In the blog post on Restoring Balance with Relationships, do you remember how we learned the DEAR Adult tool to assert, appreciate, and apologize? In this post, you are going to learn a similar tool to continue your healing journey: DEAR Self. In particular, you will be writing a series of letters to your traumatized Self.
Please note: The following exercises should only be completed (1) if you are currently receiving support from a professional counselor, and (2) if you have already worked your way through the rest of the workbook.
Think of one of your traumatic experiences. If this is your first time doing this, do not select the worst trauma that ever happened to you. Instead, chose one to practice with that is not so triggering that it will cause you to relapse in your treatment. The format you will be using to write this letter is DEAR Self.
Recall that the first part of this sequence stands for describe. In the first part of your DEAR Self letter, you will describe a traumatic event that happened to you. You will describe the specific order of events. You will also describe what you experienced with each of your five senses (as many as apply): What you saw, what you heard, what you smelled, what you tasted, and what you felt.
2. Express / Empathize
Remember that the second part of this sequence stands for either express or empathize. Both apply in the DEAR Self letter. Express all the emotions that you felt when the trauma happened, as well as the emotions you experienced after the trauma ended. If necessary, identify the emotions that became frozen, numb, or stuck as a result of the trauma. Since you are writing this letter to the traumatized Self, provide the empathy that you never received at the time.
3. Assert - Appreciate - Apologize
Recall that the third part of this sequence stands for either assert, appreciate, or apologize. In your DEAR Self letter, you will be doing a little of each. First, you will assert to your traumatized Self that what happened was wrong and was not your fault, no matter what someone has told you. You may need to identify an ANT’s that you still believe about the trauma, and the dispute those ANT’s with balanced thinking. Second, you will verbalize appreciation to your traumatized Self for how strong and brave you were to have survived this trauma. Be sure to elaborate all of your positive qualities that allowed you to survive the trauma. Third, you will write the apology that you never received, or that you wish you could have received. You are not apologizing for your own trauma. Rather, you are apologizing that the trauma happened in the first place.
Remember that the fourth part of this sequence stands for reinforce. You may recall that reinforce means to either strengthen something or increase a behavior. In this case, you are going to strengthen your relationship to yourself as well as increase your dedication to the healing process. In other words, you are going to remind, reassure, recall, recommit. You will remind yourself that the trauma is now over. You will reassure yourself that you are now safe. You will recall all the skills you have learned along the way. And you will recommit to practicing these skills for as long as it takes. Another way to reinforce your healing journey is to find purpose in suffering. Ask yourself: How can my trauma be redeemed or repurposed for something positive? Or to help others? What insights about myself or life have I learned from this trauma that I could not have learned otherwise?
Do you recall from the chapter on relationships how important your delivery is? Well I can’t think of any other letter in which your delivery will be more important! Remember that you are writing each part of this letter to your traumatized Self. Therefore, remember to be kind, gentle, and compassionate, the same way you would write to your best friend. In addition, remember to use all of the skills you have learned so in this book. It is especially important to remember to be accepting and non-judgmental.
If at any point writing this letter becomes too triggering, stop this exercise and take care of yourself by using your skills!