I frequently hear this question from my counseling clients: "Don't I have a right to be angry? I have been betrayed (or hurt) and it seems to me that I certainly have a right to be angry in this situation."
My answer is, "Yes, of course you have the right. But what's the point? Is your anger working for you to get you what you want?"
We always have the right to feel whatever we feel. We also have the right to express anger when we feel hurt or betrayed. However, the real question is not whether you have the right, but whether or not your anger is working for you.
Samantha asked this same question in her first Skype session with me. Over two years ago, Samantha had discovered that Brad, her husband of 12 years, had been having numerous affairs. She was devastated, and her response was anger. Two years later she was still angry, and even though Brad had been in therapy for sexual addiction and was no longer having affairs, she was miserable.
"Samantha, what are you hoping for by being angry?"
"I want Brad to feel REALLY awful about what he did so I can be sure he will never do it again."
"So you are punishing him, hoping to have control over him?"
"Yes, I guess that's what I'm doing. I don't want to be hurt like that ever again."
"Since you can't be certain he will never do this again, why have you decided to stay in the relationship?"
"I love him and we have two children."
"So the purpose of your anger is to control him and protect you from feeling your heartbreak and helplessness over him?"
"Well what should I do? Just forgive and act like nothing happened?"
"Samantha, is what you are doing making you happy? Is it bringing you joy? Is it healing your marriage?"
"No, I feel awful most of the time."
"The fact is that this happened, and you can't make it not have happened. And it was heartbreaking for you. You actually have only two viable choices if you want to feel better: You need to accept that Brad did this and is attempting to heal his underlying issues, or you need to get a divorce. The only way you can truly accept it is to stop taking his behavior personally, and learn to manage your feelings of heartbreak and helplessness over him. Anger is generally a cover-up feeling -- covering over deeper, painful feelings such as heartbreak and helplessness over others."
"How can I not take it personally? He did this to me."
"No, he did it out of his own fears, just as you are angry due to your fears. He abandoned himself by having affairs, and now he is learning and healing. You are abandoning yourself by trying to control him with your anger, and hopefully now you will also learn and heal. What would happen if you decided to not take his behavior personally?"
"I would still feel heartbroken."
"Yes, of course you would. And your heartbreak is stuck inside, being blocked and covered over by your anger. Right now, breathe into your heartbreak and let yourself fully feel it. Bring deep kindness, tenderness and compassion to your heartbreak."
Samantha started to sob deeply. I kept reminding her to be very gentle with herself. After awhile, the sobs subsided and Samantha looked relieved.
"How are you feeling now?"
"Better. I've needed to cry like that for a long time. I can see that the anger stopped the pain."
"Samantha, each time the heartbreak comes up, instead of getting angry and covering it up, bring compassion to this very painful feeling and let it release as you just did. How are you feeling about Brad right now?"
"I actually feel some compassion for him too. He had a devastating childhood with no love at all and I'm so glad he is working on his own healing now. He really is a good guy who made some bad mistakes and hurt both of us. And now I've been hurting him with my anger. I don't want to do that anymore."
"I'm very glad to hear that. Compassion for yourself and him will bring about healing, while anger will continue to hurt both of you. Are you willing to begin practicing compassion for yourself and him?"
Samantha did practice compassion and things began to change between her and Brad. Eventually Brad joined us in conjoint Inner Bonding Skype sessions and was able to learn to have compassion for himself and Samantha. Brad saw that his affairs were a way of trying to get the love that he didn't receive as a child. He saw that he had been treating himself as his parents had treated him -- abandoning himself with much self-judgment, which resulted in his sexual addiction. Sex had become his way of avoiding feeling his painful feelings, just as anger had become Samantha's way of avoiding hers. As both Brad and Samantha learned to be move loving to themselves, they were better able to share their love with each other. Their marriage is healing.
Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, receive Free Help, and take our 12-Week eCourse, "The Intimate Relationship Toolbox" - the first two weeks are free!
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