Over the years, I’ve learned that anger, in all its forms, has both purpose and benefits.
Our anger gives us insight into ourselves, if we’re willing to do the work to understand why we feel what we feel.
It also helps us improve relationships, if we’re able to express why we’re upset, and in doing so, better set boundaries and meet our needs. And equally important, it helps us ascertain which relationships simply do not serve us.
But anger can only help us if we’re willing to work through it and then move beyond it—which is far more easily said than done.
How do you let go of anger when you haven’t gotten an apology or a sense of closure, and maybe never will?
How do you let go of anger when the things you’re angry about keep on happening, and nothing you say or do changes the situation?
The key to releasing difficult feelings, I’ve learned, is to first accept three things:
-Feeling difficult feelings isn’t the problem. The problem is thinking we shouldn’t feel them, and then causing ourselves more pain by feeling more feelings about our feelings.
-We can’t always control our feelings, but we can control what we do with them. We can either stew in them and get ourselves stuck, or learn from them and do something proactive.
-Letting go is not a one-time decision. It’s something we may need to do repeatedly. But the more we practice, the easier it becomes to come back to the present moment.
That’s what it means to let go of anger. It’s not about never feeling angry again.
It’s about taking power back from anger so that we can use it to improve ourselves, our relationships, and our lives. In this way, our anger can work for us, not against us.
How, exactly, do we do that?
FIRST, LET YOURSELF FULLY FEEL YOUR ANGER—THEN EXPLORE IT.
What story have you been telling yourself about the event(s) that upset you? What are the beliefs underneath your anger?
Do you believe you’ve been victimized? Do you believe someone else was in the wrong and is now “getting away with it”?
The event itself is not the cause of your anger. The cause of your anger is your story about it—what you believe the event means.
Get very clear on what exactly you’ve been dwelling on or rehashing, and recognize what parts of this story are facts and which parts are assumptions, interpretations, and conclusions.
Then, change your story.
Instead of telling yourself that you’ve been victimized, tell yourself you’ll use this experience to grow as a person.
Instead of telling yourself this person is “getting away with it,” recognize that hurt people, hurt people—which means they’re likely dealing with their own pain, and in no way have “won” at your expense.
From there, take a look at your projections. Are you angry with someone for doing something you’ve done many times before? If so, your feelings may be magnified by seeing a behavior of your own that you’re not proud of.
If this is the case, it’s not just your beliefs about the other person and the event(s) that contribute to your anger; it’s also your subconscious story about yourself.
If you believe the other person is selfish and needy—and you also believe that you are—unravel that story about yourself, and then rewrite it.
You’re not selfish; you’re human. It’s natural to focus on your needs if they’re not being met. And you’re not needy—you’ve just been hurt, and you’ve been looking for others to take away your pain because you haven’t been sure how to do it for yourself.
In changing the story about yourself, you’ll change your response to your projections, because in offering yourself compassion, you’ll then be able to offer it to another.
Lastly, look at the fears underneath your anger. Are you telling yourself a story about things that “always happen to you,” and therefore, creating anxiety about the potential for similar things to happen in the future?
Does your story center on something someone “took away from you,” and your fear that they’ve permanently disabled you because of what you’ve lost?
Change those stories, so that this one event doesn’t represent some type of persistent cycle, but rather an isolated experience that doesn’t have to repeat itself. And it doesn’t mean you’ve lost something that will permanently hinder you, but rather you’ve experienced something tough that you will eventually overcome.
Once you understand your story—your beliefs, projections, and fears—you can then strip away everything that disempowers you and pull yourself out from underneath the emotional layers on top of the facts.
Of course, this won’t be easy, and it might take time. Accept that, much like difficult feelings are inevitable, a little difficulty with this process is, as well. So long as you’re taking a look at your stories, you’re doing exactly what you need to do to let go of this anger.
FROM THERE, IDENTIFY WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL.
You can’t control what someone else says or does. You can only control what you say or do.
So, before you do anything, take an inventory of your expectations. What’s the story you’re telling yourself about what needs to happen for you to move beyond your feelings? Can you change the story to focus on what you’ll do, and what you can learn to make this event seem somehow useful?
If you continually tell yourself that you’ll be angry until you get an apology, will likely feel anger every time you think about the apology you didn’t receive, because you will have engrained a new belief.
Tell yourself a different, more empowering story that focuses on your action, not the outcome.
For example: “I am going to express myself without judging or getting overly emotional; I’m going to end the conversation if it becomes unconstructive; and I’m going to be proud of myself for reacting in such a healthy way. I may not get an apology, but even if I don’t, I will learn from this experience how to set and maintain healthier boundaries going forward.”
If you focus on your actions, insights, and lessons, you will take power away from the event and person that hurt you.
LASTLY, TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR ACTING ON LESSONS LEARNED.
If your anger is teaching you that a relationship is unhealthy—and repeated attempts to change it aren’t working—then you have two choices: stay and continue to ignore your emotional cues, or walk away.
If your anger is teaching you that you need to establish boundaries, take the time to set and actively maintain them.
If your anger is teaching you that you need to better express your needs, clarify and communicate them.
Even if someone else did something that hurt you, there is something proactive you can do to learn from and respond to your feelings.
This doesn’t mean you control what happens once you make a proactive choice; it just means you’ve chosen to empower yourself, so that no matter what someone else chooses to do, you can always ask yourself, “How can I act on what I’ve learned to respond to this wisely?”
When you continually identify lessons and act on them, you reinforce that you are not helpless, which goes a long way in minimizing difficult feelings.
I spent almost a lifetime suffocating under the weight of storied about how I’d been hurt. I now live in the story of how they made me stronger—and I’ve learned from those experiences to continually focus on lessons learned and what I can do with them.
Doing this doesn’t eliminate anger, since we are, after all, only human; it does, however, make it easier to let it go more quickly each time it arises.