After my post on abusive relationships last week, a few readers emailed me about the complexities in their lives and why they can’t just leave their partners. They asked me how to develop a coping mechanism. I see your predicament; a relationship is not always abusive or harmonious, sometimes it simply is a dry relationship, bereft of any joy or togetherness. There’s no abuse either, but your partner’s indifference or negligence can make you feel angry and depressed.
An outburst of anger is not the same as experiencing it. It is not uncommon for people to not yell or scream yet hold a lot of anger within. Sometimes, you feel so angry and frustrated that you don’t even want to lash out for you know it won’t solve any purpose. You’ve tried it in the past and it didn’t help, the other person did not change. For your own sanity, you don’t want to get mad at someone or feel angry within. In the past I’ve written on how to overcome a surge of rage (here). Today, I will focus on toxic anger — the anger you keep within.
Toxic anger could be the result of past incidents or something you experience in an ongoing relationship. Regardless, I bring to you three ways, coping mechanisms if you will, to preserve your peace and rid yourself of the pain and burden anger often brings. There may or may not be philosophical or empirical truth to these methods. But, you can treat them as affirmations to keep your calm. As follows:
1. I owe you
This is the most powerful of the three methods. Think of yourself as a customer of a bank. You’ve taken out a personal loan and you are paying the installments. The manager may change, the branch may relocate, the bank may be acquired but the repayments will stand. You are expected to make payments till your final breath or the final payment, whichever comes first. The bottom line is: you must pay what you owe.
The person who is your partner today, could easily have been your parent, sibling, friend, or even an enemy in your past life. They may have a different name now, a new relationship or a different body, but there are some outstanding transactions. In this affirmation, you simply have to think that you have some unfinished business with this person. He or she is your creditor. In the process, you may cultivate detachment and dispassion, you may emerge more spiritual, you may develop compassion or you may even build a stronger personal relationship with your god. At any rate, you will grow and evolve.
Someone I knew was quite sick. He was diagnosed with a terminal condition, in fact. When everyone around him was panicking and crying, he said, “Don’t worry. I must spend time in this hospital. I’ve unfinished business with the doctor here from my previous life.” Everyone became calm almost instantly.
2. I forgive you
This method requires great inner strength because it’s not easy to forgive. People often say that I’ve forgiven the other person but they still keep anger in their hearts. How do you know if you’ve truly forgiven them? Well, when their sight or their memories, good or bad, trigger no sadness, anger or restlessness in you, it means you’ve completely forgiven them. Saying I forgive you is not enough, we must feel it. And, a good way to forgive is to remember that, one, you must pay back your loans, and two, you are bigger than their mistakes. This leads me to the crux of this method:
Remind yourself that you are forgiving the other person because their conduct, attitude or mistakes are not bigger than your existence. That you consciously choose to emerge larger than their neglect. Say: “I forgive you because I want to free myself. This is the only way I can close my account otherwise the books will remain open and our pending transactions will be carried forward into the next life. I do not wish to repay your loans. I set you free from making any more payments. I forgive you.”
3. I am the owner
This method is about incorporating the first two approaches in our way of life. It is always remembering that we are responsible for the choices we make. We are the owners of our life, our minds, our emotions. A beautiful Buddhist sutra states: “When you are annoyed with a person, concentrate on the ownership of deeds like this: ‘This good person is the owner of his deeds, his deeds are the womb from which he is born, his deeds are his kin for whom he is responsible, his deeds are his refuge, he is heir to his deeds, be they good or bad.’ ”
It becomes easier to practice the first two methods when we see the other person in the light above, independent of us. You are a customer and so is he. They are the owners and inheritors of their deeds, we ours.
Mulla Nasrudin was having frequent episodes of anxiety attacks and became a patient of hypertension as a result.
“The reports are fine,” the doctor said, “you should probably see a psychiatrist.”
“Yes. Maybe you have a business or a family problem that’s causing these panic attacks. Just a few weeks ago, I had a similar case. The patient was worried about a $20,000 loan and had a nervous breakdown.”
“How did you cure him?” Mulla asked.
“I told him to declare bankruptcy and that life was too short to be wasted over a loan,” the doctor said. “He’s enjoying perfect health now and has completely stopped worrying.”
“I know,” Mulla said. “He has not only stopped worrying, he has also stopped picking up his phone. I’m the man whom he owes the 20,000.”
Life is a seesaw, you know. Sometimes you are at the receiving end and other times giving. You go through your ups and downs, highs and lows, but, either way, to come off the swing, without hurting yourself or the other person, you have to bring it in the balanced position.
We must repay our loans. Everyone owes someone. If you want to close the books, relieve them from their debts and set them free. Nature will write off your borrowings too in return.
Next week, I’ll share with you a profound meditation technique to reinforce the above and to go to the source of your emotions.