Somehow, growing up, I came to believe that anger wasn’t ladylike or socially acceptable. “Forgive and forget” was my mantra, but you know what? That works for everyday riffs and mundane disagreements whose significance evaporates with time. But when you’re wronged in a way that alters the course of your life as I was when a surgeon inadvertently removed my healthy adrenal gland rather than the one with a tumor, ignoring your anger can be more damaging than its cause.
Anger builds in the body. If you deny your anger, it has nowhere else to go, so it digs deeper inside you. After discovering that the surgery had been botched, my fists were constantly clenched in anger. My stomach was in knots. I held it in at first, fearing its physical and emotional fallout, but soon realized that the fallout of embracing anger is less devastating than the physical and emotional fallout of repressing it.
So I decided to own this unexpected gift of anger I’d been given. I’d already paid a terrible price for it, right? It was mine, to embrace and use as I saw fit.
I let myself weep, scream, and fall apart. I let myself swear (not easy for me!). A good friend advised me to go off somewhere and scream, but that’s hard to do when you’re a hands-on mom of little kids. You know what ended up being my anger place? The shower. I made good use of it while my kids were at school, cranking it on as hard as it would go, howling up into the jets of hot water. I even penned angry hate letters to everybody I felt had wronged me, starting with the surgeon and including myself.
What I longed most for was the peace that would come with forgiveness, and at first, I didn’t see how anger and forgiveness could coexist. But the truth is, if you deny your anger, your forgiveness is lip service, an empty prayer. Trying to forgive without anger is like trying to bake bread without yeast. Anger can be a cleansing fire. Even self-pity has its place. The most terrifying moments were the times when I felt nothing.
Allowing myself to be angry and to come undone was a lesson I didn’t know I needed to learn until I had no other choice. Instead of directing my anger inward to choke me, I let it blaze outward and energize me. Only then could I begin to heal.
If, like me, you’ve been taught that anger is too ugly to embrace, that it has no place in a life of civility and good manners, ask yourself: how does it feel to keep stuffing your anger away, holding it in? What are the real risks of letting it out? Could it be that the greatest risk is feeling the pain that it brings?
In that case, lean into it. Feel the pain. Shed the tears. Scream—wherever you must. The shower? The toilet? Underwater in a pool? Out in the open in your backyard? It’s okay. Your body and your spirit will thank you for the release. Your heart will thank you for your honesty. And those you love will not love you any less. I promise. Instead, they will be grateful to have you back, wounded perhaps, but on the road to healing and forgiveness—and all the stronger and more vibrant for it.