Friday, July 20, 2012

Anger vs. Resentment

I used to pride myself on the fact that I never got angry. Until recently, very few people had ever seen me truly pissed off. A few years ago a friend and I went into the counselling center on campus to discuss our concern for another friend as well as our frustration caused by her and the situation. (I am being vague to respect their privacy)  Shortly after explaining the situation and really hoping for some clarity as well as someone to side with us and understand where we were coming from, we left empty handed. Although I don't remember exactly everything we were told that day, I do remember one thing clearly, I was told that I had an anger problem and could really use anger management. Both my friend and I laughed at the sheer inaccuracy of the statement and talked about going back and asking for his credentials because clearly he had no idea what he was talking about. I wasn't angry because I didn't get angry.

Looking back on this experience now, I can't help but laugh because of the truth in it. Usually when we think of people with anger problems we think of people who lash out, yell inappropriately and cause a big scene. I am definitely thankful to say that this is not my issue.(although no judgement from me if it is yours) Instead, I have spent years repressing anger, never allowing myself to show it to anyone and keeping it all inside while slowly keeping tabs and building a lot of resentment until I eventually can't take it any more and pretty much explode.

Last summer I was overstressed and I was being overworked. To be quite honest, I really wasn't being treated very fairly but I never spoke up. For the first few months I just held it in and took it, with a smile on my face. I didn't even consider getting angry or speaking up about it. In my mind, not only was being angry at someone not ok, but showing it was unheard of. After all, I was the perfect people pleaser and wanted everyone to like me. I couldn't handle the idea of getting mad at someone and possibly having them be upset with me. That just wasn't an option in my mind. My last few days of work I held in so much resentment that I couldn't wait to walk out of there and say good riddance and "fuck them all". I was so angry that I hoped to never talk to or see some of the people ever again and all I could think of was how I had wasted my entire summer. I was a raging lunatic but couldn't even begin to admit it. Fast forward a few months later and I found myself in a very similar situation again. Different people, different place, same resentment. I could give tons of examples of this cycle in my life but I am sure you get the picture.

Anger is a natural emotion and can be a very helpful one. It's what breeds change and what allows us to create boundaries and stick up for ourselves when we are treated unfairly. Anger is very productive and necessary. Resentment however is not quite the same. With resentment comes bitterness, blame and a sense of entitlement. When we feel resentful we want revenge and someone to blame. We are bitter and are usually unable to see the role we played in the situation. When anger turns into resentment it's usually a bad sign and possibly even irreparable.

It's taken a lot of humility to admit to myself how much resentment I have held towards situations and other people in the last few years. And even more so to come to terms with the fact that I get angry too. Because lets face it, we all do. Anger is a human emotion and even though some times I wish that I wasn't, I am human too.

Given the current work that I have been doing in my recovery and the fact that I have reconnected with myself in a lot of ways, including my emotions, I have been angry a lot recently and it's been really scary for me. When it first started happening my instant reaction was to try to make it go away. A week or so ago I walked into my nutritionists office extremely pissed off. So much so that I was actually shaking. The entire bus ride to her office I had been hoping for it to go away but it just kept building. When I walked into her office I was so ashamed and felt so uncomfortable allowing her to see me angry. Even though the anger wasn't directed at her, I clung to my old belief that feeling and showing anger wasn't ok. Instead of abandoning myself, she forced me to sit with it, feel it and even talk about it some. An hour later when I walked out of her office the anger had subsided, in fact I even had a smile on my face and we had spent a lot of the appointment talking about other things.

I have held in a lot of years of anger, so much so that it seems like at least once a day I am overcome by the feeling. Allowing myself to just ride out the feeling has been one of the most productive things in my recovery and life recently. My fear of exploding and lashing out inappropriatly hasn't happened yet. And I have even begun to forgive some and let go of a lot of resentment. It's not only allowed me to let go of some wrongs of the past but it's allowed me to start to stick up for myself. I have been mistreated and allowed others to walk all over me many times before. I have been forever stuck in the cycle of allowing others to over step their boundaries, not saying anything and eventually cutting them out of my life and hating them. Although some things are other peoples fault, a lot of this could have been avoided if I just allowed myself to feel and show anger in the first place.

I don't blame myself. A lot of my beliefs about anger have to do with how I was raised and my personality as well as my fear of abandonment and rejection. But this has been quite an eye opening experience for me. It's a work in progress but I am getting there. Just like everything in life, anger won't last forever. When we allow ourselves to get angry, we are showing that we matter to and don't deserve to be treated badly.  We get mad, make a change and then move on with our lives, without attempting to keep score. And with that we become kinder, more forgiving and compassionate people.

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