How to Release Resentments and Anger
Photo by Aphrodite ; creative commons license
“How can I release old resentments and anger?” a friend asked. She’s a very wise and together person, and very spiritual, so the question surprised me a little. There’s always that expectation, you know, that spiritual people don’t get angry or carry resentments but some wounds are deep and take a long, long time to heal.
It’s only in looking back over the past four years that I realize how much old anger I’ve released. It’s made a big difference in healing my life, and though I don’t quite have everything I want in my life just yet, I have a life I enjoy and one that’s vastly different from a few years ago.
The first step for me to begin to release old resentments and angers was in realizing that it really was anger that I was carrying, from as far back as my early childhood. I’d never considered myself an angry person…but inside I was furious. I so seldom got “mad,” but I did get hurt a lot. That was the key. I grew up in a Southern Baptist home amidst a church upbringing that taught me that anger was a deadly sin and that I needed to be a good girl, good and forgiving and great at turning the other cheek. The way anger manifested in me was not as rage but as “hurt.” I couldn’t tell the difference, and to be honest, I sometimes still can’t.
The second step in releasing my anger was to honor it. I had to stop thinking of anger as a “bad emotion” I wasn’t allowed to have. Anger was my way of refusing a certain path of oppression and of demanding that I be respected and valued. I learned to let it out in mostly constructive ways, to stop apologizing for it, and to use it as a reminder not to allow certain people to abuse either me or my compassion. It’s saved me many times from letting an old wounding be repeated.
The hardest part of releasing anger is to meet it head on and investigate its root cause. That means a lot of self-inquiry. It means looking in shadowy places, shining the light on them, and dispersing them. For me, it took the shape of a healing journal where I poured out millions of words that later became articles, books, e-courses, and workshops that help other people deal with similar issues. The writing, for me, was cathartic, but I’ve also written poetry and songs, and if I were talented at dance or painting, I might have tried those methods as well.
Some old angers could be released only through ritual; in particular the Ho’ponopono ritual has been helpful to me. It’s doubled as a funeral for my tyranical father and a divorce meditation for my ex.
Another way for me to release old resentments has been to recognize the situation for what it really was and then rewrite it the way it “should” have been.
It’s not that all of those old angers have been banished. They’ve been released into the wild. That means some have vanished, maybe for forever, but other still roam around and revisit from time to time to feed, or try to. It helps to realize that in most cases, the people who wounded and angered me were doing the best they could with what they had and weren’t intentionally trying to hurt me. It was just part of their personalities, but not something I have to bind myself to. Some old resentments still float around me, unseen and unnoticed until one lands close by or bops me on the head, and with those I can sometimes reach out from a different perspective and pop that bubble and it’s gone for good because it no longer has any power over me or chains on me. There was nothing left but a thin sheen of oily color and no substance at all.
To keep new angers from forming, I’ve become more vocal, allowing my anger to show where I might not have before and with little regard for whether I particularly upset the other person or not. Not every time, but exponentially more often than a few years ago. Sometimes it becomes a major confrontation and sometimes it might ensure the partnership will not thrive (it won’t anyway if I hold in the anger) but holding it in only transforms the anger into a cancer (sometimes literally) that eats away and tastes like hurt.
The big question for me to ask myself is, when my feelings have been deeply hurt, is it really hurt? Or is it anger? Or both? It’s more often anger at injustice and disrepect than anything else. And if I express myself as “I am so hurt that you….,” do I really mean “I am so angry that you…”? If I express it as hurt and the relationship is truly a loving one, it can manifest for the other person as guilt rather than as a chance to clear the air. Guilt only keeps it inside to fester.