Holding anger is a poison…It eats you from inside…We think that by hating someone we hurt them…But hatred is a curved blade…and the harm we do to others…we also do to ourselves. Mitch Albom “The Five People You Meet In Heaven”
A lot of my life I spent being angry at people and holding grudges, especially for the ones I felt I could hang the conditions of my life on. I became expert at blaming others. To a large degree I was an animosity collector and used my compilation of grudge and anger as justification for my behavior. I reasoned why I behaved in an incorrect manner was because I had been hurt and wronged. With those words typed out on my screen now, it is so simple to see such thinking goes compoletely against reason and logic. Yet, in my thoughts I had no problem creating and accepting fake facts created out of nonsense and living in a self-created sort of survivable insanity.
If a person hurt me, given some time the anger simmered into a thin, but strong thread of feeling within. When someone else wronged me, the fiber of that hurt was spun into another thread. A “fabric” of negative emotion was created when these threads were combined and over time woven tighter and tighter together. That emotional ‘clothe’ became a blinder that shrouded a good deal of my view of life. What colored the fabric I created? Fear!
Wikipedia says Fear is a distressing negative sensation by a perceived threat; a survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger. In short, fear is the ability to recognize danger leading to an urge to confront it or flee from it. This description fits well how I was able to keep old wrongs done to me so fresh and alive within. I would not let them go. Fear became the sustenance that fed my anger and grudges which I was constantly either fighting or fleeing. No wonder I lived in a constant inner emotional storm.
Psychologists say “fear is anger turned inward”. Today that resonates true with me. From experience I can readily see who it was that suffered most for bitterness I held within for others. It was me! I hurt myself by keeping other’s wrongs so alive within me.
Looking back I can see the steps I had to take to bring healing to old wounds I had kept infected, sometimes for decades.
1 – Acknowledge: The beginning of healing was bringing the grudge and anger to the surface and expressing it. I had to move past just thinking about it. The beginning of healing was to relieve the pent-up pressure by writing about the wrong done to me or speaking about it to an understanding person. Usually I did both.
2 – Acceptance: Just writing or speaking about my anger did not cure it; those actions served only to bring the pain to the surface. To move on I had to accept my feelings, and see more tangibly the depth of my emotions. Letting myself accept that is was OK to have felt what I did was a beginning.
3 – Letting go of expectations: Coming to realize that expecting remorse from others was a waste of time was a big step. I had to come to know an expectation like that was one of the ways I kept old pain alive in the present. Some things never make sense no matter how long they are pondered. To stop expecting logic to make sense of things was another giant step in the healing process.
4 – Forgiveness: Forgiving someone didn’t exempt them from their actions. It didn’t change the facts. I came to know that even though I had been legitimately wronged, forgiving did not mean I had to forget. It did mean that I had to acknowledge the humanness of life, that all people make mistakes and do wrong things. In the process came the discovery I needed to forgive myself just as much as others.
5 – Stop feeding the fire: Once a fear/wrong/grudge was acknowledged and accepted, expectations had been let go of and forgiveness found, a personal commitment had to be made to not “feed the fire”. I had to move on and stop thinking or talking about what happened. When an old wound surfaces I mentally change the subject. If someone brings it up, I explain that’s in the past and I didn’t want to dwell on it any longer. While I will never be perfect at that type of self-control, it has improved greatly the more I have practiced it.
The storm that once raged within is mostly a gentle breeze these days, and only rarely more than that. To get better emotionally it took living one day one day at a time and trying to take baby steps forward during each one. Sometimes I moved forward and at others I took steps backward, but by consistently applying myself I moved onward and gained momentum that brought me to today where I am happy and content. It took years, but all the effort was worth it! To all I have learned and to all I have learned from, I am deeply grateful.
Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are. Anne Lamott