NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Holding Onto Anger is Like Drinking Poison and Expecting the Other Person to Die

Anger is a common emotional response, especially when someone close to us says or does something that is hurtful.  

Holding Onto Anger is Like Drinking Poison and Expecting the Other Person to Die

But anger becomes toxic when we hold onto it and refuse to let it go.  We keep the anger alive by going over and over in our minds whatever grievance we have with a particular person, and this becomes an emotionally and sometimes physically toxic experience.

There is much wisdom in the Buddhist saying, "Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die."

Holding onto anger is mostly hurtful to ourselves.  It can sour our outlook on life as well as current and future relationships.

Letting Go of Anger is a Process
Letting go of anger is a process.  It's important to acknowledge the anger rather than sweeping it under the rug.  But, beyond this initial stage, it's important to work through the anger so that it doesn't  ruin our emotional well being and our relationships.

Sometimes people hold onto anger because they're afraid to deal with their underlying hurt feelings.  Feeling angry, as opposed to feeling hurt, gives the illusion of feeling empowered.  But, in many ways, holding onto anger is disempowering.  It takes a lot of energy to keep churning anger, and it takes away from other positive areas in our lives.

Letting Go of Anger and Forgiving Isn't the Same as Forgetting
Whether or not you forgive the person who offended you is up to you.  As I've said many times in other blog articles, forgiveness doesn't mean that you're saying whatever happened was all right.  It means that you've made a decision to let go of the hurt and anger you feel when you're ready to do so.   It also means you're ready to move on, whether you decide to keep this person in your life or not.

When you forgive someone, it doesn't mean that you necessarily forget what happened, especially if whatever caused you to feel hurt or angry is part of an ongoing pattern with this person.  It also doesn't mean that you remain in an unhealthy relationship.  But remembering and keeping yourself out of harm's way doesn't mean you have to hold onto the negative emotions.

When holding onto anger becomes habitual, it can make you feel bitter about your life.  Collecting grievances and holding onto them puts an emotional barrier between you and others.  For many people, this is a way to shield themselves from getting hurt again.  But using this defense mechanism comes at a big emotional and sometimes physical cost.

If you find yourself holding onto anger, you can ask yourself the following questions:
  • What purpose does it serve to hold onto this anger?
  • How is holding onto this anger affecting you on an emotional, physical and spiritual level?
  • How is holding onto this anger affecting the important relationships in your life?
  • Are you less available to others because of the anger that you're holding onto?
  • How is holding onto anger affecting your outlook on life and your future?
  • How is holding onto anger keeping you from being more present in your life?
  • How else is holding onto anger keeping you stuck?
Letting Go of Anger
Making a decision to let go of anger is usually the first step in the letting go process.  If your anger is related to a particularly big betrayal, you can usually expect that the letting go process will take some time.

The important thing to remember is that when you let go of anger, you're doing it mostly for yourself--not necessarily the person that you're angry with.  You're making a conscious decision to move on emotionally so that you're no longer stuck in this negative state.

How to Let Go of Anger

Journal Writing
Many people find it especially helpful to keep a private journal and write down their feelings.  By putting your feelings down on paper, you're getting them out of your head and into the light of day.

Writing down your feelings often helps you to understand.  You could have important insights about yourself as well as the other person.

Talking It Out With a Trusted Loved One
It's important to have a strong emotional support system.  By talking it out with a trusted friend or family member, you might get a different perspective.  It also helps to relieve the stress of pent up anger by talking it out.

Seeking Professional Help From a Licensed Therapist
Depending upon what you're angry about, talking to a friend or family member might not be enough, especially if you're dealing with a particularly difficult act of betrayal by someone close to you.  In those instances, it's often helpful to seek the help of a licensed psychotherapist who is impartial and who has expertise in helping clients to let go of anger and resentment.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you know that letting go of anger has been difficult for you and it has had serious repercussions for you as well as your loved ones, rather than continuing to do what hasn't worked for you all along, you  could benefit from getting professional help so that you can live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to let go of the anger and hurt that keep them stuck in their lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.