Why anger and resentment have been my greatest teachers

Why anger and resentment have been my greatest teachers

I’ve always had a bit of a temper. As a kid, whenever I’d get in trouble I would storm out of the room screaming, run to my bedroom and slam the door as hard as I could, crank up my stereo to peak volume, and yell about the injustice of it all.

I wish I could say that I’ve outgrown that response as an adult, but I’d be lying.

Up until a year or so ago, I would reenact the same behavior of my youth — screaming, yelling, and carrying on while muttering choice words under my breath, slamming doors, and cursing up a storm. I would eventually calm myself down after a healthy stress cleaning session and go on with my day. The only difference being the extreme guilt and shame I would feel after all was said and done.

For a long time, I believed that my anger was justified. It was always over how someone slighted me or didn’t take my needs into consideration. I always had at the ready at least 15 different ways that the other person had botched it or times where they had done something similar and equally insensitive.

It wasn’t until I had my daughter that I saw my anger for what it was: toxic and incredibly self-serving.

When my daughter was two and trying to figure things out for herself, my anger skyrocketed. I was physically and emotionally exhausted, and at a loss for how to handle her (totally age-appropriate) need for independence. She would push the limits to see what she was capable of and I would take it personally and push back, trying to keep our interactions in a neat (and predictable) little box.

My anger became explosive and so out of control that I began to worry that I was crossing the line and about to do irreparable damage to our relationship.

After every outburst, I would apologize and try to make things right with my daughter. I would also find myself getting buried underneath a shame spiral, unable to pull myself out of it. It became so commonplace that my daughter called those moods “the angries” and would cry any time my voice began to get loud. I also began to notice that our dog would hide out in the basement, tail between her legs, whenever I would raise my voice.

Those two things broke my heart and shattered whatever defenses I had built up around my behavior.

I made it my number one priority to take a step back and do whatever I had to in order to stay calm when my buttons were being pushed. I did a lot of deep breathing. I would consciously lower my voice instead of raising it when I was upset. And I removed myself from any situation where I felt like I couldn’t control my voice or my temper.

I went back to a regular meditation practice and began keeping a gratitude journal.

I also focused on getting really clear about what was making me so upset and what, if any, warning signs showed up before I felt myself coming unhinged.

Why anger and resentment have been my greatest teachers.

The rest of the information shared in this post is what I’ve learned about myself and my anger throughout the course of that exploration. Truth be told, I’m still learning (and probably always will be). I’m proud of myself for how far I’ve come and know that I still have a lot of work to do because as my daughter grows and evolves, I know that my responses to her behavior and attitude will have to do the same.

What makes me angry.

When I got serious about understanding anger and how it shows up for me, I spent a lot of time reflecting and journaling on the topic. I wanted to understand the things — big and small — that were making me feel the way I was feeling. I even wrote a few blogs posts about it during my #100DaysOfBlogging challenge. This is what came up…

I get angry when:

  • I suppress my real feelings. There’s nothing inherently wrong with letting things slide everyone now and then. Problem was, it had become a pattern of behavior for me. I was constantly suppressing my wants and needs in light of making everyone else happy or simply keeping the peace in our house. I lovingly refer to this one the Martyr Syndrome and it always leads to epic (and often disproportionate) explosions of anger when I can’t keep up the act any longer.
  • I’m not getting my needs met. Whenever I’m tired, haven’t had a break or time to myself in a while, am overstimulated for too long, am hungry, or just plain stressed out, I get incredibly irritable, and, if not corrected soon enough, erupt with anger like an active volcano. I try to play it like I’m above those things, but let’s be honest, no one on this planet is. As hard as it is to ask for help, it’s harder to feel ashamed of your behavior and create irreparable damage to the most important relationships in your life.
  • I’m not eating well. This may sound silly, but the food I put into my body affects how I show up in the world. When I eat too many carbs, spicy food, white potatoes, dairy, or too much sugar, I am way more irritable and easily triggered by things that normally don’t bother me otherwise. The more I pay attention to what I’m eating, the more stable my mood and emotions become.
  • I start up a regular meditation practice. I know this sounds weird, but it’s seriously the first thing that shows up when I get back into the habit. Meditation stirs the pot and brings up everything I’ve been holding onto and/or repressing for a long, long time. And even though I know meditation is the antidote to anger and irritability for me, I always hesitate to get back into it because I hate how it feels at first.
  • I’m not being listened to. It doesn’t matter if it’s the dog, the child, people who ask for advice and then promptly ignore it, or the husband who is in the middle of reading a work email, I take it all as an attack on my authority and/or knowledge.
  • Constantly being overstimulated and over scheduled. Being the default parent and the one who stays at home with our daughter, I am constantly being touched, stimulated, and just plain “on.” And when I was trying to juggle two different businesses in addition to all of that, I felt like I had to make every minute of my day count. I was let feeling constantly overstimulated and over scheduled. After a while, I would become resentful of my responsibilities and would become resentful of my husband for his ability to do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted.
  • I can’t figure something out. Nothing gets me riled up quite like not being able to fix something on my website, figure out how to do a craft project, or get my sewing machine to work. I take that (and let’s be honest, all) failure way too personally, and it sends me down an angry spiral in seconds flat.
  • I’m about to get my period. Hormones, man. They are no joke. And they always seem to sneak up on me when I least expect it. If none of the above reasons seem to fit and I am still feeling irritable and tired, one quick look at my period tracking app can give me the clarity I need.

I’m sure there are a thousand and one other things that push my buttons and bring up feelings of anger, frustration, and even rage, but those are definitely the biggest culprits.

The warning signs.

Once I got really clear about WHAT was likely to trigger an emotional outburst, I started to look at what I was doing or thinking right before they happened. Some situations were easier to tease out than others because I had gone through it enough times, like with meditation and the impact of food on my mood. Others took a lot more work and attention, like getting really honest about my thought patterns and admitting to myself that I needed to get a better handle on self-care.

The following warning signs are ones that I discovered through that exploration. I’m sure there will be more to add in the coming months and years, but this is what I know for sure right now.

  • Playing the victim. Whenever something happens that I don’t like or expect, I blame everyone else for the outcome. If my daughter didn’t listen, it’s because SHE is a bad listener and not that my request was unclear. If my husband said something that upset me, it’s HIS fault for not knowing what I needed in the moment instead of me not telling him or clarifying what I needed. When I’m in this mindset, everything can be attributed to someone else’s failing and never mine. 
  • Acting like a martyr. As a reformed perfectionist and someone who hates asking others for help, I slip into martyrdom with stunning ease. I do and do and do until I’m so exhausted and overwhelmed that I resent the hell out of every responsibility I have. I have thoughts like, I’m the only responsible one in the house and Of course, everyone else in the house gets to nap while I’m over here taking care of it all. This is a HUGE red flag for me and a sign that I have been swallowing my needs and wants in favor of keeping the peace.
  • Being over scheduled.  Whenever I have zero breathing room in my calendar, I find myself getting increasingly overwhelmed and resentful. Of course, it feels fun at first because I love connecting with people and being busy makes me feel important. But I also crave silence and solitude so that I can do the things that I want to do. When I don’t remember to leave myself some breathing room, I am way more likely to take out that frustration on those closest to me — my husband and my daughter.
  • Letting self-care slip. This can take on a lot of forms like not fitting in meditation or yoga into my day, not taking the time to read, paint, or be outside, slacking on my diet and/or binging on sugar, and trying to fit too many things into my day. One day of missing those things certainly won’t make or break my mood, but it does make me more likely to skip it the next day and the next. And before I know it, I’m in trouble and a whole lot more likely to unleash an angry tirade.

Tools to keep me on track.

While I’m not proud of how I’ve behaved in the past, I am proud of how I’ve taken control of my anger and found ways to support myself in the process. The following tools are ones that I reach for whenever I feel myself slipping into old patterns:

In the end, what used to be seriously shame-inducing has turned into a beautiful gift.

Anger and resentment have become my greatest teachers. They are my own personal warning system to tell me that I’m in desperate need of self-care and some time to myself.

And while I still don’t like how I feel or behave when my buttons are being pushed and I’m feeling the anger and resentment rise, I can see it for what it is now — a sign that I need to take a step back and reevaluate the choices I’ve been making. When I can do that, I can implement the tools that will nip the anger and resentment in the bud and bring me back to a more calm and balanced state.

What about you? How do you handle strong emotions like anger and resentment? What have you done to keep your anger in check?

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Anger and resentment have become my greatest teachers. They are my own personal warning system to tell me that I'm in desperate need of self-care and some time to myself.

More about Emily Levenson

Emily Levenson is a therapist turned holistic health coach, podcaster, meditation encourager, and seeker of everyday magic. Emily recently kicked off her third #The100DayProject, focusing her efforts on daily meditation.

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