This is an opinion piece and I am not a professional. This is just my personal opinion/ insight on the topic. Take what helps you.
Forgiveness is HARD for me. I don’t intend on holding onto grudges, it is just difficult for me to release them. And anger is a difficult emotion. In the moment it can seem powerful and all-consuming. But when you take yourself out of the emotion, you realize that sometimes the anger driven reaction was extreme and illogical.
So how do I manage anger? From day to day anger to larger instances? These are my tips.
1. NAME THE FEELING
Withdraw yourself from the situation if possible. When you have withdrawn say the following statement aloud to yourself: (if you cannot withdraw mutter this statement softly to yourself or say it in your head) “I feel angry.” Naming the emotion is the first step to grounding yourself in the moment. Saying “I feel” instead of “I am” is a little reminder to yourself that you are not your emotion. Your emotion is something you are FEELING but it is not what defines you. Usually I default to saying “I AM angry” but the act of correcting myself just further segments it into my mind. I FEEL angry. And that’s ok. You are ALLOWED to feel angry. Anger is a valid emotion, especially when provoked by an unwanted situation. But this said, sometimes acting on the anger without thinking the situation through can put you in the wrong as well. So it is crucial to take a step back from it.
After naming the emotion, remind yourself that your emotion is ok. “I feel angry, and that is ok. I am allowed to feel angry, but my emotion does not define my actions. I am in control of my actions.”
Taking the time to differentiate between your actions and your thoughts is SO crucial. People think of a million thoughts a day.
Here is an example, have you ever sat in the library, in a dead silent room and thought to yourself, “I want to jump on the table and start singing “Fergalicious” loudly to break the silence?” I have. In fact sometimes this urge is SO strong that I can actually envision Fergie jumping out of a birthday cake whispering “DO IT” into my left ear. And have I ever done it? Sadly no. 🙁 Because I know it would be inappropriate and disrupt my fellow peers studying for their exams. And I know there would be consequences for the behaviour (i.e. embarrassment, potentially getting kicked out of the library, etc.) Some people have a split second through of stealing a candy bar, cheating on an exam, or doing a backflip off the trampoline. Whether or not they act on those thoughts is entirely up to them.
So we can differentiate actions from thoughts. The problem with anger is that the urge to do something bad seems hyphened in the moment, but with better self-control and practice, it gets easier not to act on it. Just like a 5-year old may have learned over time that throwing a temper tantrum in public is inappropriate, so when they are 10 years old, they can control that urge MUCH easier.
Something that has helped me is the reminder that every time you choose not to act on your anger, you are re-wiring your brain to create healthier thought patterns.
Taking a minute to separate your feeling from your action is crucial. So once that is done, we can move onto the next step…
2. THANK YOUR ANGER BUT REMIND IT YOU ARE SAFE
Your anger is trying to protect you. It is a defense mechanism against what your brain perceives to seem like a dangerous situation. Thanking your anger for protecting you, as if it is a toddler, is important. You are reminding yourself that your anger is valid and you are thanking it for the warning.
If it weren’t for our anger, we would probably stay around people who would hurt us, or stay in situations that are unhealthy for us.
Your anger is right. The situation you are in right now isn’t good for you. It is warning you to get out. For instance, if a friend slights you in public and puts you down, your anger is a hint that this friend might not have good intentions for you. If someone tries to steal something from you or harm you in any way, you are going to feel angry. And that anger is valid. But you have to use that anger as an indicator that something is off and NOT a tool to fix the situation.
Because anger can be a very primitive emotion. Sometimes a friend says something rude to you, but this can be a one off. NO ONE is perfect, and that friend might otherwise be valuable contributor in your life. So acting as if your friend is a threat can actually do more harm than good for your safety and for the strength of the relationship.
So after we thank our anger, what do we do?
3. ACKNOLEDGE THAT WE TOO MAKE MISTAKES
Think back to a time you made a mistake. You are bound to have, we all do. I know I have made mistakes when I have acted out in anger, I said things I did not mean to people I love. So, what happened in these situations? Well, I was forgiven. I was able to apologize and put in the effort to fix the situation and the person forgave me for the wrong I had done.
Now that someone else has made a mistake, we have to be prepared to work with them just as people in the past have worked with us when we made a mistake.
4. EXPLAIN THE EMOTION
ONLY AFTER we have done the previous three steps, 1) Name the Feeling, 2) Thank the Anger, 3) Acknowledge Our Past Mistakes THEN we can explain what is going on to the person who hurt us.
We can start by saying this statement, “When you said _______ it made me feel ________ and _________.” Explaining this to someone who cares about you should be enough to solicit a loving reply. But we have to be prepared and guarded in this moment. If the person is also angry with us, we might not get a positive reply. If that is the case take a minute to remove yourself from the situation and come back to it later. You can do this by saying, “We are both feeling ________ right now, I am going to remove myself from this situation to give us both an opportunity to cool down and we can reproach this situation later.”
SO let’s say the response was positive OR some time has passed. What do we do now?
We examine the situation. IF the person’s actions were something that they are willing to apologize for and work on, then it might be a good decision to forgive them and work with them to rebuild trust. A good friend might ask what you would like from them, or maybe they might not think to ask. But it might be a good decision to think about it. What would make you REALISTICALLY (don’t be unrealistic here) make you feel better? You can start with discussing that it would make you feel a lot better if they apologized in front of other people who also witnessed the scene. Maybe they embarrassed you in front of others. This is a fair compromise. Maybe the person made a sexist statement, and you would like to take the time to educate them on why what they said was wrong and maybe suggest donating to an organization to help women. Maybe the person spilt wine on your dress, and if the person can afford it, maybe they can pay for a new dress or give you one of theirs. Maybe if the person took the time to write you a letter you would feel better. Figure out what the person would be willing to do to rectify the situation. Work together on this. Some people will just do it on their own, but others may not know how to fix the situation alone. They might care about you but they might not know what to do to rectify the situation. Working together with someone and meeting them where they are is important.
Building trust back up after a breach of trust can be hard to work through. People who truly care about you will want to help you heal. So take the time to work together with the person to rebuild that trust.
5. WHAT TO DO IF THE PERSON GETS DEFENSIVE
Some people will NOT want to rebuild your trust. I once tried to work through a situation where I was wronged with someone who started to act defensive instead of apologetic. They hung up the phone on me and refused to apologize in front of the people they slighted me in front of. They were not willing to put their pride aside for the sake of our relationship. And it was unfortunate, but that relationship had to end temporarily because I realized I was being mistreated and the person could not meet me where I was at emotionally. And sometimes that’s the harsh reality.
Do not let their defensiveness push you to act in anger. Go back to steps 1-3 and repeat the process. But also have the courage to walk away from this relationship. If this person cannot even apologize or work with you to rebuild trust after wronging you, they do not deserve any more of your time.
Know this has to do with their level of immaturity and insecurities and their actions are not a reflection on you.
6. WHAT TO DO IF YOU DO NOT GET AN APOLOGY/ REMORSE
If you follow the steps above, the anger won’t completely dissipate, but it will become manageable. Because the person was able to grow from the experience and work with you to rectify the situation. But what about those situations where you do not get an apology?
Sometimes people are not remorseful for their action as they genuinely do not feel they did anything wrong. If they gaslight you or try to convince you that it is actually YOU that is the problem and not them, then this relationship needs to end. At the very least until that person comes around.
You can teach them a lesson from your absence.
I once had a person call me a sexist name and was not remorseful. I was angered by this but decided the best decision would be to remove myself from the situation. A few months later I got a dating app and discovered they actually had a crush on me. It was a little gratifying to see this, but at the same time, I knew not to put too much value into this. I kept the information to myself and did not rub it in. I simply took it as a lesson that sometimes people’s actions have NOTHING to do with you and everything to do with them and the emotions THEY are working through. The responsibility is on them to work through this. All you can do is walk away from them. Trust me when I say walking away is a statement within itself.
7. HOW TO COPE WITH THE ANGER
You don’t want to let this anger define you or disrupt you for longer than it needs to. So if the person who wrongs you is willing to fix the situation, Then healing is actually a lot easier. BUT you still need to heal. Don’t blame yourself for feeling angry even after an apology and changed behaviour, it just means you are still healing. And that is ok.
But when you do not get the apology, that is harder. When the connection cannot be rebuilt, the anger is harder to let go of.
And actually, I don’t like the term “let go”. You can’t just will yourself to completely release all of your emotions, I like the term “work through” better. Because when you work through something, you are not suppressing it or getting angry at yourself. You are just healing. Eventually you will not feel as angry as you do right now, eventually you will forget all about the incident, but right now, you still feel it. And that’s ok.
Remember others actions are not a reflection on you. Do not take their actions personally. Acknowledge that a sexist statement comes from THEIR ignorance on a topic, or their insecurity or unresolved issues with their mother, it does not have to do with you. Someone too proud to apologize is EGO driven and NOT confidence driven, they are suffering internally much more than you. They are not well or mature at this moment and all we can do is wish them the healing and growth they need.
8. THE AFTERMATH
JOURNAL seriously, and not in a neat and tiny journal, I’m talking with a sharpy and apply a lot of pressure with your pencil to the page. Scribble aggressively. Rip paper. Throw a ball and bounce it off a wall, go bowling and MURDER those pins. Get the anger out. PLAY SQUASH.
And then, feel what is under the anger. Is it sadness? Maybe someone you loved told you they don’t love you anymore. That isn’t fun to hear. Maybe you had to end a relationship or friendship you didn’t want to. Maybe you feel betrayed and hurt that someone you trusted would want to hurt you. Listen to sad music, cry, go on a walk. Heal. Dealing and healing with your emotions is valid. Even if everything still worked out and the person who hurt you is truly sorry and the relationship still exists, it is still going to hurt. You are still going to heal.
It’s like someone broke your leg. They might be the one who drove you to the doctors and apologized a million times, but your leg is still broken. It needs some time to heal. And that’s ok. This part you can do on your own.
The healing is NOT the responsibility of the person who hurt you, it is YOUR responsibility, and your responsibility only.
9. WRITE A 100-REASONS LIST
This is the fun part! Now you get to forgive yourself AND the other person by acknowledging 100 true statements POSITIVE statements about them and about you. They are a human being who is lovable and awesome! And guess what, so are you!
So we are going to write two lists. One for them, and one for you. Write 100 compliments to them and 100 compliments to you. Read both lists when you release the anger or if you feel resentment coming on.
We need to hold two opposing ideas in our mind: This person is both awesome AND imperfect at the same time. They are not a saint, they are not the devil, they are HUMAN. And they are awesome and imperfect. They deserve forgiveness and (if earned) your friendship, trust and respect.
After you are all healed you can give the list to the person (theirs I mean, not yours) I am sure they will appreciate the love and they deserve it.
10. FINAL THOUGHTS
Anger and forgiveness is a process and it’s HARD. It’s not easy and it’s not supposed to be. But you are strong enough to do it. Neither you or the person who wronged you is perfect but you are both awesome and lovable in your own way. So, now is the time to be human and acknowledge real feelings, accept that the healing process if YOUR responsibility and not theirs, and grow. You can do this. Save this article and refer back to it when you are mad. And don’t get mad at yourself when you feel angry. Feelings and thoughts are natural and human. But it is what we act on that defines us. Meditation, journaling, and reading new material will divert the mind to productive things and make this whole process a lot easier.
I believe people can change IF THEY ARE WILLING to. We cannot force someone to be willing to change, all we can do is vocalize our feelings and encourage their growth. And have faith in them that they will someday grow.