This is an article from the 10/19/09 issue of BOTTOM LINE’S Daily Health e-Newsletter.
It describes a tactic I’ve used in the past which has been phenomenally helpful. Write a letter to the person, or, as the author stresses here, even the problem… but it’s not to send, it’s just for YOU. Pour your heart out – don’t worry about grammar or anything else; it’s just for you! Let it ALL out… your anger, your hurt, your loss, your love, frustration, whatever it is, and save it to reread when the problem rears up again. Share with a close friend or relative IF you want to. No rules. Do what helps.
One Letter Solves Most Problems
One of the most common questions people ask life coach Lauren Zander is how to move past areas of their life where problematic issues or emotional blocks are holding them back. These issues can be broad and heavy — fear of death, for example. They also include more mundane matters, such as weight problems, sibling rivalry, relationships with the opposite sex and even personality characteristics, such as being flighty or grouchy. Given how significantly these problems can block people from having the life they really want and how deep the feelings related to the issues are, it sometimes takes some out-of-the box tactics to get past them.
To get to what we think and feel on an unconscious level, Lauren has developed a technique she calls the “Dear Issue” letter, where clients actually sit down with paper and pen and write a letter addressed “Dear Fear” or “Dear Success” or “Dear…” referring to whatever problem area(s) pose difficulties in life. Talking about these matters can be helpful, too, but sometimes it is hard to verbalize all that you’re feeling. Writing a letter, rather than having a conversation, allows you to tap into the very quiet areas of the unconscious that drive your day-to-day feelings. Some might feel this is awkward or even silly. Lauren says it is “incredibly useful and very deep.” The process of writing to this invisible foe provides greater awareness of yourself and your philosophy — this, in turn, will show you the many limitations that you put on yourself. “People can benefit from writing letters to every domain,” says Lauren, who does this regularly in her own life.
TWO LEVELS OF LIFE
Life exists on two levels for all of us, says Lauren. First there is the micro level — your specific feelings about someone or something that are generally well-known to you, for instance how you feel about your ex-husband or father. Beneath that is the macro context, the level that is mostly unconscious yet really drives your attitudes on a given topic — in this case how you feel about men overall. These — your feelings and thoughts at the macro level — are the target of the “Dear Issue” letters. A letter to “family,” for instance, is not about your mother, father, sisters, brothers and children, but rather to what the concept of family means to you. “The bigger picture determines how you function moment to moment, on the micro level,” says Lauren. “People always live in the greater context but often don’t realize it. Your conversations with the larger context through your “Dear Issue” letters will bring an understanding of why the little things in your life are the way they are.”
HOW TO WRITE A LETTER
Lauren encourages clients to write their first letter to an area about which they are fearful — perhaps their health, or a domain that is particularly troublesome, maybe the challenge of managing time. You are looking to surface negative thoughts so that you can figure out how to get rid of them. For instance, Lauren coached a singer who has enjoyed enormous success but has also lived as a slave to his voice. His “Dear Voice” letter described how angry he felt toward his voice and the care it demanded of him — all the fawning, and the soothing treatments and special teas, and his anxiety about how it responded to all this. In fact, he said his relationship to his voice was like a relationship with the “worst girlfriend” he ever had. The letter-writing process led him to see that he was the one creating this drama and he alone could choose to make it different. As a result, he continues to care for his voice, of course, but the fear and anger he had heaped onto it is gone.
The way to approach a “Dear Issue” letter is as though you are writing to another person. Try to personalize the issue by picturing it as a real presence who will listen to what you have to say. For example, let’s imagine writing a letter to money. Again, you are addressing the way you feel about money as a concept, not the number on your tax statements or how much is in your wallet. You might say things like, “I always wanted to have lots of you, but you scared me when I was little because it seemed that the work it took to make lots of you was so hard. I still have some of those feelings even though I am an adult and working…” etc. Tell money what you love about it, what has annoyed you about it… how it has influenced or changed your life. Be very direct in confessing all of your thoughts and feelings about it — or about fear or your career or whatever issue you choose to address. Include memories of situations regarding the issue that affected your life — for example, how embarrassed you were that you didn’t have the sneakers others had in fifth grade because your family couldn’t afford them… or how proud you felt when you could impress a woman on a first date because you had money to spare… or the arguments you and your spouse have because one of you is a spender and one a saver. These examples will help you get comfortable thinking about and talking to the macro issue.
The first few minutes of engaging in this exercise may feel odd and unnatural. You will be surprised, however, at how quickly the experience becomes easy and comfortable, to say nothing of how enlightening it turns out to be. The letters open up insights having to do with what made you angry… what you haven’t forgiven… what is holding you back… and what and whom you are blaming for your problems and misadventures. Lauren notes that “these are insights that are deep and that you are not expecting — but they will reveal a voice in you that is connected to being alive and what you really think and believe and feel.”
If you’re comfortable with it, one way to solidify and make real the findings in your letters is to read them to someone close to you. “When you share your truth and your anger and your feelings about an area, what’s not really true — and why — becomes apparent,” says Lauren.
“Dear Issue” letters are a great tool to use throughout your life — not only to help reveal how you limit yourself but also to see what really makes you happy and how you can expand it even more. “Are you having a ball with being alive?” Lauren asks, “Or are you only having a decent time?” Writing these letters will help you energize your life with insight that will lead you to the next step and ask, “What now?” You may decide the answer is to leave a domain as it is, to tweak it a bit or to make big changes. Through your letters you arrive at what Lauren says is “the beginning of creation — it puts you in charge of making your life what you want it to be.”
Lauren Zander, cofounder and chairman, Handel Group, www.handelgroup.com.