Park Your Anger at the Curb
When anger rises, think of the consequences. -Confucius
This handy tool called Letting Go of Resentments is a wise activity for everyone, even those who are not divorced. When we let go, we make room for better thoughts and feelings and can anticipate a happier life ahead.
People will cheat, people will lie, and people will act on bad habits, which interfere with a healthy relationship. The other person’s “stuff” does not have to become your anguish. The solution is to let go of the hot rock of resentment and you will be free.
Most people don’t like to admit they are angry. Ticked, annoyed, stressed out, or a little upset maybe, but not angry. Most of us in the helping professions understand that when you repress or minimize your anger, because it’s such anegative emotion. The point is this: if you got dumped or you had to leave someone and be on your own, then of course you are angry.
Anger is a normal emotion attached to not having your dreams come true. Your expectations that life would go smoothly after marriage crashed and burned and you are angry that you couldn’t make things happen the way you wished. The angry and resentful person says, “If only he would have–”; “If only she could have–”. These words are frequently heard coming from separated people.
People agonize forever before they leave relationships, but the bottom line is they aren’t happy in the relationship, and no matter what they tried, it didn’t work. So they left. When someone leaves you, it wasn’t about you personally; your partner would have left no matter what person they were with, because they just weren’t satisfied with the status quo.
It might help you to know that some people are always a little dissatisfied. Life is always a little off for them and until they can find peace within themselves, life will always be uncomfortable. Perhaps you happened to be there when the dissatisfaction hit its lowest point. That is not to say that you didn’t have anything to do with the ending of the relationship. What you can understand is that if you were left, it is more about the other person’s dreams and less about you.
This story is a story of anger adjustment:
Doug had no idea Kim was seeing another man. He worked at his job conscientiously and was known for his helpfulness to his clients. All of Doug’s neighbors thought he was a nice guy. He was friendly and helpful to the neighbors and to Kim’s family too. He didn’t drink or smoke and attended their church regularly. He was also the disciplinarian in the family. He made sure the kids memorized their Bible verses and, when necessary, did the spanking when he got home from work.
His son Matt and daughter Anna got good grades and obeyed their parents. Anna, eight, and Matt, five, did not want to disappoint their parents. They did what their father wanted them to do. Doug’s soft-spoken manner belied the control he exercised over the family, and it was this control that caused Kim to want to escape for years. Deep inside, the children feared making mistakes because their father would suddenly yell and get mad.
Kim was a very attractive woman who began her affair with a man at work, at first only having casual conversations about the business. Their talks became more intimate and she discovered she liked the attention he gave her. He was a guy who was fun to be with and liked to party. Kim had given up her party lifestyle when she married Doug and was beginning to feel stifled and alone in her marriage. She had known for a long time that something was wrong with the marriage, but she was frustrated that she couldn’t put her finger on what kept their relationship from developing any deeper. She blamed it on the business of the kid’s activities and the many hours the family spent in church.
Kim didn’t know that Doug had religious addiction. He was obsessed with the Bible, scripture and was getting into a very deep cult of people who were very rigid in their beliefs. They told him his wife was not equally yoked with him because she didn’t embrace his religious beliefs. His online activities were carefully hidden in his office upstairs, where he locked himself for hours on end, presumably to do work. While Kim was getting her social needs met at work, she wasn’t aware of Doug’s involvement. Which came first? It didn’t matter; both mom and dad were withholding truth from one another.
When the truth came out, Kim was done. She had put up with his strictness with the children, but she could no longer live with someone who lied all the time. She was devastated because she had hung in there while feeling left out of Doug’s life for so many years. She was angry and couldn’t look at Doug without feeling disgust. Her intense anger was fueled by her friends, who would listen to her talk about her ex with loathing, but all the while, she never told her friends about her special relationship with the man at work.
The rage she felt for his dishonesty and aloofness flared every time she would talk to Doug. The name-calling and screaming escalated, despite that they had previously handled their divorce fairly well. The friction went on for months and years, until the children were in high school.
Finally, Kim decided to talk to a professional. Kim found that her part in the ongoing anger game was her inability to let go of resentments that were her own replays of prior hurts. She noticed that many of her thoughts had to do with things that had happened years ago. With the help of the professional, she decided to let go and stop reminding herself of what Doug had done in the past. The history she was replaying in her head was keeping her from enjoying the day she was in. The gift of the present became her motto. No more morbid sagas of hurt and sadness for Kim.
Kim also addressed the fact that she had had secrets herself. She came clean with her therapist, and was able to have a more balanced perspective on the marriage, which had long ago dissolved.
Meanwhile, those great kids of hers were reacting to their parents’ covert anger by being deceitful and sneaky in ways the parents didn’t understand. It wasn’t until the parents got in touch with the way they were dealing with their own anger with each other–being retaliatory, acting from their secrets and built up resentments–that they were able to pinpoint where their children’s anger came from. They had been watching the king and queen of withholding information and harboring resentments, and finally saw its effects on their children.
Kim’s journey of self-examination and learning new tools for change included having projects that kept her so busy that most days Doug wasn’t even on her mind.
Holding on to a grudge hurts most the person who is remembering; it is not remembered with that same intensity at all by the one who did the hurting, but it is important to reflect on the effect holding grudges can have on children.
Write down some of the old hurts you carry from the divorce.
Then ask yourself the following important questions:
1. How does it feel to remind yourself of the old hurts?
2. If you were to stop reminding yourself of the old hurts, what do you think you would do instead?
3. Are you telling yourself to let go?
4. Can you change the past?
5. Are you still worried that your ex’s behavior is impacting your child?
6. Have you talked to your child’s parent about the issue?
7. Does your child have a way to reach you in an emergency?
Just for today I will let old angers surface and try to let them float past me, like cans in a river. I will not hold on to old angers, and I will refuse to replay old memories that show I was a victim. Today I am no longer a victim, and I stand up for myself. I have good boundaries in my life. Today I will breathe in fresh thoughts and be grateful for my life as it is this moment.