Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dealing with anger...a skill we must learn

When I first contacted the brother of my ex’s late wife, almost nine years had passed since her death. I was concerned that I might be opening up old wounds, and was therefore very cautious when approaching him.

Despite the long time lapse, he was still very angry about the damage caused to his sister by my ex. In fact, I think that perhaps the anger had grown over time. It’s easy to understand why this happens. It’s due to a lack of closure. He was never able to get the answers he sought about his sisters’ tragic demise. He had sent Emails to my ex to demand an explanation, but was met with nothing but stony silence. This had left him in a state of frustrated limbo, with no outlet for his feelings of anger towards my ex.

The same thing happened to me when my relationship broke down. So many questions were left unanswered, and despite my best efforts, I was unable to get any satisfactory explanation as to what had happened. I felt overwhelmed with bitter recrimination.

At the time, I was ignorant to his Personality Disorder, and as a result of this, I ended up turning a lot of the anger and frustration in on myself. This placed me in a living hell, and it took me many months, and a great deal of will power, to get myself out of the pit.

During that time, I was advised to use my anger to give me strength. This was very good advice, and I follow it to this day.

Anger is a powerful source of energy, and I found I was able to use that energy to spur me on and get myself away from the toxic situation.
Anger can be positive in this respect. It's a primary instinct which creates fire in our bellies, and is fundamental in aiding our ‘fight or flight’ instinct.
With me, flight came first. Initially, I knew I needed to get myself and the kids away from this situation, at any cost. It was preservation, fuelled by anger, that got me through this time. Instinct took over, and I found myself on auto-pilot. The anger drove me through, and gave me the energy to get away from the 'danger'.

Once away, the anger didn’t abate. If anything, as I started to gain inner strength and recover some clarity of thought, I found the anger was deepening. This time, it was directed towards my ex. There is no tangible release for anger such as this, because being angry with your NPD/APD ex is akin to banging your own head against a brick wall. You’re just going to hurt yourself. It’s never going to get you anywhere, because he/she will never acknowledge they have done wrong, and, therefore, your anger can never be ‘validated’.

Closure will evade you for as long as you are in a highly fragile angered state. You need to find an outlet, or a channel, or the energy will eat away at you and you'll be the one to suffer.

For me, some release came through learning more about my ex’s history. I was fortunate that by making contact with his late wife’s brother, I was able to gain knowledge which ‘armed’ me for future dealings with him ( the ensuing anger gave me the strength to fight). It was also an enormous help to the brother, who was finally given an outlet for his own anger. By swapping information with me, he was able to come to terms with what had happened to his sister.

It wasn’t closure for either of us, but it was certainly a step closer. His anger was validated by hearing what I had to say, and mine was validated by hearing the truth about what had happened to his sister. This knowledge helped me to make sense of the situation I was in. Temporarily, you can bet we both got even angrier! But at least we were able to vent to eachother, and hence find a release for the pent up emotions we both harboured. It was a step forwards for both of us. One step further down the road to recovery from the impact the NPD/APD had on both our lives.

Further release came through learning about the psychology aspect of what had happened to me. It was certainly a ‘light bulb moment’ when I discovered the true nature of Personality Disorders (in this case NPD/APD), and the havoc they wreak upon the loved ones of sufferers. It suddenly started to make sense, and I was able to look back over the entire relationship and pinpoint all the ‘warning signs’ I’d ignored along the way. Suddenly I became aware that I wasn’t the first (and won’t be the last) to have gone through this nightmare. Knowing you are not alone is extremely empowering. Learning about the root cause of the problem, equally so. This gave more validation, and reduced the anger to a more manageable level.

It was also very important for me to understand (as I’ve said before) my own role in the relationship.

Understanding how YOU have contributed to a pattern of events is an essential part of the healing process.

Inevitably I got angry with myself. This is only natural. Many of the events could not have taken place were it not for my active participation. However, I had to learn not blame myself for what happened.

We all need to learn to accept that it wasn't our fault. We must accept we made errors of judgement about his/her character. Acknowledge that we made some misguided decisions whilst in the relationship. We must admit these blunders, and then move on from them.

Again, don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself about the feelings of anger. They are going to keep coming in waves for a long time yet. And nothing you can do will be able to prevent it.

If, (like me) you have been left with children to nurture and a mountain of debt to overcome (or other similar seemingly hopeless circumstances), you can’t expect the anger to dissipate any time soon. I still get very angry in certain situations. When I observe the hurt which has been caused to the children (triggers for this usually come out of the blue, from the mouths of the children themselves), or see glimpses of 'what might have been' when I look at other ‘normal’ families, it hurts me to the core. This hurt is then quickly replaced by searing anger.

This is a cycle I’ve come to accept. I know there’s no point trying to fight it, so I am resigned to the inevitability of these feelings. However, instead of letting the fire consume me when it comes, I instead try to channel the energy it generates.

I use this energy boost to fuel my determination to be a better and more dedicated Mum to my kids. I try to turn the anger into a solid resolve to fix the mass of problems the ex created in his wake, and to succeed where he so miserably failed.

Like other emotions, you cannot just switch anger off. What you can do though, is try to release it safely without doing any harm to yourself or your loved ones. You CAN turn it from a negative into a positive. Let it become a driving force in your determination to overcome the situation you have been left with. Learn to channel this powerful emotion to YOUR benefit, and yours alone.

Failing this, you need an outlet. Talk, talk, and talk some more! Talk to anybody who will listen. Vent, and get it out.

If there’s nobody to talk to, do something energetic. Go for a run, hit the gym, or simply punch your pillow. Don’t keep it in. It has to come out.

Try not to dwell on your feelings of anger towards your ex. As I said before, the PD is no outlet. Your anger AT him/her will never be validated BY him/her, therefore, it's energy wasted.

It happened. You can’t change it. You can’t change him/her. He/she couldn't even help it, so there's just no point being angry at them.

Scream out loud if you must, but keep the anger in the moment. Don’t let it spill over into the rest of your life.

Wounds like this don’t heal easily. It’s unrealistic to expect ourselves to be ‘fixed’ within any given time frame. All you can do is face each wave of anger as it comes, and either channel it in a positive way (fight or flight), or simply let it go.

Whatever you do though, don’t bottle it up. You can never heal if you do. Bottling it up is like picking at the wound from within. It will irritate it, and infect it, and you’ll end up carrying even deeper scars than before.

As hard as it may seem, you must let it go. You’re not ‘letting him/her get away with it’ by releasing the anger and no longer harbouring resentment. On the contrary, you’re rising above it, and into a place where they can never hurt you again.

Anger is a primary instinct over which we have little influence. We should not try to ignore or suppress our anger, but instead learn to respond to it in a way which will ultimately facilitate our recovery.

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” ~Buddha

1 comment:

  1. Very good article, thanks for taking the time to post. It is very sad all the damage these relationships cause. I am in the process of trying to let go its very hard when you never received acknowledgement and never will. But i know one day it won't be the foremost thing on my mind and I can say it was a huge learning experience, but I wanna be done learning for a while, lol.