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Forgiveness ~ Step 5: Accepting Your Anger and Retaliation

In this way, for Monbourquette, we take the fifth of twelve steps in forgiveness. How do you keep relationships open in your family?

We are stuck

‘No, of course I’m not mad at her’, replies Saskia ( ° ) to her husband’s question. “I understand how difficult it is for Mom right now. She and Dad have been together for almost 50 years and she must be very lonely now that he…’
Her voice fades.
‘I know that’, Bram insists. ‘But your father passed away a year ago. It’s really not like she calls you every day and expects you to be there for her every time. She also has to look for other ways to make contact with people.’
‘We have to understand…’.
Saskia speaks calmly, but her face is rigid.
‘In any case, it makes me angry when she is still just as down after an hour of conversation as at the start’, Bram continues, ‘and I see that it makes you angry too, and that is completely normal!’
“I’m not mad!” Saskia bursts out. “I’m her only child and I want to be there for her!”

Of the four basic feelings (happy – scared – sad – angry), anger is not the most popular. Many educators prefer to deal with anger as quickly as possible. How many people were told, “You mustn’t be angry.” We learn to suppress our anger, especially when dealing with the key people in our lives.
That fear of anger is not unjustified. Anger has an explosive power that can do a lot of damage. Anger can destroy relationships. Anger can literally kill.
However, anger, with the urge to retaliate in its wake, cannot simply be suppressed when we are confronted with injustice.
Can we deal with anger and retaliation in a different way? Are these emotions just ballast, or are they useful on our path to forgiveness?
 

Two misconceptions about feelings

Feelings are as unreliable as the weather. They come and go. Meanwhile, they influence our work and our relationships. We don’t quite know what to do with it, because we don’t want to become the plaything of our feelings.
So it seems safest to suppress them or at least temper them.
But anyone who tries that will notice that it takes a lot of energy. The consequences are fatigue, psychosomatic complaints and even depression.
Are we caught between those two choices? Suppress our feelings or become a plaything for our fluctuating feelings?

Before we can answer that question, it is important that we correct two misconceptions about feelings.

First, we tend to believe that our feelings are completely determined by the event that precedes them. 

A frustrating experience can only produce anger, a loss experience only sadness, and so on. Thus our feelings become frightening and inescapable, we have no control over them at all.

In reality, our feelings are primarily a response to what we think about a particular event, rather than to the event itself.

For example, when our partner reacts petulantly, we may think, “He (she) apparently had a rough day at work.” Or we can think, ‘See, he (she) doesn’t love me.’ These different interpretations of the same fact will evoke very different feelings.

We have little control over our feelings, but more control over our thoughts. 

Thoughts form patterns over the years. It becomes a habit to think suspiciously or confidently, fearfully or hopefully, resignedly or critically about what is happening to us. The good news is that any habit can be broken and replaced with new, better habits.

Sometimes the choice for certain thought patterns is even a matter of life or death.

 For example, Victor Frankl, psychologist and survivor of Auschwitz, testifies in his standard  work Man’s Search for Meaning  that people who could connect hopeful thoughts to the horrific events around them had the best chance of survival. He discovered that it was not the physical constellation in the first place, but thoughts such as ‘Someday I’ll get out of here and see my family again’ that determined whether someone remained mentally and physically afloat.
Even in much less extreme circumstances, our interpretations have a lot to do with our feelings.

Als Thes ( °) hates one thing, it’s shopping on Saturday mornings. Busy shopping aisles full of carts, long queues at the cash registers. But sometimes there is no other way. She has a headache when she comes home, so she is annoyed in the queue at the cash register. And of course her queue is always slower than the others, even when she has carefully selected the shortest one, taking into account the contents in the other carts! Once she decides not to put her energy into suppressing her annoyance about this, but to observe the people in front of her. Who are these people? Why are they queuing here on a Saturday morning? Do they look happy or not? Her attention also goes to the cashier. How does she look? Does she like her job? Would she have a family of her own? Would she have a good partner to support her?
Time passes faster, she discovers that it is nice to have a chat with the cashier or someone else in line.
She comes home as late as usual, but this time without a headache.

A second misconception is that we coincide with our feelings, that they make up our identity. 

In doing so, we attribute too much of a role to our emotions. Emotions aren’t all that important. We discover this by becoming aware of the ‘neutral observer’ in ourselves.

How can we get acquainted with that ‘neutral observer’?

When we are angry, anxious, or sad, we tend to focus our full attention on the subject of our anger, fear, or sadness. Our thoughts remain, but circle around that unfortunate comment from a relative, that sneer from our partner, the frightening financial condition of our bank account. To discover our ‘neutral observer’, we have to do it differently: we shift our attention to the anger, fear, or sadness itself. So we look at our emotion, not at the subject of our emotion. We do this in a non-judgmental, curious and mild way.

We ask ourselves questions.
What do we look like? What kind of facial expression do we have?
What happens in our body?
What do we see ourselves doing?
Does this align with who we want to be?
Does this align with who we really are?

In this way we think about the emotion as it manifests itself in us, instead of thinking about the ’cause’ of the emotion.
Anyone who is a believer can offer this emotion to God and ask to receive it in God’s love.
The more we step out of an emotion and look at it, the more we realize that we are more than our emotions. There is a safe distance between our deepest self, the mild observer in us on the one hand, and the emotion on the other. We have an emotion, the emotion does not have to ‘have’ us.

Sometimes a great deal of anger, fear, or sadness has been pushed away for a long time. The thought of recognizing and listening to these feelings, perhaps for the first time, is terrifying. What if there is such a great tidal wave of emotions that people can no longer hold their own? If you recognize this, it is advisable to seek help from a trained therapist. He or she can guide you to face these feelings, step by step. He or she then plays the role of the ‘neutral observer’ and gradually teaches you to do the same.

Once we’ve let go of those two misconceptions—“If this or that happens, I can’t help but feel like this or that” and “I am what I feel”—there’s no need to be so afraid of our emotions. They are not supreme and all-determining.

We are not powerless, like a toy, completely at the mercy of our emotions. 
And our emotions are not all-powerful, we don’t have to suppress them anymore.
 

The Effects of Repressed Anger

When someone is deeply hurt, there is first a period of shock, a denial, a temporary stupor. After that, there is often a flood of emotions: anger, resentment, hatred, but also guilt and self-blame. This is very normal, but often very frightening.

A first reaction may be to suppress these feelings and resume our normal life as soon as possible.

However, suppressed anger is not vanished anger. If she can’t turn to the person who hurt us, she looks and finds another way out.
Sometimes innocent third parties are the victims: the partner, a child, a pet.
The anger can also be directed at ourselves. We are going to blame and blame ourselves.
“I shouldn’t have done this.”
Sometimes we give ourselves names, echoes of names once given to us by others.
‘You idiot. naive. How could you be so stupid?’

Another expression of this self-condemnation are the ‘If only I’ or ‘If only I were’ thoughts.

If only I had listened to my mother and hadn’t married that person, I wouldn’t have been so deceived.
If only I had not been so idealistic at work, my efforts would not have been abused for years.
If only I hadn’t confided in that friend, but now it’s too late.

These feelings of guilt have nothing to do with healthy repentance which, once expressed in conversation, prayer or the sacrament of Reconciliation, disappears and gives way to the positive energy of a fresh start.
Monbourquette calls this a “false” debt. After all, we feel guilty for something that went wrong, even if no one else would hold us responsible for it. There is no absolution for this guilt, precisely because it is not real guilt, but an unheard, misunderstood anger that we direct against ourselves.

The only cure is a mildness towards ourselves, because we are simply not omnipotent and omniscient, cannot be present everywhere at the same time, cannot always react equally alert and wise.

In step 6 (‘Forgiving yourself’) we go into this in more detail.

Without that mildness, the suppressed anger continues to grind. 

We develop psychosomatic complaints. We get depressed. We become hostile to life itself, to any disappointment, and even to God. Needless to say, there is then very little energy left to walk a path into forgiveness.

Anne ( ° ) is a young, friendly woman. She calmly tells the growth group how she found out that her husband cheated on her several times, even during their engagement time.
“I’m not mad at him,” she adds. ‘I do understand it. It has a lot to do with his childhood.’ She doesn’t have to participate in that exercise about dealing with anger, she says, because she has left the anger behind. She may have been angry for a while, but that’s long gone.
Everyone is impressed, Anne is very convincing.
At a subsequent meeting about self-reproach, however, one gets to see a completely different side of Anne. Just as calm as she was last time, Anne is just as emotional now. It’s raining self-blame. Has she already talked about this with friends? She nods. “They all say I have nothing to blame myself for. But I can’t help it. It just keeps coming.’

Dealing differently with anger and resentful thoughts

Jean Monbourquette invited people to welcome their anger, after experiencing injustice, as a good friend.
Of course, that anger must first be recognized. Sporadically she has disguised herself in self-blame or dejection.
We need not be ashamed of our anger. Theologian and philosopher Lytta Basset delicately points out that ‘wrath’ in the Bible is more often about God than about people. So anger is not only human, it is also divine!

Without anger, there would be no moral or ethical action against abuse in our society. Without anger, things that go wrong in child-rearing or in various relationships would never be addressed and corrected. We may recognize anger as an expression of moral and emotional indignation, as the mouthpiece of our sense of justice.

After anger often come resentful thoughts and even hatred. These too should not be suppressed, but expressed and listened to. How do we approach something like this in concrete terms?

After we have greeted our anger and resentful thoughts, we can engage in conversation with them. We re-enter the role of the neutral observer (See above: ‘Two misconceptions about feelings’) and question these emotions.
What are you so mad about? What exactly? What do you hate about that person?
How should it have gone? What do you want for me? What else do you want to see?
What do you want me to do for you? How can I rectify this in a way that is healing for all involved?

‘I had always learned not to get angry’, says Ingrid ( ° ) in the growth group. “And I had become very good at that. Everyone praised me for my self-control. I was very proud of that myself. I actually looked a bit down on people who immediately freaked out.’
She remains silent for a moment. A few people nod, as if they already know what’s coming next.
“But now I have to admit that it is exactly my anger that saved me. Because I eventually became so angry about what Maarten did, I got the energy to take steps away from my sadness.’
‘Yes’, nods Irma sitting next to her. ‘I once read that people spend the first half of their lives putting all kinds of qualities in a garbage can – they want to avoid being angry or vulnerable or I don’t know what to do. They spend the second half of their lives fishing those qualities back from the garbage can. Because often it turns out to be precisely what they need.’

When we speak with our anger, the ‘neutral observer’ remains the moderator. He or she listens, but don’t get carried away! He or she does not begin to question past decisions, such as ‘I want to avoid taking revenge’ (step 1) or ‘I wish to treat other people the way I would like to be treated.’

Often people discover new, surprising ways out of these conversations with their anger. To their surprise, the anger appears to have cooled down. She has done her job.

STEP 5 IN A NUTSHELL
Emotions do not arise from events, but from our interpretations of those events. From our neutral observer, we can question our emotions. Just suppressing anger is useless. She then focuses on someone else, and that is frequently yourself. Listened anger helps you further in solving your problem.
STEP 5 AT YOUR HOME
What place does anger have in your family? How often do you or your partner tell you that you were angry about something and then resolved it? And how do you react to the children’s outbursts of anger? Do you teach them to express their anger in a good way, or do you teach them to suppress their anger?
It is an interesting exercise to observe the place of ‘anger’ in your family for a week. You can do this by making a list of all family members’ names and putting a dash whenever you notice an expression of anger. How did that anger manifest itself? At the end of the week, you mapped out the anger. What is your conclusion: should anger in your family be expressed by everyone? How? Is she mostly oppressed?
Have a chat with the kids about what makes them angry. Invite them to make a drawing or a clay piece about it. Give the works of art a place in your home. Join them in looking for solutions to what made them angry. If the problem that caused the anger is solved, the artwork may also disappear, or be kept in a cupboard.

Door johanpersyn

Het is niet genoeg om klinische beschrijvingen en wetenschappelijke proefschriften te vinden over aandoeningen en hun symptomen. Ook is het niet nuttig om alleen over het verdriet van de slachtoffers te schrijven. Soms hebben we voorbeelden nodig - voorbeelden van het leven - van het gedrag dat deze mensen vertonen en een vertaling van wat echt is, echt aan de hand, voordat we het kunnen internaliseren en de informatie toepassen in ons eigen leven. Maar dikwijls hebben we ook iemand nodig om te luisteren naar onze reactie op die verhalen en gebeurtenissen in ons leven. Daar wil ik mijn ervaring met u delen om samen te groeien in kwalitatievere opvoeding en beleving.

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