In reading your last month’s response to “Fed Up To Here,” I am inspired to tell you my own situation. I have made many friends over the years I have lived in Bucerias. I considered one person in particular my best friend. We were inseparable for a long time. Then one day we got into an argument over a decision in a small business that we had begun together. I won’t go into details, but our argument turned into a full out pitch battle, with the result being that I had to leave the business. I am still so angry I could spit, and heartbroken that I can no longer be involved in the work I love. As for this person, I can’t stand being in the same room, much less the same town. How do I deal with this overwhelming anger and hurt I feel?
Just Plain Angry
Thank you for writing in. As I mentioned in my last letter, it isn’t unusual in a small town like ours to witness past friends and cohorts experiencing difficulties with each other, and then festering in anger and hurt for long periods without relief. We like to think that we are in control of our emotions when, more often than not, they are in control of us. We find that any attempt we make to control negative emotions by trying to suppress or ignore them hurts ourselves, while expressing them through blame hurts others. So nobody benefits by trying to manipulate emotions.
The right way to approach emotional difficulty is to work directly with your feelings of anger and hurt. In other words, you may not be able to change an external circumstance, but you have the power to change yourself.
Angry, here is an exercise for you that I learned from a wise person. It has been very helpful to me on a number of occasions.
Find a private, quiet space where you can sit for ten to fifteen minutes;
- sit down quietly for a few minutes, just watching your breath coming in and out, until you feel somewhat settled;
- bring to mind that person you are having difficulty with and the feelings you have for that person;
- then begin saying aloud a ‘storyline” or litany of all the bad things that person has done to you and others; keep the storyline going; even if you run out of new things to say, just repeat what you’ve said before; take at least 3 minutes to do this;
- now immediately drop the storyline and simply be with the emotion or emotions that you experience; just look at these without altering them in any way; again allow at least 3 minutes for this;
- finally, just let the emotion or emotions dissolve and return your attention to your breathing for a time.
This is a tried and true practice to work with difficult emotions. The notion of “practice” here is that we need to continually revisit this direct contact with ourselves. Try to be patient with yourself as you continue this practice. Eventually the heat of the emotion that triggers all the negative thoughts and actions begins to transform itself naturally. We find ourselves softening, relaxing hard feelings; we may even find some empathy for that difficult person who continues to be so controlled by negative emotions.
Angry, as I said, this practice has been very helpful to me, and I hope this will be of help to you. If questions arise regarding this practice, please write me.