An Antidote for Anger
“I’d be lying in bed some nights, not doing anything, just staring up at the ceiling, and I’d feel it wash over me. Like a red wave, y’know? I could feel the blood rush to my face and it’d feel hot. It was just this wave of anger like, “How dare she do that to me?” and a lot of the time, “How could I have been so stupid?””
Mark Twain said; “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
That vessel is you.
The truth is a certain amount of anger is healthy. As long as you can observe it being there without becoming overwhelmed by it or acting out. The flip side is that repressing it is also extremely unhealthy. Studies have shown it can even result in an earlier death.
So, how the hell do you get it out of you without frothing at the mouth when the barista at your local coffee shop uses almond milk instead of cashew? What’s the middle ground between swallowing it and becoming a raging lunatic?
You can begin with understanding it’s going to take some time.
Anger often emerges as a response to hurt. Lots of things can happen leading up to, during and after a break up that are hurtful. In some ways, your anger is an antidote against the bullshit of trying to pretend everything is fine or jumping too soon to platitudes like, “Everything happens for a reason.” Or some other nonsense about doors closing and windows opening.
These and other clichés about healing may hold some truth… eventually. The issue is leaning on them too soon becomes a cop out from doing the real work required to truly get over the intensity of what you’re feeling right now.
The only antidote for anger is forgiveness. And that doesn’t come easy.
Some people are just assholes and do horrible things. These are typically those who have something genuinely wrong with them like a personality disorder (antisocial, borderline, narcissistic, histrionic, etc.) These are common enough that some of you reading this book are dealing with someone who indeed has a bona fide personality disorder. Frankly, you hating them is going to have little to no effect on them and they’re not going to change their behavior. You’re just hurting yourself. If this is the case for you, you really should get some professional assistance to move on. The damage these toxic individuals can do is often long-lasting and there’s a high likelihood of dragging it into future partnerships as well as your relationship with your kids. This is particularly important when the person we’re talking about is your ex and she’s going to remain in both yours and your children’s lives.
A word of caution here. Though it may make you feel vindicated to play “armchair psychiatrist” by making an amateur diagnosis of your ex, this isn’t a game. These disorders are very real and very damaging. If you think it’s a real possibility, then you should treat it seriously and talk it over with a mental health professional. This professional will have the ability to help you and your kids establish coping mechanisms for your ex’s behavior.
The above more extreme exceptions aside, most folks are decent people who are flawed and make mistakes. Recognizing this truth is step number one.
You then need to own it. Though it may have been somebody else’s actions that triggered your anger, the reality is this anger your feeling is all yours, not theirs. So, only you can take responsibility for getting rid of it.
Next, you need to sink into it. Be honest with yourself about the pain they caused. It can be tempting to try and move toward forgiveness by minimizing what this other person did; “It wasn’t that bad.” “I’ve been hurt worse.” “They probably didn’t mean it.” If you take this approach you’re not going to honestly forgive them because you’re lying to yourself about how badly they hurt you. You need to allow yourself to go there.
Now, let go of thoughts of “getting even”. Revenge is more often than not pointless when it comes to personal slights. It only makes you just as much of an asshole. Not to mention, it will make it that much harder to have a functioning co-parenting relationship with your kids. The “but she did it first!” argument is for three-year-olds.
Then, focus on what you can learn from it. This pulls you out of obsessing about the past and gets you thinking about your present and desired future. Even within the most bitter betrayals, there is normally something you can learn about yourself.
Lastly, accept that your anger may come back but tell yourself you won't allow it to control you or act out against the person you’ve forgiven. Once you’ve forgiven, it’s done. No take backs.
To be clear, no, you don’t have to tell your ex you forgive them. Sometimes that’s not even advisable. You can forgive someone you never speak to again. This is something you’re doing for you first and foremost.