For most of my life I believed that anger was a bad emotion and that I should “discipline” it out of my life — meaning that I should never express my anger to others or speak in ways that showed my anger, upset or unhappiness.
I grew up in a church environment and took everything that was taught really seriously. I saw hypocrisy everywhere I turned though, especially in church and at home. During times when I tried to express myself, people often gave me unsolicited and officious advice which made me feel even more unheard, unseen and misunderstood.
This made me feel really cynical about the church, and yet, it was such a huge part of my social fabric, so it was really hard for me to contain myself when I saw instances of hypocrisy in church.
I tried dealing with my rancour by telling myself I was no better than others and who was I to judge?
But this was a very disempowering message and actually made it easy for me to allow others to cross my boundaries and disrespect me which would eventually lead to deeper hurt.
Judgment is actually necessary for problem-solving, and no one can truly solve your deepest problems, except yourself, but first you need to be aware of your own needs and boundaries.
Over years of being invalidated and unacknowledged, I became insensitive to my own needs for space, love, intimacy and affection. I couldn’t show who I really was to others — and when I did, oftentimes, the rejection I faced made me feel even more wounded — this wounded-ness was something which I often failed to express.
I would leave quietly or noisily, but either way, there was no such thing as ‘talking it out’ and there was always a huge gap between what I wanted to say and express and what was actually understood.
All of this built up over time and led to feelings of resentment. Resentment bleeds into all areas of our lives over time, and what I realise is that conflict is built into all relationships.
What matters is how you deal with conflict and disagreements, and whether or not you and the other party are willing to really address what matters in the relationship.
So, in order to better handle relationships in my life, I took a course on resentment at NICABM (National Institute for Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine. In fact, I’m still in the midst of the course, but I feel I have distilled enough wisdom from the course to share it here.
Anger and sadness/grief are very closely linked.
If you have watched “Inside Out,” you will know that sadness in fact is a very important emotion, and that when you dismiss or invalidate it internally, it can lead to all sorts of unwarranted and bad consequences. Sadness seemed like the ‘loser’ and difficult person but actually her voice was just as equally important as the other emotions, like Joy, Anger, Fear and Disgust.
Similarly, anger seemed like the ‘bad guy’ and always threatened to make the situation careen out of control, however, his role was important too.
What I learned from the course if that anger is ‘adaptive’ and is a red flag for something that is triggering you. It is very important for the individual to acknowledge their anger.
You may not need to express it, but you definitely need to acknowledge it. Mindfully acknowledge what you think and feel about the situation and hold it with tenderness, because there is a fundamental link between grief and resentment. Unacknowledged grief is heightened when others, especially those near and dear to us, do not adequately acknowledge the way we have been wronged, disrespected and overlooked.
There is a real pattern in anger and resentment and it often stems from a clear lack of sufficient acknowledgement of it by others. Society by and large likes to gloss over uncomfortable and painful things, and doesn’t have much grace for angry people, so it’s very easy for others to prescribe things to you and tell you to ‘get over it’ or to ‘let it go’ — they don’t know or understand how hurtful and dismissive what they say is.
In fact, they probably think they’re doing you a favour and showing you kindness by speaking that way. This signals an abject lack of self-awareness on their part — it probably means that they don’t know how to hold space for themselves and sit in uncomfortable emotions.
What is healing and helpful in conversations about anger and pain and resentment is for the other party to acknowledge what has happened to you, and to listen without judgment or prescription.
You’re a person to love, not a problem to be solved.
Resist those to tell you to ‘get over it’
It is important to resist people who are trying to hurry you up to ‘get over it.’ Talk to them about your feelings but remember that how you show up is important. Here are some questions you can consider:
1. Is it worth it talking to them?
2. Do you have the time and emotional bandwidth to explain yourself to them?
3. What do you hope to achieve out of the conversation with them?
4. What can you envision for your continued relationship with them?
5. Remember you don’t have to show up for every fight or emotional hook that you’re invited to.
In some cultures, sadness is seen as weakness and you’re discouraged from showing that. For example, when I cried when I was younger, my mom would often say to me, ‘don’t cry’ and and try to give me candy or something nice to distract me and smooth over the pain I was feeling.
Sure, that took care of the crying, but did that actually deal with the root of the problem?
On time my Dad had yelled at me for being slow to tie my shoelaces (I was six years old) to join him on his evening run and then took off, leaving me feeling abandoned, ashamed and embarrassed.
I ended up crying, but my mom told me, “don’t cry” and handed me a Psalty Worship Cassette tape. I was nicely distracted and that strategy worked in the moment.
However, that incident was never confronted. We never talked about the rift that was created by that episode nor the implications of his actions. I stopped crying because I knew she wanted to comfort me, but none of my feelings about the incident was ever addressed — or the fact that my father was being unkind and mean addressed. I felt like it was my fault.
I learned to hide my anger and hurt and internalised my shame, never learning how to address moments of rupture and pain within the family.
Remember, tears are often necessary for healing and developing emotional resilience. It’s important to cry in a safe space — either alone or with someone who won’t make you feel bad for crying.
In the Bible it says, ‘Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy’ — and a Chinese saying says, “你看见的这个笑是泪灌溉出来的” meaning “this smile is formed from my tears” — the deeper your grief and pain, the more powerful and genuine your smile.
So, let yourself process your grief and pain, and do not despise your tears, or your need to rest.
2. Use Humour
When you are deeply engaged in a conflict, you can also consider using humour to diffuse the situation. Sometimes, it is hard to come to a resolution, so finding something that is mutually funny to laugh about can be useful — situational humour.
However, be careful that you do not minimise the situation or that could drive the pain deeper and mean that the root problem never gets dealt with — humour can diffuse the situation, but use it wisely, or it can backfire on you.
Somethings in life are just not funny and should never be trivialized through humor — you get to decide what those things are.
3. Clarify Expectations
The final tool that you can use to prevent feeling resentful of others is to be clear about your expectations — asking yourself “how do I know if this situation, company or person can provide me with what I want?”
Asking yourself this question will shift the focus from what you want internally, to what can be expected externally. That way you can start to think realistically if your needs and expectations can realistically be met, and what you really want in the first place.
4. The ‘F’ word
For people who have gone through enormous trauma and abuse at the hands of others, I would hesitate to use this word, because you may have heard it thrown around indiscriminately at you and your situation, as I have.
However, the ‘F’ word I’m referring to is ‘Forgiveness’.
Forgiveness must not be rushed, the anger and injustice that was done to you must be acknowledged. However, if there are clear reasons as to why a situation keeps on triggering you, it’s probably better to remove yourself completely from it.
We all know how some experiences can linger on long after the fact; it’s difficult to forgive, but one way to do it, if you wish to, is to create for yourself mental drawers labelled PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE and store those memories that trigger you into the PAST.
Sometimes additional help is necessary: I found that triggering memories of being assaulted by my ex-husband were best dealt with my EMDR — Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing.
I think after all that treatment, objectively, I can acknowledge that what he did was wrong and unjust, however, I also would like to see that he doesn’t harm other women, and that cycles of abuse and trauma are ended.
The anger at the injustice at what I went through propels me to seek change, justice and healing for myself and others.
This is the reason why I write about my own healing journey — to create awareness and break free of the stigma of speaking up about domestic violence and emotional abuse. See, it’s not mutually exclusive, speaking up and moving on. It’s sometimes really important to speak up in order to move on.
That way we don’t carry the burden alone — and others are made aware of the nuances of abuse so that the matter doesn’t get repeated.
Someone once said “Courage is only an accumulation of small steps.”
Sometimes on really difficult days, this is what I tell myself — I’ll take a small step in the direction I know has meaning, purpose and truth.
Sure, some people will judge you or dismiss you, but your message is important for others who need healing, and that can make a world of difference in their lives.
So why not speak up?
Part of finding and giving forgiveness is through communication.
Open yourself up to it and you will find a deeper sense of meaning and connection in life.
Anger is not bad, expressing it is not bad. What is more detrimental is hiding your anger and letting it fester inside — eating you up and causing you mental health issues.
Let it go by speaking up.
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