You’re working with your therapist or reading a self-help book and it clicks. You come to the “aha” moment and realize, “Wait, this person hurt me. He (or she) really hurt me! It’s not my fault. I do have a right to be angry.” And immediately, you want that person to know. You believe
You’re ready to have that conversation with the one who hurt you.
It’s in that moment that you want to express all the hurt, pain, and anger they’ve caused. You’re feeling empowered, confident. Your chest is pumped up, your body is tensing, and you want to scream from the roof tops. You want this person to know just how angry you are and how much they’ve hurt you all those months, years. You want them to feel it. That you no longer fear them, and they no longer have power over you.
And you have every right too. Absolutely. BUT WAIT.
If you were to do it now, in this moment, when your emotional dial is at a 10, you’re probably not going to get what you really want out of the conversation.
What we all really want out of the conversation is acknowledgment, validation, accountability for his (her) actions, and an apology.
A sincere apology that gives the message, “I hear you and I’m so sorry for the pain I’ve caused. You’re right, I was wrong, and you didn’t deserve it.”
But if you go full speed with a raised voice and f-bombs for minutes on end, most likely you’ll get the opposite. The rolling of the eyes, yelling back in defense. Or worse, turning their back on you and walking away. Only leaving you with more hurt and anger.
Yes, it feels so good to let it out. But this feeling is temporary and soon, guilt sets in. Followed by feeling disappointed in yourself for not living by your values.
So, how do you have the conversation?
Step 1: Make your “Shitty first draft (SFD)” before the conversation – Whether it’s verbal or in writing. This term comes from Anne Lamott who is an author and talks about writing a SFD as part of her process. Brené Brown quotes her as well when talking about identifying and processing the negative stories we tell ourselves. As a therapist, I often ask clients to use it as a tool to get out all the raw emotions and thoughts that have been held in for so long and are ripping at the seams. Here is how Anne describes what the SFD may look like:
“The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him.”
So, first step is to write a letter to this person who hurt you without holding anything back. BUT this letter is not meant to be sent or shared. This is just for you. A tool to further release anger, hurt, and pain. Don’t think too much. Trust that your mind and body already know what needs to be released and it also knows when you’re done. Your hand will stop, and a deep sigh of relief often follows. After, you can decide to keep it and store it away or you may decide to tear it up in pieces and throw it in the trash.
For some, doing this exercise is enough. If you find that you no longer feel the need to have the conversation, that’s okay. For others, it helps to recognize main points they want to get across when ready to have the conversation. Either way, this is a very important step to bring further healing for yourself. “For yourself” is going to be a key point in Step 3 below.
Step 2: Identify main points you want to express – When you’re going in with intense emotions, your mind is often going faster than your words can. You either stumble over words or rattle on without making sense. This is a sure way to lose the person’s attention. Not to mention getting angry out yourself later because you forgot to say this or that.
Hence, take the first step to release all you can. Then take time to decide what you really want this person to know and understand. If there is a long history of events, don’t go through each and everyone. Attempt to summarize an overall emotion and/or how it has impacted you. Beliefs about yourself, others, the world. The impact it has made on your relationships. Make it as concise as you can without veering away from the emotions. Expressing how it made you feel is still a key component of the conversation. An easy script to use is what we call “I-messages,”
- I feel /felt (emotion such anger, hurt, etc.)
- When (what was the action that led to your emotions)
- Because (why it made you feel this way, what was the message you received or the belief about yourself that developed as a result)
When we can stick to “I” and stay away from “you,” it veers away from blame, and therefore, less likely the other will feel a need to defend or attack. Maintaining a sense of safety may keep them listening more attentively and/or longer as well as not easily divert from the topic. Remember, you want them to hear what you have to say and hope for a sincere and positive response. Of course, it will be important to offer the same to him (her) if you’re feeling safe too.
If the topic is being diverted, acknowledge what’s being said and then gently bring it back to the message you’re trying to express. You may have to repeat this a few times. All the while, letting the other know you will give them an opportunity to express as well.
Step 3: Make sure this conversation is for Your healing, not for others – Getting acknowledgment, validation, and an apology is such a huge step in healing when you receive it. You may be surprised that the conversation brings a reconnection, closeness, and the first step to re-building trust. You may have your feelings honored from him (her).
But there is always the possibility you may not. It’s important to go into the conversation knowing this is about expressing yourself to the person who hurt you. Helping them “get it” but going in with the feeling that it’s enough to say it. Say it out loud. It’s not about bashing them or making them feel bad, but instead a last step for your healing by sharing what you want and need another to hear.
Unfortunately, you have no control over how another will respond. You only have control over your actions and therefore, you’re healing. Processing and releasing your thoughts and emotions are essential first for you. Expressing it to the one who hurt you helps bring further closure. You want to be in a place where no matter the response you receive, saying it is enough. For your peace of mind (and heart).
If you no longer have contact with the person, it’s not safe to do so, or they’re deceased, writing the letter as mentioned above can be helpful. Verbally share a summarized version of it with someone you feel safe with. Examples of safe persons may be a family member, friend, coach, therapist, support group members, or pastor.
Be careful to not dive in to quick when you recognize where responsibility lies. Continue to work through it a little longer. Take a moment to consider if it’s still something you need and would like to do. You can always run the conversation by a safe person first and get feedback before having the conversation with another.
If you’re feeling a need to work with a therapist for more practice, understanding, or needing to process more before having this important conversation, please call for a free 20-minute consultation.