The view was breathtaking; the brilliant azure of the Arabian Sea, its vastness making the ships in the distance look like tiny boats. The cool breeze was refreshing, to the say least. I was visiting my friend Ria and her brother for lunch at her new apartment. It was a lovely setting for some amazing conversations. But the only person Ria spoke about was her ex-husband.
As we were about to start eating, as if on cue, the doorbell rang; there was a letter for her—from her ex. She ripped it open and started reading it. Her face turned red and she stormed out of the living room, booted her computer and began drafting a reply, completely unmindful of leaving us behind at the table.
Her brother went to call Ria back. I overheard their exchange. “Your friend is waiting and the food is becoming cold too.” She started screaming at him about how important writing her reply was. Through the muffled argument I heard him say, “You enjoy this, don’t you?” Immediately she shrieked, “What the hell do you mean, I enjoy this? This man has taken the last six years of my life and he continues to harass me.”
After she banged out the introduction of her reply, she returned with her brother in tow. While her brother apologised for the rude behaviour, Ria said nothing at first. She then started her usual diatribe of how her ex was mistreating her and how he said this, did that and always wanted something or the other. While I felt sorry for my friend and her predicament, all she did was talk about her ‘story’. I had seen her life change so that it revolved only around her ex—when she wasn’t writing to him or talking about him, she was thinking of ways to get back at him. And this had been going on for six years!
Feeding the anger
Something about her brother’s observation that Ria was “enjoying this” resonated with me. Because unless you enjoy something, why would you do it? Ask anyone who has had a prolonged issue with someone—property disputes between siblings, bitter divorces, estrangement between parents and children. They’ll blame the actions of their opponent—their emails, letters, phone calls, meetings—for making them feel hurt, undervalued, angry, sad, disappointed. But there’s something they won’t tell you—that they enjoy it.
People put a lot of energy into their situation not realising that by doing so they are feeding it till eventually the situation becomes their life story. Now, from the moment they wake up to the time they fall asleep [and even in their dreams], all they think about is their situation and the person who they hold responsible for it. That’s what happens when you feed anger—it becomes a part of you such that without it you begin to feel empty, incomplete.
I had my ‘story’ too
I connected with Ria’s brother’s statement because I too had my own story. As long as there are relationships, there will be conflicts and I had my share. I was the ‘victim’ in my story and so I felt I had every right to tell my story. After all, we were best friends and after what I did for her, how could she do that to me? I justified. I rationalised. I knew the hatred was eating me from the inside but it took me a while to figure how much I didn’t want to let it go. I didn’t realise just how much I enjoyed being angry at this person till I decided to forgive her.
Most of you would probably think, “Am I supposed to do nothing while someone attacks me?” Of course not! What I have discovered is that there are ways to handle hurtful situations without putting negative energy into them.
So how do you know if you are feeding your ‘situation’ or dealing with it? Here are three ways I have figured out.
You talk about it ALL the time
For a full year, I would tell people the story of how horrendous a person Simone, my former best friend, was and how she had hurt me. Then one day I realised that people were fed up of listening to my rant, so I stopped. But Simone had also had feuds with my other friends, who would whine and criticise her and I would join in. The energy from those conversations seemed to be filling something in me. I began noticing that I felt energised by the nasty, mean, negative power that arose from those exchanges.
I believe that when you talk about someone, it’s like you invite them to hang out with you. So even if they aren’t physically present, they are with you… and then you wonder why it’s hard to get rid of the situation you are in.
My friends still hate Simone, but I’ve chosen to try and not hate her. I say try because forgiveness is a constant tug-of-war that you have consciously practice; while you do learn to let go, there are still some days that you want to hold on.
How to deal with this
These are some of the things that I find work:
- Avoid starting a conversation about the person
- If anyone else starts, and if it’s negative, don’t engage
- In the event that you can say something nice, do
- Try to talk in as positive terms as possible
- If people ask you about the incident, for instance if you’ve divorced, talk about the facts rather than the kind of person they were, because that feeds the emotions.
You spend ALL your time doing work related to this
Thankfully this is not something I’ve experienced directly. But I have observed Ria’s life—her daily itinerary is blocked with lawyer meetings, writing correspondence, reading about other people’s divorce stories and visits to the therapists. There is very little else going on in her life. But the thing is, that when you want to do something, you find the time to do it, because you make the time for it.
I know of people who have their own ‘situations’ and have to spare time to attend to whatever the situation demands. But they manage to find the time to meet their friends, go for a movie or a play. They are dealing with what is happening but it’s not their sole focus.
How to deal with this
- Try and get yourself in neutral gear. When you feel anger welling up inside you because of what that person said or did, stop and ask yourself if a random person said or did those things to you, would you still feel the same way? It’s our equation with that person that blinds us.
- If it’s a legal matter like in the case of property disputes, appoint a lawyer to handle it for you.
- We unconsciously tend to channel our negative emotions, especially when the issue is an emotionally charged one. So if you need to reply, get a family member or a wise friend to write it on your behalf. They will be far more objective in their approach.
- Make the time to do other things. Time away always helps bring back peace of mind. How about going off on a short vacation?
You avoid solving the problem conclusively
Our high involvement with the situation is due to the closeness of the relationship that has soured. In all probability, you once loved this person so you struggle for their attention even now. If being in this negative space is the only way you can get it, you will continue to feed the situation instead of allowing a resolution.
How to deal with this
- Once you have decided to let go of your anger, sit down with this person and decide what the next step forward is
- When you have reached a decision, set a deadline for the outcome
- Also agree on the penalties if either of you go back on your word.
In cases of prolonged conflict people will constantly push you even if you don’t engage them. So you need to decide what to do if they go back on their word. Perhaps you may contemplate a complete ‘no-contact’ with this person. If you do make such a decision, make sure it comes from a place for forgiveness rather than fear and anger.
If you have been having a prolonged tussle with someone, may be it’s time to stop and ask yourself: Am I enjoying being angry at them? Am I attached to my story with them? Am I feeding the situation? What would my life look like without this story?
The answers could free you up—like they freed me.
This was first published in the September 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.