THE BLOG

Combatting Wrath With Patience: 7 Virtues + 7 Vices For Our Vets

06/10/2013 04:29 pm ET | Updated Aug 10, 2013

You've just spent a year or more in the trenches. You've seen the life flash before your eyes more times than you can count. You can't remember the last time you hugged your kids or kissed your significant other. You've worked the hardest job imaginable, with little thanks and few perks. Now, finally returning home as a civilian, all you can think is that the love, normalcy, calm and danger-free days waiting for you will make all the sacrifices of your military service worthwhile.

Here's what greets you: Skyrocketing rates of veteran homelessness and suicides. A VA health care system struggling to provide you with treatment for your physical and mental wounds. PTSD of epic proportions, making employment and other logistics of civilian life even more difficult for you and the third of your fellow soldiers it afflicts.

Feel the wrath yet?

Our returning veterans are facing tough circumstances. For many, the return home to civilian live is completely devoid of the romance and triumph that had kept them hopeful during battle. Faced with joblessness, homelessness and severe emotional scarring, many of our veterans are getting pretty angry -- and rightfully so. The problem is, this deadly sin has a track record for making problems worse, and the last thing our warriors deserve is more turmoil coloring their new post-war normal.

Wrath is one of the seven deadly sins for a reason. This state of rage may feel like a good way to release negative energy, but it usually ends up breeding even more negativity rather than helping you heal. When unbridled, wrath can lead to violence, hatred and other self-destructive behaviors that simply add to a person's list of challenges. And as if the emotional toll of wrath isn't painful enough, these deep-seated negative feelings can also cause your physical health to suffer. High-blood pressure, a strained heart and weakened blood vessels all follow wrath like a shadow.

So how do we keep our wrath in check, even amid dire circumstances like the ones our veterans face in their new post-war normal? By combating this vice with its opposing virtue, patience. Patience isn't just an overly idealistic concept that means resting on your laurels and waiting for your trauma to heal. It's a measured reaction to stress that requires forgiveness, inner peace and a strong desire to thrive, not merely survive. One of the biggest indications that patience actually works is mind-body exercise such as yoga. Yoga has been shown to help veterans with PTSD overcome their trauma, anxiety, depression and anger through breathing and meditation exercises. And cognitive therapy, which focuses on talking through issues in order to transform negative emotions into positive ones, has likewise shown how forgiveness, openness and inner peace can aid in the healing process. That includes in veterans, who can often use such a process to start turning their Post-Traumatic Stress into Post-Traumatic Growth. And here's the best part: patience doesn't just help you emotionally; it's also a lot kinder to your body than anger.

When we decide to replace our anger with patience, we can begin to peel back the division that our wrath creates between our true selves and the rest of the world. For many individuals experiencing trauma, veteran or not, wrath becomes the defense mechanism of choice, allowing us to avoid healing the issues that deny us happiness, peace of mind and authentic well-being. By striving to counter your vice, rage, with your virtue, patience, you can slowly begin to peel back this protective layer so that your true self can get back to being your defining feature. That's true healing.