Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hurt and Anger; To Tell or Not to Tell?

I’m giving some thought to an issue where I see a lot of logical but conflicting advice. If you’re angry or hurt about something, is it always better to let it out? Some may argue that expressing the anger somehow releases the emotion and makes room for healing. Others argue that all it does is transfer the anger to other people, reinforce it in your own mind, and you should try to re-frame it and let it go instead of expressing it.

Now I do believe that if expressing the emotion can:

1. cause positive change in your environment (i.e. it makes me angry when you do/say X, I’m asking you to please not do/say X, at least around me.)

2. promote understanding (I’m angry because I interpreted what you did/said as X, is that what you meant to do/say or am I misunderstanding?)


3. give you space to work things out in your head (i.e. I’m angry about X right now. I just need a little time/space to figure out how I can fix it or let it go. Could you give me that time/space?)

Then you should express it.

But if no good can come of it, do you let it out or let it go? Is it selfish to tell someone they hurt your feelings if it can't be fixed and isn't likely to happen again? Does it just prolong and spread the unhappiness?

It’s important that I explain that letting it go does NOT mean shoving it all into a little place inside where you can stockpile repressed resentment and dwell on it (I'm talking to you, Golem). It means literally letting it go; forgiving yourself and anyone else involved, re-framing it in your head into something constructive (a lesson, etc.), laughing at it and/or releasing it. If remembering it later dredges up anger and resentment all over again then you didn’t let it go.

This question comes from the idea that no matter what someone else does to you or around you, you only have control over yourself and your actions. For example, if someone’s making obnoxious fat jokes around me, I cannot actually force them to stop. I have no control over them. The only options I really have are to use my own autonomy to protect myself:
  • I can speak up, explain why its offensive and ask the person to stop telling those jokes around me.
  • I can sometimes physically leave the space and remove myself from their company.
  • I can avoid them in the future by letting my friends know the situation and ask them to let me know when the person will be at a party and avoid the party.
  • If it’s a stranger I can switch bus seats (or bikes at the gym, or place I’m standing in public), and if necessary report the person to the driver/waiter/manager/owner for harassment.

 To take that a step further, I have no control over something that happened yesterday (or last week or last year). If it’s likely to happen again then letting someone know it made me angry may result in constructive change. But what if I know the person didn’t mean to make me angry, isn’t likely to repeat the same scenario, and it isn’t something I can change? I think that it might just be healthier (if against popular thinking) to let it go instead of spreading the hurt and holding on. I think that keeping “score” on who hurt/forgave who is detrimental to both personal happiness and healthy relationships. I think that sometimes “winning” still means you lose.


So the resolution to try grapefruit every day for a week took a two day break. We went to see Stomp on Tuesday night and got home close to midnight. I got two hours of sleep Tuesday night and when I got home last night I just crashed and slept through until morning. Stomp was AMAZING, AWESOME fun.  I went with a big group of friends and our hands are all itching for a drum circle now. I'd love to see it again in an A-run city like Detroit or Chicago, where they really go all out.  The cast took donations for the Haiti relief afterwards, which was very cool. 

I do need to give some thought as to what food I’m going to try next. Anyone have a food you love but doesn’t get a lot of play in other peoples’ recipes? It should be a base ingredient, not a complex prepared food (i.e. flour is a base ingredient, bread is a prepared food that uses flour). I’m playing with the idea of kale, but I’m open to suggestions. (anything but fish, mushrooms, green peppers or tomatoes).

I’m thinking about modifying the resolution somewhat to fit my very busy life, and saying that I’ll try the new food at least three times that week, prepared in different ways. That gives me wiggle room. The best part about making resolutions is that they’re MINE, and I can alter them as needed to fit the intent.


Atchka! said...

Hey, welcome back. I'm sorry I removed you from my blogroll because you went past the one month freshness dating I try to keep. Hey, email me (, I need to ask you something when you get a sec.


Intransigentia said...

Wow, that was really insightful and helpful. Thank you.

hoppy okapi said...

baby bok choy! it's one of my favorite veggies, although i really only eat it in stir-fries. (Kale is tasty too, I just tried it for the first time last week)

Sonja Newcombe said...

Red Kidney beans! They're wonderful.

Premee said...

Quinoa! So weird and delicious.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking a lot about anger and what to do with it because I grew up with a need to repress it in order to avoid worse abuse than what I was already enduring.

Over the last couple of years, I have found that it is a very context sensitive emotion.

A year ago, it did me no good to try to say anything if somebody made me angry because my response to that person's reaction reinforced old habits.

As I worked through my issues, saying something, even if it did no outward good became a healthy for me because it was an assertion of my boundaries and reinforced the idea that my space was as important as everybody else's.

And no matter which choice you make, it depends entirely on the setting and the people involved. Sometimes, not saying anything is appropriate. Sometimes, saying something is important no matter the outcome. It depends on what you need and your emotional/physical safety.

The answer is never simple, but awareness and practice give you the experience to figure out which is the best response for you in a given moment.