ASK ABDI: HOW CAN ONE PROCESS ANGER IN A HEALTHY WAY, ESPECIALLY RESENTMENT TOWARDS PARENTS?
QUESTION: Your words have been helpful lately, as always. I have been practicing the "showing up" meditation you shared in your last podcast episode, and it has been telling on my part: I feel like every day I am more present to the unbelievable amount of (repressed) anger I carry. I am a recovering people-pleaser, and although I live an unconventional life, I tend to be remarkably "proper" in all of my interactions.
I am fully aware that I have had terrible emotional boundaries most of my life (read: non-existent) and now I recognize a sort of defense mechanism in my anger (aka "this person needs to back the hell off"). This anger is often like a stop sign that an imbalanced emotional interaction is taking place (ironically, since I have started a professional coach practice, I have been aware of how many people in my private life contact me only to be informally "coached" rather than fully interact - it brings out a lot of resentment for me, which I observe).
However, it has been more challenging dealing with it in terms of my family, especially the profound resentment I hold towards both of my parents. I am intellectually aware that my parents did their absolute best, gave me the support they never had, and are projecting on me certain things they couldn’t do/their own stuff, which isn’t personal. I know that unraveling our psychological issues comes in part through processing negative emotions around our childhood and family relationships.
As the anger is surfacing, I’m not sure how to deal with/communicate what it is attached to. I resent them for helping me financially, which I feel always came with a lot of expectations - one of the ways they attempt to control me into behaving a certain way (it’s making it harder to decipher and communicate since I often resent them for "good things").
This is particularly tricky since I’m coming up to my 25th birthday, and just made a bunch of decisions they did not approve of (and I knew they wouldn’t) such as changing jobs, leaving America, and moving towards things that I’ve always wanted to do (but they had said no to years ago - it’s freaky to know that at the time I didn’t even realize that it was an option to go out on my own and follow my own path, but of course I still want these same things today because dreams don’t go away). I also resent my father for wanting me to be like him (to be the child who looks and acts like him - I suspect that a lot of the things he wants for me are actually things he wants for himself) and my mother for constantly freaking out about my safety as a woman, especially when it comes to my sexuality and the way I dress and behave.
I know this has nothing to do with how much I love my parents, and everything to do with my growing into an adult who knows what she needs and where her boundaries are. I guess I’m just wondering if there is ever a way to express these boundaries in a way that is grounded (rather than throwing my unprocessed shit in their face, which wouldn’t be fair either) and process these emotions further every day that passes (my liver is literally swollen with anger)? I often do feel like a brat through this process, but also embrace that it is just that… my process.
ANSWER: Anger is a useful tool that in your case tells you something is wrong. It needs to be understood that anger arises AFTER the boundary is crossed. As such, you need to learn to read the signs more clearly so you can set up more clear boundaries. The anger is like a low oil warning light in a car: the engine is already running low on oil for it to light up. The question then becomes, why is the oil low? Is it leaking, is one operating the vehicle in an incorrect manner, or is it just part of how this motor runs? In your case, you need to figure out your specific patterns that set up these situations where you feel intruded upon. By the time you are angry, you have already allowed yourself to be trespassed against.
”Throwing your unprocessed shit” at someone is a reaction, not an action. It would be helpful for you to step back and get clear about what you are (unconsciously) getting out of this unhealthy pattern. For example, what do you get when people want to get “informally ‘coached’ rather than fully interact”? People will take whatever you give them. What do you want in return in this uneven exchange? To be loved? Admired? Feel worthy by giving away something for free? It is not a clean interaction and, as such, it will of course lead to anger.
A common confusion around emotions is the thinking that we need to process it with another party. That is not always necessary, nor possible. When an issue keeps coming up over and over, we are the common denominator. This does not take away from the fact that others might indeed be vampires. But we need to examine why and how we keep inviting them in. To let them in, get fed on, and be angry, only to repeat that pattern, is not a healing strategy.
Sit with your anger and be clear why you are feeling that way. Look closely at your patterns. This is not a one-shot deal; it will take time to change a deep pattern. Again, you need to dig deep and figure out why you behave the way you do. Then work on setting up a new pattern. This is not a dialogue with another, initially. It is an inner conversation. Take mental notes every time you invite in a situation that is not a clean interaction.
Examine why you say, “I often do feel like a brat”. Throwing the "fuck you" finger at someone, although delicious at times, is not a “process”. It is a reaction. And not a useful one since it seems to be recurring over and over. We all refuse to grow up regardless of our age. In the blink of an eye you will be 35, 45, 55… The time is now. This has nothing to do with your parents, even though they have contributed to your behavior. At some point, we have to divorce our unhealthy emotional attachments. We either develop new ones or move on.
The money piece is always tricky. It is rare to see someone give money without strings attached. Regardless of what the words are, people want something in return for that energy. What are you giving your parents for their support? Are you able to fully step into your own power while accepting that energy? How does keeping that dynamic going affect your “profound resentment”? Again, healing this does not necessarily involve having your parents understand or see your way. It is an internal process that one undertakes.
It is nice to have our parents take responsibility for actions that have affected us. But that is neither necessary nor realistic in most cases. This is a freeing reality. Even so, the little child in us wants our parents to repent. Do not hold your breath for that. If it comes, wonderful. If it does not, that has to be okay too. Sometimes we can deepen our relationship with our parents. Sometimes, we have to come to terms with being emotional orphans. And sometimes it will be somewhere in the middle. The crucial thing as an adult is not to abandon our own self. Just do your own work so you can fully live your own “unconventional life”.
Being a “people-pleaser” while being a healer will kill you. It will rob you of your life force and be a poor bargain for your clients. Learn to have solid boundaries as you step into that role. If you are serious about coaching, then start with yourself. How would you coach someone with your issues? What would you tell them to watch out for? What would you recommend as a daily practice for a professional grade people-pleaser? Anger is your friend here; treat it accordingly and with respect. Listen to it like your life depends on it. Which it does. It is the low oil warning light flashing red. Best to heed it before you have to pay for a big repair bill.