Texts to Nowhere

Hey, asshole!!!!! For how long had you been planning this? To just leave me standing and waiting at the station like a complete idiot while you never even intended to show up? To leave me wondering whether it’s because of another woman or because you’re just an insensitive coward? I hope you’re satisfied with how you pull out after more than a year, leaving me alone with my feelings and your empty promises. Too bad. Good luck with your new life, and thanks for nothing!  

Anyone who has ever written such a message may now join me in a virtual toast. I guess there are quite a few of us. Since now many of you probably get red ears or cringe in memory of messages like this – I can reassure you: We have all been there. The thing is: Texts, letters and messages of this kind are determined mainly by acute feelings of hurt, anger and maybe even the desire for revenge. You want to – no, you have to! – make it clear to the other person what he or she has done to you. And that is usually not a nice thing.

We all know the saying, “Dance as if nobody’s watching”. The same goes for angry messages. But while dancing is always lovely, especially when you let your feelings run free, when it comes to writing, emotions are not transformed into movements. Usually, they end up on the paper in a tenfold blast. Or on the other person’s screen. And then, after a few hours or days, when the anger has finally subsided, you regret the perhaps unfair accusations or wild insults you hurled at the other person. Now, one could suppose the simplest solution would be to just stop writing down the anger and deal with it in another way instead. But, unfortunately, the negative feelings would then only be buried and risk reappearing during the following argument. However, there is a way to turn anger into something positive, even healing, without the shame about one’s own loss of control. Losing control can bring good things – if you do it in a controlled way.

We all know the saying "Dance as if nobody's watching". The same goes for angry messages.

The first part of the trick is to write as if no one would read it. Just write away, including insults and vendettas. Put it all out there. If you write as if no one is reading, two miraculous things happen:

We give vent to our thoughts, fears and emotions. Finally, being able to say precisely what we feel – without taking the other person’s reaction into account – can be incredibly liberating.

Secondly, and this surprises me anew every time, we learn much more about our own emotional world than we were even aware of before. We all feel lost in the jungle of our thoughts from time to time. For example, we are angry with our partner and can’t really grasp the reason because there is so much that causes our anger. Or because the reason for our anger may not lie within the other person but within ourselves. When we write down our feelings, we often find out more about ourselves than about the person we are writing to. Not only is this liberating, but it often shows us the way out of that anger without anyone else having to contribute. By writing down one’s feelings, one becomes their own best friend, with whom one can share and consult.

By writing down thoughts, feelings and fears, we unburden our system. Emotions we put into words are more tangible to us, becoming more understandable and less threatening. As a result, we feel less blockaded and can let go of the negative feelings more efficiently and sustainably.

By writing down thoughts, feelings and fears, we unburden our system.

This is the next step: It will feel incredibly relieving to have finally gotten rid of everything that’s burning on your mind. But now it’s essential not (!) to let the written word out into the world. Because (you guessed it), the trick is to write letters that won’t be sent. Or at least not for the time being.

Once that letter is finished, I put it aside for a good while. For a few hours or a few days, depending on how I feel. The next time I pull it out, let’s say the next day, something interesting strikes me. Now that the anger has faded slightly, perhaps making room for other feelings, I would immediately have written some passages of the letter quite differently. And that’s what I do. This is the third part of the trick. Put the letter and a new sheet of paper in front of you and rewrite it from the beginning.

By repeating this procedure several times in a row, maybe taking a week to write a message that you would typically have typed in a few minutes and then hastily sent, you point the way to the core of your anger, your hurt, and your desires. And far away from mere insults and accusations.

In the end, you have a few lines in front of you that more or less resemble the first letter. But what you also have is clarity: about your feelings and what you would really like to say to that other person.

Hey. I hope you are doing well. It’s been almost a week, and I still haven’t heard from you. I guess you had your reasons, even if it is inexplicable to me why you would hide them from me. Somehow I had assumed whatever this was between us was a matter of affection and respect. Anyway, I’m still offering to explain yourself if that’s what you’d like. I think it would be appropriate. And I miss you. 

Whether you now send these lines or not doesn’t matter much in this self-experiment. The process of getting here is what’s important. The letting go, the clarification of thoughts. What remains has been edited, revised and approved – it can be sent to its initial recipient without hesitation. Or burnt. Or locked away. No matter what, it will feel right, I promise. Just do what’s good for you.