Anger in and of itself is not wrong. Quite the contrary, anger serves a healthy purpose in your life. Just like the flashing yellow or red traffic light, it is a signal; a signal pointing out your emotional response to an immediate event. The flashing yellow version of anger says, “Wait a minute, I don’t think I like this!” And the red light version of anger says, “Whoa! Stop right there! I protest whatever this is!”
But, what about the simmering, stewing kind of anger that just eats away at a person from the inside out? It isn’t provoked by anything current, but more of a thought/memory pattern based on a past hurt that just plays over and over again well past the sell-by date of the actual hurtful event.
It’s this last kind of anger that can keep you stuck after a divorce. When resentment is present, it hurts mostly you and you alone, and this is sad because you have already been hurt enough. To end the self-torture, let's look at five reasons you get stuck in this pattern to begin with and how to get yourself out if you find you are still angry:
1. Stewing in an old injury: The trick to ensuring that valid anger doesn't become a draining river of venom that never ends is to stop and think about when the moment of injury was for the anger you are now feeling. Was it five minutes ago, yesterday or last year? If you try to coach yourself to pay attention when you are angry, you can begin to sort out for yourself whether or not the anger is a fresh response to a new injury or a venom running around through your poor body, mind and spirit, which needs rest and more uplifting activity.
2. Ongoing co-parenting, children, custody and financial issues: This is an obvious area rich with potential for pain, insult and anger that could extend through the length of your co-parenthood. Yet, do you want to wake up hurt and angry, walk around all day hurt and angry and then go to bed hurt and angry?
No, I would bet that you do not. I imagine you want to enjoy life. Personally, I have discovered that the sooner I can let go of my negative thoughts and resentments about these situations that arise from time to time, the better off I am.
Does this attitude prevent future irritation? Not sure. However, during the in between times, I prefer to live lighter and feel happier. I've found it is a choice. I can choose to feel better. I know this is a hard one for women in the early stages of recovery, but it is possible at some point to choose how to feel.
3. Ongoing social fallout and hurt: Yes, one day you might find out you were not invited to something you would have been invited to pre-divorce, or you might receive an invitation to a wedding and find out your ex and the other woman are invited as well. Is this ideal? No. But, is it time to plummet into a sucking vortex of tears and humiliation? No!
I mean, yes, that initial wave of emotions might hit, however you have the wherewithal to think about which social occasions are worth the discomfort (like your child's graduation party or wedding) and which are not. You can RSVP yes or no and just leave it at that. If you choose not to go to go to an event out of social discomfort or if you are left out of a gathering, schedule something else fun to do on that same date.
4. Endless negative conversation: Endless conversations about old wounds resurrects your past à la vampires or zombies. Vampires can live for all eternity. Do you want your anger and resentment about the past to live on in tired conversations that seem to repeat these themes well past their time? You may find you do not want every social conversation you have with a grownup to include the topic of your ex. Or, you may be getting some feedback, verbal and nonverbal, that your friends need to, or want to, discuss other topics. After about a year, year and a half, from the time you divorce, or sooner if it seems natural, practice having whole conversations that never veer toward your divorce. Allow others to be the center of the conversation especially the ones who've been there for you. There is so much more in the world to discuss!
5. Inability to forgive: Forgiveness is a word you might not be able to consider for a while, depending upon what has happened in your divorce and where you are in your process. However, at some point this mental and spiritual stance is your best chance for peace. Staying stuck in a state of non-forgiveness will most definitely perpetuate a feeling of being stuck in your life.
Many of you have probably heard the saying, coined by Carrie Fisher, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Once you have grieved and allowed yourself to be angry, then it is time to release the past and stay firmly rooted in the present, where all the joy and potential of your life exists.
The past is not where your powers lies. In fact, if you live in the past within your head, you have lost ALL your power. The present is where you have the ability to improve your life. Forgive the past, release the anger and be fully present now. You will be much happier for it.