Jul 18, 2007

On Letting Go of Anger

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About a decade ago I went through a series of personal and professional crises that turned my world upside down. In the course of that time a few people brought harm in a variety of forms to me and my family, and I developed a case of righteous indignation over events beyond my ability to control.

In one sense I lived something of a charmed life in my first three decades on this Earth, and I found myself ill-equipped to cope with major stressors. I had never experienced, for example, the death of a close relative, had never been fired from a job, and virtually every goal I set for myself I achieved.

Life, however, has a way of evening these things out.

In my anger I allowed myself to engage in the visualization of violent forms of retribution, usually involving the swinging of a Louisville Slugger at the sources of my rage. I did not want to commit murder, but I sure felt the urge to pay back a dose of the pain that I felt, delivered via polished ash to the rib cage of my enemies.

No Freudian analysis here, please. :-}

Yet at the same time this seething inner wrath took its toll, as I began to engage in unhealthy means of handling my resentment, not the least of which was using alcohol to temporarily extinguish the misery. Over time I also developed bleeding ulcers, which put me into this bizarre cycle that went something like this: depletion of red blood cells → headache → aspirin → more bleeding ulcers → more red blood cell depletion. It got to the point that my hemoglobin level fell to 6.9 gm/dl, which was less than half the red blood cells in a healthy adult male.

All due to my difficulties in coping with crises.

So I write this post, not to wallow in bygone miseries, but to reach out to readers who might be struggling with this same sort of destructive fury. There is much to be said for letting go of the anger, and actually forgiving those who have brought you harm. Moreover, from personal experience I can attest to the fact that holding on to deep resentments - no matter how justifiable - only serves to degrade your physical health and warp your mental outlook.

Do I still get angry? Most certainly. Are there moments when I think of these old sources of pain? Sure. The difference is that today I avoid letting anger run my life and dominate my thinking, and I recognize that walking around with pent-up rage over dormant, buried events is both unproductive and unhealthy.

Move on, friend, and let go of the anger before it eats away at you.

8 comments:

microdot said...

I think I went through the same cycle you describe, though without the bleeding ulcer. Anger can control your life, destroy your creativity and affect all your other relationships. Learning to let go is a big step because once you do it, it is easier to do it again and to be analytical about what is making you angry and if it is worth it!

I love almost everybody and everything, even Mizz Thang, who if she sees this will most certainly know who I mean!

Man with the Muck-rake said...

It seems that men have always had to face internal anger issues. Some get it out through shouting, others at the end of a gun. Your bout with alcohol is typical of many men here in America who find it their only solution.

American men, it seems, and Microdot would have a better handle on this than I, are not in touch with their emotions and/or do not know how to express emotion. Alcohol and other durgs soothe the confusion and the pent-up emotions. So does road rage and wife beating.

Our male love of violence, begun at very tender years, says much about our male society here in America. Perhaps that is why we engage in wars so often on a regular basis.

Historychic said...

Well said Michael. I have had similar feelings that you have described. The rage becomes all consuming and eventually you either die in the fire or rise from the ashes of the inferno. I rose from the ashes about 6 years ago. I still have my occasional pity party if something doesn't go my way, but I will never allow my inner rage to consume me again. Thanks for posting.

historymike said...

Microdot:

We all have a Mizz or Mizzter Thang (or several) in our pasts the mere mention of whose name can start the stomach churning.

historymike said...

MWTMR:

I just finished watching an excellent film by Eugene Jarecki called Why We Fight that offers some other thoughts on war.

historymike said...

Historychic:

Glad to hear you are past the phase of all-consuming anger; this way of thinking is completely counterproductive and - in a weird way - ends up giving power back to those who actions first brought on the rage.

Man with the Muck-rake said...

"Why We Fight" was an excellent documentary that my wife and I watched some months ago. It ought to be mandatory viewing and discussion in American history classrooms.

microdot said...

Why we fight was shown here last year on the ARTE Network. Excellent piece!