Are you eaten up with anger and resentment towards people who have hurt you in the past? Are you determined that their treatment of you is totally unforgivable and all you want is revenge?
When people have experienced emotional or physical abuse from others, whether from relatives, friends, colleagues or authority figures, it is only right and appropriate that they should feel angry, rage, and hurt. It is also appropriate to feel angry and resentful when your life circumstances have been extraordinarily hard through no fault of your own. Anger is the rightful response to being treated unfairly and is a call to action to make it fair if you possibly can. (See Blog ’What’s the Good of Anger’)
If you cannot make it fair, there is a risk of falling into what I call an emotional ‘Anger Trap’ that can keep you stuck in almost constant anger and resentment that you just can’t seem to shake off.
Your thoughts often turn to the pain the abusers have inflicted on you. You repeatedly go over in your mind memories of the bad events, or you might try not to think about them, which only means you think about it more as you remind yourself not to think about it. You try to understand how, why they treated you like that. It might make you wonder if they were right and you are not worthy of anything better.
If the anger from past abuse has not been released, it will be triggered all over again if a similar situation occurs today. The angry person however may have no idea that the unhealed abuse is fuelling their anger. A confident company manager was disturbed to find that he lost all his confidence in the presence of his new boss. He felt uncomfortable and incompetent, stumbled over his words and knew he was making a very bad impression. When he came to therapy to find the root cause, he made the connection that the new boss had a similar build, voice and beard to his bullying father. The unconscious reminder of his judgemental father was triggering the same anger and fear emotions all over again!
As long as the root cause is not healed, the more the anger builds over time. You might notice that the level of anger today, is completely out of proportion to what has just happened. That is because it is reactivating the original high level of anger associated with the abuse, which has not been released or healed. It can begin to cause moments when you just see red, and the drive to defend and attack can get out of hand. You feel out of control and things may be said that you don’t really mean, and things get destroyed.
Anger is a protective emotion designed to energise us to attack the hurter if necessary. You want justice. It isn’t just about having endured abuse that may even be over now. It is the fact that it undermined your self worth and confidence and has continued to damage your life. They must pay for what they have done. They certainly don’t deserve any kind of forgiveness. They cannot get away with it and must be punished. Fantasising about the punishment they deserve might occupy your mind in an effort to give some comfort!
You are now trapped in a cycle of negativity, spiralling down into an even more angry, resistant and defiant, resentful emotional state. Since you cannot simultaneously feel a negative and also a positive emotion, your anger focus is depriving you of balance, freedom and joy. As your negative focus deepens, your emotional and physical health declines. It may present as physical pain, depression, poor sleep and may impact relationships and career. As your health declines you blame the abusive people, organisations or just fate, and hold on determinedly to your anger, which might be expressed as hatred.
Now you might be reminded of the quote “ Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die “.
You are certainly still suffering enormously from abuse that is over now. (If it’s not over, it’s time to end that relationship as soon as possible.) However, the abusers are probably completely oblivious of their victim’s ongoing pain, and if they intended to hurt, they wouldn’t care if they did know. They may have moved on long ago and never give you a moments thought. Your unhealthy state is not doing anything to punish them, or compensate you. It’s interesting that people can find themselves stuck in this Anger Trap, even when the abuser is no longer on the earth plane. Since they are dead, they cannot be punished, and yet the victim is keeping the painful memory alive, along with all the negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves.
In my experience, clients in this situation have already spent a lot of time trying to find a remedy for the many life limiting problems that this has caused. For all conditions and symptoms it is always necessary to remove the root cause of the problem in order to heal it. I think you might agree that letting go of the anger, and all the self limiting beliefs that come with it, will go a long way to healing all the other symptoms. One of the very destructive limiting beliefs created from being ill treated, controlled and manipulated by another person or group, is the belief that “ I am powerless to control or direct my life”. If you believe that, why would you feel motivated to do anything? It wouldn’t work. So what’s the point.
It is however possible to free yourself from this Anger Trap. If you put your mind to it, you can change your mind and break out of the self perpetuating cycle that resists letting go of the anger.
I was impressed by an example of this in some stories reported during the violent ‘troubles’ between the Irish Nationalists and Unionists in the 1970s. Mothers from one side who had lost a son at the hands of sons from the other side were asked if they wanted revenge. The answer was no. Absolutely not. The reason given was that enough damage had been done. To bear any grudge would only perpetuate the troubles and obstruct peace. In place of judgement and punishment, the mothers chose understanding and forgiveness. They focussed on seeing an end to the troubles and all Irish people living together in harmony as one people.
I was stunned by the incredible wisdom of these women, and their ability to apply it in the face of such a tremendous heart wrenching loss. From a psychological healing perspective they were absolutely correct.
In my therapy experience, in order to break out of this Anger Trap, there are 3 changes in attitude or perception required. This is a heart felt conscious, rational mind change, which is then automatically communicated to the subconscious mind that drives our thinking and emotions.
- Acceptance of what has happened. No resistance. You can’t turn the clock back, and to dwell on the hurtful behaviour only makes its consequences worse. If you can identify any possible good to have come out of the experience, any pearl of wisdom, it will make this acceptance much easier. After going through a horrendous experience that you wouldn’t wish on anyone, people often look back and realise that it led to insights, new perceptions, and a better life that would not have happened without the negative experience. Some say they feel they have a better understanding of themselves and who they are. Surprisingly, given the extreme suffering endured, some say they are grateful for having had their bad experiences because of the growth and ‘evolution’ they feel they have achieved.
- Unconditional self-love. The hurtful experiences that led to the ongoing anger/incandescent rage, and hurt invariably leads to a damaged self image and an inability to accept self as loveable. Reconnecting with this natural and innate self regard removes resistance to releasing the anger. If a candle was lit at the birth of every baby, it would burn just as bright for each one. All babies are born innocent and they are all equally loveable and deserve to have their needs met. It is only subsequent negative experiences that begin to make them doubt that truth.
- Forgiveness. The Irish Mothers were right. Forgiveness is a powerful healing elixir that has no substitute. This is ancient knowledge taught by ancient wisdom traditions, which is reflected in many religious doctrines today, which encourage forgiveness as a prerequisite for genuine peace.
WHAT I MEAN BY FORGIVENESS.
Understandably the first reaction to the idea of forgiving abusers is often to strongly resist, on the basis that the abuser must take responsibility for what they have done, and to forgive them would be unjust as they deserve punishment, not a free pardon. The response is: ‘What they did was totally unforgivable.’ ‘I will never ever forgive them for as long as I live.’
The important thing to understand here is that the forgiveness is not for the hurter. It is for the benefit of the one forgiving, and it is done in the privacy of your own mind. The hurter does not know that your attitude towards them has changed and therefore they will not benefit from it in any way.
Yes, hurters and abusers do need to pay the price, and they will. But there is no need for you to take revenge and mete out any punishment. A short explanation for that is contained in my often repeated statement ‘You get what you think about ‘. Abusers think very negative thoughts. Therefore they attract to themselves equally negative experiences. In a way the universe has its own inbuilt automatic self punishment system. Quite simply, energy out, energy in. Whatever you put out comes back to you like a boomerang. A therapy colleague who treated inmates in prison told me that the convicts found it hard to live with what they had done and kept the radio on all the time to distract themselves. There is no escape for them, they can’t undo what they did, but the ones they have hurt are innocent, have nothing to reproach themselves for and can choose to let it go and move on. The best form of revenge anyway is to heal and have a good life.
THE REQUIREMENTS OF FORGIVING FOR HEALING
This special kind of forgiving is for you, not for the person or group that hurt you.
It does not mean that you condone what they did.
It does not mean that you like them or that you have to let them into your life. (You may choose to cut them out of your life, or you may choose to remain in a relationship on your terms.)
It does not mean that you forget what they did – you will remember so that you will never let that happen again.
What this special kind of healing forgiveness does mean, is that you break the ties to the hurtful memories. You get back the energy that has been used to keep those thoughts and emotions alive. It is a decision, a conscious decision that you make, using your own free will, to change your attitude towards the hurters.
You take your power back. It is supported by your own positive self regard/unconditional self love, which empowers you to choose to give yourself all the well deserved benefits you will enjoy when you energetically disconnect from the hurters. You have suffered enough and it is time to be your own best friend.
In spite of all the benefits to be gained from forgiving the unforgivable ones, it can still be hard to forgive. You might find it easier, if you can make the hurters more forgivable somehow. Now is the time to really want to know why they would have treated you like that.
Here’s a fact that might help. All bullies feel weak and inadequate and their goal is to raise themselves up by diminishing others. If you were their victim, it’s not about you. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their treatment of you says nothing about you. Your chosen response shows your character, and you have power over that.
As you consider what made them do that, perhaps they also suffered abusive treatment in the past, leaving them emotionally damaged, but they didn’t know how to heal themselves. Maybe you can now see them as weak and fearful, and struggling with their own life. If the hurters were your parents, you might find they had bad parenting, and never learnt how to be a good parent themselves. If the hurters could put their fears aside and if they had known better, do you think they would have wanted to do things differently and not hurt?
Their problems are no excuse, but with compassion and understanding you might now feel more ready to forgive and let go for your own benefit. If you truly forgive in this way, the anger and hurt you felt towards them will change to something like pity, sadness or just indifference. Most importantly you will never again be influenced by their opinions, and nothing they say will ever be able to hurt you again. Their opinion is meaningless and the only opinion that matters to you is your own.
What you will gain out of this new attitude is the release of the negative emotion; it is released from the memories that used to trigger the anger that you could not control. You will remember the events, but you will not feel any emotion should you think of them. You feel more in control of your thoughts and emotions. That old emotion was constructed of your energy and when you let it go, you get your energy back. You get your life back. You get your energy back to do whatever you want with it. To hope, to dream, to motivate, to act, to do things you’ve been putting off. You get back that energy also that you have been using to keep a lid in that negative emotion, so you can move closer to who you really are. Dream like you’ve never dreamed before, because in the past, what was the use – so many limitations. You get back your energy to be stronger, more optimistic, everything you’ve wanted to be, so you can move ahead and live the life you’re meant to live.