How Handwritten Letters Can Strengthen Your Boundaries

I have a new patient. Let’s call her Sara.

She told me that she has been getting dizzy; this is something she has never experienced before. She said she’s had vertigo and headaches, and the feeling of too much—everything was too much.

I asked her what had recently changed in her life. She admitted she had recently begun a new relationship. For the past four weeks, she had started a new relationship.

And even though the relationship was still exciting and fresh, thoughts of doom and gloom would creep into her mind. She couldn’t keep from worrying about the end before the beginning had even had a chance to settle in.

So I asked her how her previous relationships had ended.


Her previous partner had left, and she didn’t see it coming. And now, that’s the only outcome she can imagine.

Isn’t it sad? Yet, it’s so understandable and human.

Here is what I suggested: I told her to write a letter to her ex-spouse. Write about the things she never dared say in person. Write about the things she cannot say anymore, about her feelings.

Then, I encouraged her to declare aloud that she no longer is willing to carry his load. She will only take responsibility for her part of what happened and part on friendly terms. Just state that you live your own life now, I told her.

The letter is a physical representation of Sara’s intention to set an emotional boundary. She put it on paper to make it real, to take it from the world of thoughts to the real world.

I told her when she had finally written down all she had to say, to burn the letter. Then, wait to see what happens.

I used this method very often for myself and for other patients.

If you think about this doing this yourself, you might notice yourself getting tense or uncomfortable. Yes, it’s easier to lay the blame on another person—even when part of it is ours.

When you claim responsibility for your own experiences, your grip on the past loosens. The ritual burning in the end marks a closure for you. It’s the first sign that you are ready to move forward.

And imagine what can rise up from the ashes!


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Showing 4 comments
  • bruce

    Of possible interest:
    Writing Your Way to Happiness By TARA PARKER-POPE JANUARY 19, 2015

    “The scientific research on the benefits of so-called expressive writing is surprisingly vast. Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory.

    Now researchers are studying whether the power of writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.”

    • Dr. Tiny Jaentsch

      Thank you Bruce. I didn’t know there was research behind it. I felt better when I did it and had the same experience with my patients. Have a great weekend. Love Tiny

      • bruce

        You’re welcome. The credibility of science aside, I enjoy reading your case studies, which are usually woven into a very personal narrative from you, which carries with it its own kind of power. I guess the key to change in this writing technique is in first making a change in your narrative, which seems then to carry into life.

        • Dr. Tiny Jaentsch

          Bruce, that’s exactly it. Yes, it’s like setting an intention to letting go. Rituals work 🙂

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