in the letter. I also tried to remove anything that seemed like I was fawning or asking for permission. So I know it’s not exactly following the template, but that’s okay.
I’ve made the decision to share my letter to remind you that you’re not alone and not to be afraid to write one. It’s also my way to finally say my piece without interruption, blame, pity parties, or anything else from my mother.
I’ve kept off some details that might be identifying or triggering. Though it is still long, I didn’t write as much as I probably could’ve. But for your own letter, write as much as you want. You can also go back and add to it whenever.
Once you start writing, you might have trouble stopping. That’s okay. Let yourself write. Get it all out. It’ll hopefully help you feel better as well as gain some clarity.
If at any point while writing the letter you end up unlocking some painful memories, it’s okay to stop and work through them.
Writing this letter can be overwhelming. It’s not something you have to do alone. You can confide in a trusted person to be with you or connect with a certified therapist to help you through this.
And if writing the letter seems to do more harm than good for you, please feel free to stop. This exercise is not everyone’s cup of tea. If it’s not working for you, feel free to try other methods to process your trauma.
As I say time and time again, this healing journey is yours. Different methods work for different people. Please don’t force yourself to do something that doesn’t seem to benefit you. It’s totally okay if this is too much or just not working. Remember, your feelings are valid.
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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with a physically and emotionally abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.
I am always trying to better learn, understand, and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this healing journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda, a place where others who faced childhood abuse can hopefully find support, resources, and motivation to begin healing.
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