Enlightened State

Why We Hold On To Anger and How to Move On

Morgan VanekComment

A few years ago, someone hurt me.  I was going through a difficult time in my life, and this person was unkind to me during my struggle.  It sometimes felt like they were actively trying to add to my pain, and laughing at me as I floundered. 

At the time, I was in the process of doing a lot of intense emotional work on myself, and I didn't have the energy to forgive this person for their actions.  I continued to let them wound me, long after they lost interest and moved on to something else.  Instead, I let the hurt and resentment build up inside me. The result of this was that although I grew healthy and strong in many ways, I built this strength on a flimsy foundation.  While I held onto my anger and hurt, I could not become whole again. 

I am ashamed to say that I held onto these bad feelings much longer than I should have.  You see, out of all the negative emotions we experience, anger feels the best.  When we are angry, it is because we perceive that someone or some set of circumstances has conspired to wrong us, and our anger is self-righteous.  If we are angry, that makes us the protagonist of the situation.  I held onto my anger because I liked being the good guy.  

But the truth is, I couldn't really be a good guy if I continued to let this resentment grow. Imagine if our bedtime stories went something like this:  

     Once upon a time, there lived a great hero, who was both handsome and morally pure.  Suddenly, a nasty villain came along and stole something from him.  The hero considered going on an epic journey to reclaim his possession and restore peace to his kingdom, but instead he decided to hold a grudge.  And the only person who lived happily ever after was the villain, because he completely forgot about the entire incident after two days. The end. 

The hero in this story is no hero at all. He was content to remain a victim for the rest of his life, even when he had the opportunity to seek justice.  In the same way, we must seek to reclaim our peace and happiness when we have been wronged, even though it feels good to be a victim.  We'll never truly be free until we begin the journey of forgiveness and letting go.  

No one wants to be the kind of person who holds onto old grudges, but we often behave this way.  It takes a lot of hard work to let go of our pain, and it might seem easier to perpetuate our self-righteous anger.  But if we do this, we are only holding ourselves back.  That person who hurt me probably hasn't spared me a thought since the last time I saw them, but I have given them a huge amount of control over my thoughts and feelings. I'm not pursuing justice by holding on to these emotions, I'm just punishing myself.  

Anger isn't easy to lose.  Even when you let it go, it clings to you like a bramble on a sweater.  But there are a lot of things inside you, and many of them are good.  Love, compassion, intelligence, warmth, kindness, loyalty - they all make up a part of who you are. Anger will overshadow these qualities if you let it, but it is your choice. Don't choose anger.  Choose love, choose forgiveness, and choose peace. 

After a lot of consideration, I realized that justice in my situation doesn't involve making the other person feel remorse for their actions.  I doubt they ever will, and even if they do, that's not something that is within my control.  The truth is, they did treat me badly, but instead of focusing on them, I choose to focus on myself.  Part of my story is that I got kicked while I was down.  But I'm not going to stay on the ground, willingly subjecting myself to a foot that is no longer there.  I'm going to get up and set myself free of this endless cycle.  That's my narrative arc, and I'm going to embrace it. 

The real villain in this scenario isn't the person who hurt me.  It's the anger and resentment I held onto for so long.  I may never be able to put that person in their place, but I can put those negative feelings right where they belong, which is out of my mind and my heart.  I am my own hero now, and I have the power to cut the chains that have been holding me back for so long.  I will claim victory for myself, and I hope you will, too. 

Have you ever struggled to let go of a past hurt?  What did you do to overcome this challenge?