"Anger is an acid that can do more damage to the vessel in which it is stored that to anything on which it is poured." -Mark Twain
Yes, thank you Mr. Twain, I know that, and I don't want to be angry but...
"For every minute you remain angry you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Yes Mr. Emerson, I'm quite familiar with this concept and I actually agree it with it wholeheartedly. But I can't help it, this thing happened and it made me really angry...
"Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die." - Malachy McCourt, Nelson Mandela, Carrie Fisher, Alice May, etc.
Yes all of your wonderful people that I admire. I understand that. I wholly believe it. I try to practice this every day to the best of my ability.
But no matter what our best intentions are, sometimes we get angry. We get injured, we get betrayed, we get hurt, physically and mentally. Problems arise, stumbling blocks get in our way, annoying and frustrating things happen that we have no control over. And while yes, we do have control over how we handle those things, sometimes, in the heat of the moment, it happens to the best of us: we let the anger take over.
Here's an interesting thing I've learned about anger. As I've said before, not all anger is always bad. In fact, anger can be an integral part of inciting positive change. I have to think that Rosa Parks must have been pretty angry when she decided to stay in her seat on the bus. Susan B. Anthony was fed up and frustrated and angry when she led the suffragette movement that resulted in the American women's right to vote. And do you remember the famous "Angry Phelps" face from this past summer's Olympics? Both he and fellow championship swimmer Amy Van Dyken use anger, and the chemical reactions that result from the feeling, to help them go faster in races. Anger is a natural emotion, and when suppressed can cause both mental and physical ailments. Feeling anger can be a good thing.
As long as we don't hold onto it.
Especially for a long time after the initial reason for the anger. Once the incident it over, it's over, and yet some of us hold onto the anger that came from it for years and even decades. We may no longer have contact with the person who hurt us, they may no longer even be alive, but we hold on to the anger we felt then, and still feel, and often instead of dissipating over the years, the anger gets more intense and painful with every passing thought. We bring it out like an old toy, to play with and remind ourselves of our righteous indignation and how we have every right to feel the way we feel.
At those times we are living in a fantasy world. While yes, we have every right to feel angry about a particular situation, if it's not happening to us at this moment, it's a complete waste of energy and emotion and time. Our focusing on the resentment and offense - that is only happening in our heads - cuts into the happiness and contentment that we could be feeling instead. It becomes a matter of changing our thoughts and having concentrated control over where our minds might want to take us.
Example: In one of my first jobs I had a colleague who was sexually abused as a child by a family member. As much as she wanted to cut that person completely out of her life as an adult, she was unable to, due to living arrangements, her parents, money situations, etc. She was still very disturbed and emotional every time she saw this person and she told me that after seeing him it would often take her several days to get herself back to "normal." One time she confided in me how she helped herself in these times.
"I plan his funeral," she said.
Me: Stunned silence. Then, "......um...WHAT?"
She smiled slightly and said, "Oh yeah. First I plan what I'm going to wear, if it's in the summer, or if it's in the winter. Then I figure out what I'm going to do with my hair...sometimes I wear a hat, sometimes I don't. Then I picture walking into the church and what the flowers will look like. Then I think about what I'm going to say when people come up to me and tell me how sorry they are for my loss..." and on and on and on.
At the time, (I was in my early twenties) I was shocked. I found this thought process to be disturbing and a bit sickening. I had never heard of something like this before and it just seemed so weird and kind of gruesome to me.
Fast forward twenty years. Twenty years that have included incredibly happy times along with times of overwhelming anger, frustration, and heartbreak. I have had my share of my feelings being hurt, my trust being betrayed, and my sensibilities offended. I have opened up my heart to hope, had it trounced on by inconsiderate and evil people, and closed it up again in an attempt to prevent further pulverization. Having been through all of that, I was recently thinking about my coworker, and at this point in my life I actually admire her mechanism for coping. She was actively taking control of her mind and her feelings and doing what was necessary for her to go on living in the most productive way she could. She was exerting power over her own thoughts, and instead of her past dragging her down, she was making plans for the future that brought her peace. Nothing could change the past or what had happened to her, but she chose to change the narrative in her head. It didn't make anything right, it didn't take anything away, but it did allow her to not have her present defined by the horrible events of her past.
We can all choose to do this. Letting go of anger and resentment doesn't diminish the causes of those feelings; it doesn't. But it gives us each a chance at happiness and peace, rather than living with our every breath filled with bitterness and rancor. We cannot control what others do to us, but we can absolutely control how we react to it, and how we handle the ramifications of it later.
"Change your thoughts and you change your world." -Norman Vincent Peale
I quite agree Mr. Peale. I quite agree.