My INFJ personality, my Scorpio sun sign, and my passion for writing all predispose me to be an avid journaler. Sitting down by myself and scribbling about my feelings, questioning my identity, introspecting inward—these things come naturally to me, just like how it’s natural for other people to command a room’s attention and and lavish in entertaining onlookers (which would be something of a nightmare for me).
However, I believe that journaling can benefit almost anyone; even if you don’t consider yourself a “writer,” even if you’re not accustomed to reflecting on your feelings, I think that journaling can be a beautiful and perhaps necessary practice of self-discovery.
Throughout the course of this year, I’d like to write about various journaling tips I have to share, which I think will help people beginning their journaling journey as well as those who have been longtime journalers. Today’s tip: writing love letters to your younger self.
Preface: Come as You Are
Before I explain what I mean by this, allow me to set the mood: drop your expectations, turn off the pressure, take a deep breath. If you’re new to journaling, you might be nervous to start, or if you haven’t journaled for a while, you may feel unmotivated to get back into the habit. That’s okay, but journaling is a “come as you are” activity. Much like yoga, all you really need is yourself and a moment in time.
Journaling at all is more important than journaling perfectly. In fact, there really isn’t even such as a thing as a “perfect” journal, because every person is different and our journal is an intimate reflection of our individual qualities. Handwriting, format, notebook, writing utensil—all of these things vary from person to person. Moreover, our journal exists only for us, and so we don’t have to worry about external pressures or judgmental eyes critiquing what we’ve written, because our journal is just for us! We don’t have to prove anything when we journal, we just have to show up. The point of journaling is the practice, the action of writing about yourself and your feelings—not the end result.
And so by reminding ourselves that there’s nothing at stake when we journal, there is nothing to lose, this can encourage us to stop thinking “I should journal” and motivate us to actually pick up the notebook.
If you’re thinking, “Yeah, but what do I journal about?” look no further! I have just the prompt for you:
Dear Younger Me
A love letter to our younger self can be an incredibly healing experience, and because it’s so unique to each person, I can only guide you so far. For example, you could just as well write a love letter to your present self or future self, but I’ve chosen to focus on younger self because I’ve found for me, this is the most beneficial.
We carry a lot of trauma in our body and our brain. Even if we think we don’t, if we’ve never addressed past wounds, there’s a possibility that we might even be denying to ourselves the impact external forces have had on us over the course of our life. Of course, different people have different qualities of life, so what may be traumatic for one person (such as being embarrassed in public once in fourth grade) may be just another mundane moment in someone else’s life (such as someone who may be physically abused on a daily basis).
But even though there are people who have suffered “worse” than we have, that doesn’t mean our pain doesn’t hurt us, too. All we have is our own experience, and we have to work with what hand we’re dealt. Our pain is valid. Our pain is real. And our pain has to go somewhere, and we each deal with it in our own way—some of us ignore it, others take it out on those weaker than them, some seek therapy, others use substances, and a myriad of various coping mechanisms.
And we must cope because our inner child lives within us every moment of our lives. Even though we’ve grown and evolved, that younger version of us is the root of who we are. It may seem like 5-year-old you has died and present-you has risen from the ashes, but 5-year-old you is still inside you. Our childhood experiences have a huge impact on us, and if we leave our trauma unresolved, it can manifest in ways that hurt us and others, without us even realizing it.
Writing a love letter to our younger self can be an incredibly healing experience. We can say all the things to ourselves that we’ve been waiting for the world to say to us. How long have we waited for someone else to say they love us? That we’re good enough? That we are beautiful? That we have value? We’re desperate for someone else to validate us, we long for the world to give us permission to be happy, but sometimes we don’t realize that we don’t have to rely on external forces to grant us approval.
Here is an example of what our love letter could look like:
Dear younger me,
I know you are hurting. I know you are angry, impatient, misunderstood. I know you feel like your world is small and you are restless, so restless, to get away from this town. I know you hate yourself and you don’t understand it, that you’re afraid of yourself and you don’t know how to keep going through life’s motions while under the weight of your turbulent emotions.
You don’t know me, not yet, but I want to tell you I love you. I know you resist hope, but I promise you, things get better. Life is not always easy, and transitions are intense for you, but you have a future. You see mountains and oceans and sunrises and laugh with beautiful people and eat amazing food and hear divine music and it is worth sticking around for, I promise. I know it’s hard to imagine, I know it’s hard to be patient, but you have to keep your chin up.
I love you. You are lovable. You are good enough. You are beautiful. You don’t have to prove anything. You have time. Enjoy what you can. It’s all a lesson.
I forgive you.
When I say “love letters to yourself are healing,” I mean it. I only wrote this letter for the sake of this article, and yet I shed a few tears while writing the second paragraph. I’ve written several love letters to my younger self (and although granted, I’m a crier), it’s always an emotional experience.
Getting Started on Your Love Letter
If I say “Write a love letter to your younger self,” some people may be able to take that idea alone and run with it, while other people need a little more guidance. So here are some things we can consider when doing this exercise:
First, imagine yourself at a specific age. Some of us go through many phases in life, and so it’s helpful to narrow down who we’re addressing in this letter. My letter to twelve-year-old me would sound a lot different than my letter to twenty-one-year-old me.
Put yourself in your old shoes. (Figuratively, of course.) What things did you want at that age? How did you spend your time? What did you think about? Where were you? What were your greatest struggles/accomplishments? What were your dreams? Who was closest to you? How did you speak to yourself? How did you treat others? This process can trigger memories or experiences that we’ve since forgotten.
Validate your past self. In your letter, acknowledge the pain you felt. Even if you were “wrong” in the past, we cannot change what has already transpired, yet hindsight is 20/20. Oftentimes, feeling “misunderstood” can cause us pain, so point to your scars and say, “I see you. It’s okay.”
What advice would you give your younger self? Think about what experiences you’ve had since you were that age, the highs, lows, and in-betweens you’ve been through. What have you learned since you were that age? How have you changed? Are your values different?
What was younger you desperate to be told? For many of us, we crave to hear affirmations from the external world such as “I love you,” “It’s not your fault,” or “You are enough.” Perhaps as you write this part, you realize that these are things you still yearn to be told. This is the part of the letter I find (for me) is especially emotional. Do not hold back here; this is an opportunity to comfort your younger self in a way that may have never been satisfied.
Forgive yourself. Even for those who have had “good” lives, there is often some feeling of regret or guilt that we cling on to, whether small or large. There are so many reasons to forgive our younger selves—for an accident, for a transgression, for not loving ourselves well enough in the past. Verbalize this forgiveness—or, if you are not at the point of forgiveness yet, explain that. “I am not ready to forgive you yet, but I hope one day I can.” This can open up the door for further journaling sessions.
This love letter can long or short, but what’s important is that you write it however feels best for you. If words are tricky, perhaps you find that the barest of sentences suffice; if you are feeling the words flow, perhaps you write several pages.
After you write your first love letter to your younger self, you may feel better or you may feel worse, but please keep trying it. Perhaps wait a week or two, and write another love letter to yourself at a different younger age, or approach it again from another state of mind. While this love letter exercise can be very productive, healing is not linear and the years keep stacking up, so there will always be younger versions of yourself to write letters to. Write as many as suits you, but don’t feel discouraged if you struggle with it. That’s what journaling is for, to practice a dialogue with ourselves, our emotions, and our memories.
Yes, we all carry wounds, but the point of journaling is to reconcile those wounds—old and new—so that we can begin to heal ourselves and be better in this present moment. Journaling can give us a better perspective of ourselves so that we understand why we feel the way we do, and so that we can grapple with our emotions in a healthy, safe way that doesn’t harm anyone else or ourselves.
Nobody can empower you like you can empower yourself. And once you empower yourself, no one can take that away from you: that is your truth to live.
Please comment if you have any questions or if there are any topics you would like to see me cover!
If you’d like to hear me speak about this along with five other journaling tips, check out this video from Slanted Spines YouTube channel: