Moving from Anger to Forgiveness
There are many serious problems to feel angry about, including neglect, abuse, and deceit. Children who grow up with these problems are usually powerless to stop the forms of abuse and neglect that they suffer and become pent up with anger. Many teens struggle to express their anger or outrage in a healthy manner, so instead many either act out their anger by getting into trouble or react inwardly by converting anger into shame, depression, or low self-esteem.
It can take years of hard work to discover how deep the wounds really go. If teens don’t deal with their anger responsibly, their anger can be a major block to personal growth and cause problems in their future. Unresolved anger is often a factor in addictive and compulsive behaviors and relapse. Holding on to old anger can cause people to avoid conflict, procrastinate, and give up their needs. It can poison relationships and prevent true intimacy. It breeds bitterness, resentment, mistrust, and fear.
Rosemary Hartman, supervisor of the Hazelden Family Program in Center City, Minn, talked about anger, saying, “People who carry around a lot of resentment tend to be more reactive to day-to-day situations. If a driver makes a slight error in judgment on the highway, some people may react by screaming or shaking a fist at the driver–not because of the actual occurrence, but because they have a huge bank of anger inside that is tapped with the slightest provocation. Family members or significant others also become the recipients of repressed, misplaced anger. If people blow up at their boss, they probably won’t last long on the job. Spouses and children tend to tolerate that kind of behavior for a longer period of time.”
Teens Need to Let Go of Anger
Earnie Larsen, a workshop leader and author of From Anger to Forgiveness, said about anger, “If your heart was broken because you always wanted to be hugged by your mother and father and they were never there, or you experienced actual abuse, you’ve got a valid gripe. But once you understand and acknowledge that, you need to work through the anger and move beyond it to forgiveness and reconciliation. Otherwise, you’re just stuck in a cycle of resentment and bitterness.”
The people most likely to hang on to anger are those who come from dysfunctional families. These are the people who either didn’t have validated feelings as children or had to deny their feelings. “Anger is the emotional response to perceived injustice,” Larsen said. “It is always a justice issue. It’s thinking or feeling that ‘I don’t count,’ or ‘My thoughts aren’t important.'”
An important part of recovery involves doing the “anger work” and moving towards forgiveness. The first stage in this process is to understand the incidents that still trigger anger.
Larsen and Hartman offer some practical suggestions:
•Understand that addiction is a disease. This awareness is helpful for people who grew up in alcoholic families. Knowing that people did hurtful things because of their addiction, rather than out of malice, helps people begin to forgive.
•Become willing to forgive. Without the willingness to forgive or work out a relationship, nothing will happen.
•Learn communication and assertiveness skills. These skills give people an outlet to express anger and other feelings in a non-disruptive way.
•Ask for help from a Higher Power. Tapping into a power greater than ourselves can help overcome long-term resentments and rage. Prayer can help people let go of self-pity and thoughts of revenge.
•Detach with love. When we let go of responsibility for other people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and instead concentrate on our own issues, it is easier to feel less angry and to forgive.
The benefits of successfully dealing with anger include serenity, self-confidence, healthier relationships, and recovery. It’s not a one-shot deal, but a process that continues throughout our lives.
“Sometimes, I hear people say, ‘I want to be able to forgive once and for all,'” Hartman said. “But it usually doesn’t work that way. If people are working on themselves, if they have a good spiritual base and remain willing to forgive, they won’t be interested in staying angry. They will be able to let go of anger a lot sooner.”