Tuesday, November 29, 2011

some additional thoughts and questions on anger and patience

I just feel like I have to say that the anger we feel because of our children's death is, of course, justified anger, a natural element of grief. And what Cathy said, anger at evil, or child abuse, or sex trafficking, those are circumstances that should make us angry, angry enough to want to change something. But I think the important part is what we do with the anger. Cathy brought up some interesting points about justice, and I just think that releasing anger doesn't necessarily release the need to find justice. We can be compassionate and seek justice. While still understanding, at least with most personal issues between two people, there is no justice, no balance of right and wrong, because truth is a subjective, slippery object.

One thing I feel like I failed to mention is that patience is NOT ignoring. It is actually inspiring curiosity at our own intentions. Sit with the anger, become curious about it. The way we examine ourselves, our goals in confrontation and anger, our intentions in the friendship/relationship. Neither is patience a kind of endurance. While patience is slow, think of it as something like cultivating loving-kindness. You retreat until you can come to the situation with pure heart, pure loving-kindness. That is why this is a hard conversation to have when we talk about the anger of babyloss and grief. We are angry. If we practice patience in regards to grief anger, we simply can't sit with it until we are cool with it. Because we will never be cool with it. We can always dredge up our anger, I believe. We have to live with the anger and the injustice of our losses. In some ways, many of us channel that energy into something else. That is why I find my painting, my blogs, serving as editor on Glow in the Woods, being a HOPE Mentor for MISS Foundation such vitally important work for me, because I channel that anger energy into seeking some kind of justice. Not justice in her death, but justice in our lives, creating spaces to safely explore all the emotions and experiences around the death of our children. I am grateful that I had people to turn to after her death. All of you. I set my anger aside. I don't forget it. I don't ignore it. I sit with it. You witness that in this space and at Glow all the time. The other part of that experience is commenting on other blogs, and reading comments. I love you, the other grieving parents. I feel such overwhelming compassion for others who are just like me, and in that way, learn to forgive myself and the anger I feel at me that she died in me and I couldn't prevent it.

And to follow up on Monique's question: How do you express/release these emotions in a healthy way?

Monique, honestly, I have been thinking about this a ton and I think we release emotions/anger in a healthy way here in this community, by abiding and listening and venting here, and not to the object of anger. I don't know about anyone else, but for me, I used this space to honestly explore and talk about my anger. It felt safe. I did end up alienating some people in my life who saw my anger as unwarranted. Those people visited this blog and read. This space is public, and I suppose I forget that, because it just seems like it is other grieving women and men and me having a conversation. These people did not lose children. They just thought I was being unfair across the board. They didn't like who I had become. I agreed with them. I didn't like who I had become either. But I was trying to be honest with those emotions, trying to handle it in a safe way.

Anger is not a comfortable emotion to dwell in or visit. It is not comfortable for the angry person or the person near the angry person. Babylost blogs have created a safe space for anger, and I think that is a good thing. So, we write about it, we art about it. We smash things in a controlled setting, then make art about it. Generally, we do not engage in the anger with the people we are angry with. To me, that is healthy. I love what Pema Chodron says about aggression and anger--it is such an uncomfortable emotion, our psyche demands we change it, so that is why we lash out. We need it released. So sitting in anger is a rare thing for most of us. How do we accept and not act on anger? I think that is why they call it a practice, because it takes discipline and work, a second by second mindfulness to break the habit of anger and aggression.

One thing I wrote to Monique privately is that I don't think we failed at mindfulness because we were/are angry. How could we not be angry? Our children died. It is a primal emotion. It is a natural response. I think this article really deals with anger at other people, institutions, etc. I think for me the issue is misplacing the normal anger at losing my child on people who said benign, but thoughtless, crap to me, or acted in ways that normally wouldn't get me angry. Grief really twisted anger into a dangerous bedfellow for me. What feels so overwhelming about this whole line of thought and patience is the sheer work it takes to deal with every emotion until it becomes second nature to us.

The wisdom of Jill's comment is staggering. Writing down your anger and letting it sit for three days. I love the idea of an anger journal and exploring what makes you angry and if it still makes you angry three days later. My sponsor always tells me that the only response I should give when I am angry is "Oh." or "Ouch". or "I will have to think about that and get back to you on it." I call it dropping the O-bomb. When someone says something unkind, the well-placed "Oh" disarms.

Here is the other question in the comments: Um, yes. How do you pray for people who you are really angry with? Thanks

In recovery, the prayer is called the resentment prayer. I wrote a post about this about a month ago, but never published it. It was intended to be self-deprecating and funny.

I asked my sponsor the other day exactly what to do when I am supposed to pray for someone. You know, when someone hurts you and you tell everyone the situation. Other people get quiet and look like they're thinking, then they clap their hands together and say, "Pray for them." They say it like they invented the concept, and you roll your eyes, and think in your head, "Hell, no, I'm not praying for that douche." And then you remember that changing every little bit of you is about changing every little bit of you, particularly those nasty little bits you rarely admit aloud, the ones that pop in your brain and stick around like truth. But how do you bridge that place between thinking they are a douche and praying for them?

My current prayer involved me telling God exactly what a douche this person is and can you please make him see what a douche he himself is being. In my feeble brain, I somehow put together that I may be doing more self-harm than good with this sort of prayer. Praying for a douche by calling him a douche probably isn't the point. My godliness seems to be degenerating.

So, I just asked her. That is what a sponsor is there for. To guide you spiritually. To answer the questions you are too embarrassed to ask anyone else.

How do you pray for someone? What exactly do you say?
Here, she said, I will tell you exactly what to say. Get a pen and paper. Ready? God, I pray you release me from my resentment towards (blank). Please bless (blank) in whatever (blank) may be needing this day. Please give (blank) everything I want for myself. May (blank)'s life be full of health, prosperity and happiness."
That is really beautiful. 
I didn't write it, but it is and it helps. 

God, I pray you release me from my resentment towards that douche. Please bless the douche in whatever the db might be needing this day. Please give that douche everything I want for myself. May the douchebag's life be full of health, prosperity and happiness. Amen.

Wow, I do feel better.

Melissa asked this question: My heart is sore with anger and resentment, and I need a path for letting it go. At the same time, how do I do that knowing that other people are angry with me? Nobody is at complete fault, nobody is without fault. Everyone is miserable. How do we reach peace?

Man, this question nails it. The pain of that place of being angry and being an object of anger. Thank you for asking it, for sharing your experience here. I think this is the space where we can cultivate empathy and compassion since you are both angry and someone is angry with you. You can understand what your friend is going through because you are going through anger too. One piece of wisdom I have used as a mantra all weekend is this: "What other people think and feel about me is none of my business."

Letting it go is such a throw away statement, but truly letting something go is really incredibly difficult work. My approach to guilt and feeling sad because others are angry with me is to write about it in a very detailed way. I write about the incident in as much fact as possible, then I write the way it affected me, the parts of my life it affected--my security, my finances, my sexual identity, my self-esteem, my reputation. Then I write about how I played a role in the incident and what guided that behaviour--my fear? My selfishness? My inconsiderateness? And maybe none of those things apply. I then identity the kind of character defects that contributed to that behavior and I use that as a kind of mindful practice for the next day. If I was not listening to a friend and interupting or trying to posture and share my very wise insights, then I write I was being inconsiderate. I cannot change the past, but I can change my future. I then work on listening more than speaking the next day. I have to say, I pretty much write this down every day.  But there is always one change I try to incorporate into my life. In the same way, I write the ways I made a positive contribution to the situation, and if I can't find any, then I write five things I like about myself that I can use in the situation.

In this way, you can identify your own behaviour. You only can change, or control that truly. When you feel your heart is full of love, rather than anger, you can approach the person by taking responsibility for only your role in the argument/disagreement.

It was wrong of me to talk over you when you were trying to communicate such an important experience.

Whether that person gossiped about you, whether they were horrible to you, if they are mad at you for something else entirely, that is all you need to take responsibility for--the thing you have done wrong. I have done this with people who have wronged me, and wanted me to take full responsibility for more of our disagreement. I remained loving, but did not waver on what was my responsibility and what was theirs. You are absolutely right that nobody is completely at fault or nobody is without fault. We are all flawed and good people.

I often think that I did the best I could with the tools I had. We gain tools through our life. We amass wisdom. And we would probably react differently today than to the situations in our past. But we don't have that luxury. One thing that helps me to say to the other person is that I never have to be that person again, and I will move forward. Can we let go of resentment and anger? Yes. They are emotions that are not truths. They are not constants in the world. How we let go is to pray for them, even if you don't know who you are praying to, speaking about your hurt, your resentment, asking for help, even if you don't know who you are asking help from, all of those things help clarify.

I hope I got at some of the essence of your question. I found so much beauty in the struggle of what you were saying, because we have all been in that place of feeling angry and feeling bad at someone else's anger at us. What a shaming place to be.


  1. quote: "God, I pray you release me from my resentment towards that douche. Please bless the douche in whatever the db might be needing this day. Please give that douche everything I want for myself. May the douchebag's life be full of health, prosperity and happiness. Amen.

    Wow, I do feel better." unquote

    OMG LMAO Falling off my chair, reading it outloud thru tears to Hawk!! Love you much, Angie!

    Been re-visiting lots of Brene Brown's stuff on shame and resilience -- do you know her stuff? Juicy bits of help in there! Just if you haven't come across it before... xoxoxo

  2. "The Prayer for the Douche" now has an honored place on my wall. Loved it!

    Seriously, though, this prayer starts further down the path of grace or serenity then I often find myself. I usually have to start with, "Please, help me to want to [forgive, accept, love, whatever] thus and so, because I'm incapable of wanting to do so on my own."

    And.....letting go of my anger over my daughter's death, getting over my resentment at how the world had betrayed me, well, it took me 10+ years before I can really say I had made peace with the emotions.

    Jill A.

  3. Some favorites from this group of posts, continuing to rattle around my head:

    - examine anger, "sit with it" and truly examine it. This is helpful. I realize since mulling over your words that often I don't want to examine my anger. I just want to be *mad.* I don't think a lot of good comes that way.

    - have been thinking through ways I may be justifying/perpetuating destructive patterns with anger. This resonated, "In recovery, anger is kind of a gateway emotion to the behaviors that keep us drinking, drugging, eating, sexing, gambling--those coping mechanisms that addicts develop to deal with normal life. In this way, "I am so angry, I need a drink to calm down." Or "You would drink too if people ticked you off the way I am ticked off." A lot for me to think about, here.

    - also appreciated your insights on how we can still pursue justice, even without stewing in anger.

    Your words illuminated how unnaturally those ideas were married in my head. I see, now, that I often use anger to fuel the injustice fight. I'm examining the idea that - maybe? - even more justice can be pursued by releasing (harnessing?) the anger than by clinging to it.

    Write on, Angie. Your words go forth and bear fruit. :)

    Cathy in Missouri

  4. Thank you so much for addressing my question so beautifully and thoughtfully. I too have lost people who feel the anger I have felt after the loss of my daughter is unjustified, especially because we have a surviving twin. As if one life made up for another. Thank you for providing a safe community here.

  5. So much wisdom here. I am not very good at verbalizing my anger (& maybe I should be), but I do find writing to be such a release.


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