Holding on to Anger

The situation happened a while ago, and you are still angry about it. Of course you didn’t like what they did. But the thing is, that isn’t the real reason you are upset. Don’t get me wrong, you had every reason to be angry at them, but there is more to the situation than that. If it were pure anger you would be upset for a while, maybe tell them how you felt and then drop it. You would always have the memory, but the energy behind the incident would dissipate. (note: I am setting aside physical abuse here because that operates under different principles.)

But if you are still angry months or maybe even years later about what happened, there is something more going on. When they acted as they did, they set in motion something else. They exposed one of your flaws for the world to see. Maybe they embarrassed you or made you look stupid. Perhaps you trusted them and they violated your confidence. What you are really upset about is that they exposed you. Exposed your inner secret – your unworthiness, your poor judgment, what a fool you are – and now the cat’s out of the bag and they have shined a spotlight on it for the world to see. And the situation provides a perfect foil because you get to be angry with them while not having to deal with the “flaw” they have revealed.

We all have “secrets.” Things that we believe about ourselves that we would rather keep to ourselves. Perhaps you think you are stupid, have poor judgement, are overly afraid, or are too judgmental. Maybe you’re too emotional, or that you like soap operas or you feel insecure around other people. Whatever it is, what you see as a flaw, someone else now has knowledge of, and that puts you at a disadvantage. You are powerless, like you were when you were a child. And someone you trusted has blown your cover.

Allow me to illustrate with an extreme example. A victim of sexual abuse will almost always question herself, wondering whether she did anything to invite or give permission for the violation. In other words, even in the most degrading of human circumstances, she will look inward to see what inner flaw might have allowed the violation to occur. And at least partly, she will blame herself.

So let’s talk about a couple of things:

First of all, you are not flawed. You can’t be. God doesn’t make bad people, frogs or trees. She just makes people, frogs and trees. People sometimes do bad things, but it’s not who we are. It is just what we sometimes do when we are angry, afraid or hurt. So there is really nothing for them to expose in you. There is nothing about yourself that you need to “hide” from the world’s prying eyes. There can be no such thing as a character flaw.

Behavior flaw? Heck yes. We all screw up all the time. They did, I certainly do and you probably do too. And if it were just anger, you could let go of it. We can be remarkably forgiving of other people’s mistakes. But as I say, that isn’t what this is about. Because it isn’t really anger at all. It is shame protected by rage. You have already decided that some part of you is not OK, and now that has been exposed for the world to see. You are ashamed and embarrassed and that can bring with it the rage of a wounded tiger.

So the first thing you need to do is to determine that you are not a flawed being. But what is easy for me to say, may be difficult for you to do. But remember. “God doesn’t make bad trees, or bad people. She just make trees and people.” You cannot be flawed. You can feel that way, but you can’t be that way. So as I say, you can screw up – but that’s behavior – you can change that. (see: Why Is It So Difficult To Love Ourselves and The Mystery of Life). But you cannot be the things you believe. So given that, what does it really matter if someone else can see inside you? What do you really have to hide? You are just as God made you.

Yes there are imperfections, but those are from your fears. They control your behavior – what you do. They are not who you are. Your fears create your mistakes, the learning material of your life, that when you learn to work with them, will change your beliefs and your fears. That is the process of life. But when you try and hide parts of you away, you are giving other people power over your life. You are giving them the power to determine wether or not you are OK, and we don’t want that. We want you to decide, for yourself, that you are OK, and that means dealing with your fears and your beliefs about yourself.

Look, I’m not being naive, other people can make life difficult. Just ask someone who has come through a difficult divorce or a tough breakup. But if you look at what happened in those situations you will find that the real source of their pain is the exposure of their shame, of what they have kept hidden about themselves. And now this person that they have been intimate with, out of selfish motives has exposed their secrets. There will be anger at what happened, but it’s not the big motivator here.

Acknowledge that what happened was not ideal, but remember, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” And when you do get knocked over, as we all do from time to time, do as Jerome Kern urged us to:

Pick yourself up…
Take a deep breath…
Dust yourself off
And start all over again.

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