Monday, October 19, 2009

A Little Rage Can Be A Good Thing

After a hellacious divorce I gave up going to the church my former wife and I had belonged to for many years. My ex-wife still attends. Except for a very few friends, none of the parishioners ever offered any support to me. One of these parishioners asked me if I would support a fund raising pledge drive to increase the church's charitable outreach. I really wanted to take his head off. Any ideas on how I can let go of this? -- Mike

Well, Mike, my first response to your letter was, "Where's your machete?" **** that whole concept of forgiveness, personal growth, blah blah freakin' blah.

However, we'd rather see you as a happy, well-adjusted member of society than as the next news cycle's top story. So let's take a step back here.

First of all, you're wondering how to "let go of this." I'm wondering just what you want to let go of. The rage? The righteous indignation that, after the lack of support you received from what you THOUGHT was a community that loved and cared for you, a member of that community would have the balls (not to mention the lack of social skills) to ask you for monetary support? Are you trying to let go of the residual hurt that you're obviously still feeling from being, essentially, dumped by your spiritual family? They're asshats, by the way.

Does the situation suck? Yes, it does. Can you move on? Of course. But first, you have to ask yourself the sort of question that might cause you to throw your computer through the window. Here's the question:

What do you gain from holding onto the hurt and the anger?

AAAAGGGHHH! I hear you. You don't want to hold on. You're trying to let go. You thought you already had let go. You have the therapy bills and the sessions at Burning Man and the journals (some burned, some still sitting in your top desk drawer) to prove it. Also perhaps you have a new church home, or a new girlfriend or wife, or an entire new life that is so much better than the old one. It's not like you want to stay stuck in this place of unproductive anger and anger about the past!

Okay, if you're still reading, and not throwing things, go back to the question. 

What do you gain from holding onto the hurt and the anger?

This has been, on several occasions, a life-changing question for me. Sometimes the answer comes in an instant, sometimes over the course of a few days. And I often find myself asking this question even after I think I've figured it out, worked it out, and gotten done with it. I'll be going along thinking, "Bingo, got THAT one fixed. Next!" when something pops up to show me that I probably have a little more work to do. And I can almost always drop the "probably" in that last sentence.

My point is, the rage and the hurt are like a big traffic sign, pointing you directly to the places in your life where you need to pay attention. 

I think there's something to be said for realizing that we humans are just plain not perfect, no matter how hard we try. People WILL do things that hurt our feelings. And we WILL get angry, or hurt, or both. And we WILL beat ourselves up for not doing the adult, calm, well-adjusted bit about just letting go and moving on. 

But sometimes, we can't live up to our own expectations. We can't move on. We stay stuck. Yeah, sometimes we even enjoy--just a little teeny tiny bit--being stuck. Look at me. I was so wronged by these jackasses! Join me in proclaiming their horribleness!

When I'm stuck, the fastest way I know to get unstuck is to do The Work. If you're familiar with this process, great. If not, read on, and then go to the website when you're done reading.

The Work of Byron Katie helps you examine your beliefs. I'm assuming that you have many beliefs all tangled up in this one interaction, but let's start with this one: Unthinking Parishioner should not have asked me to donate money to Unsupportive Former Church Home. 

Now ask yourself, Is that true? If your immediate answer is HELL YES IT'S TRUE, okay, fine, I understand. 

Let's go on to the second question: Can you absolutely know for certain that it's true that he shouldn't have asked? HELL YES IT'S TRUE HE SHOULDN'T HAVE ASKED. But face it, the fact is, he did ask. And if you tell yourself he shouldn't have, you're arguing with the reality of the past. And that is not an argument you can win. 

Question Three (you'll want a pencil and a piece of paper for this): How do you feel when you believe the thought, "He shouldn't have asked me to donate money to that church"? I'm just guessing how you feel, but if it were me, I would feel angry, insulted, outraged. I would want to email him a really nasty message about his unbelievable insensitivity. I would get totally wrapped up in the whole damn thing all over again. I might be gathering materials for a stink bomb to place under his bedroom window, or perhaps importing moles into his front lawn. And I would be beating myself over the head for not having moved on from this place of anger and resentment (see reference to therapy, etc. above). 

Bonus section to Question Three: Ask yourself these questions: How do I treat myself when I believe that thought? How do I treat him? How do I treat the other people in my life? What violence do I do in my thoughts to those jackasses who I thought were my friends? And how much of my time and energy goes into that?

Seriously, you should be writing like crazy right now.

Final question: Who would you be without that thought? Who would you be, right now, Mike, if you couldn't believe the thought "Idiot Parishioner with the social skills of a goat should NOT have asked me to contribute to the church that totally dumped me when I needed it most"? Who would you be without that story?

If you're still reading...time for the turnarounds. The first one is easy: He should have asked me for financial support because he DID. That's just reality speaking. 

Can you turn the original belief around another way? This might be something like: I shouldn't ask him or the Former Church for support. Does this feel true? Are you asking him for something he can't give you? What might that be? I'm just guessing here. You're the one with the answers.

Another turnaround might be: I should ask myself for support. Does that feel true?

And another turnaround: I shouldn't have asked myself to support My Former Church Home. Okay, for some reason, this one feels really true to me. But again, it's your work, and I'm just guessing. Is there still a miniscule part of you that wants to support your former church (which probably does a lot of good in the community), a part of you that wants to show you're past it all, a very strong part of you that wants to be generous even though those lousy bastards turned their backs on you? Just asking. Again, I could be totally wrong.

I urge you to go the home page for The Work, click on "The Work" and then click on "How to do The Work." You can download worksheets and guidelines. It's all free. You can even call the free hotline and work with a certified facilitator, and I highly recommend that. Did I mention it's all free? Because it is. The facilitators donate their time, and they've been through a TON of training.

Please understand that this process doesn't excuse anyone else's bad or thoughtless behavior. It just helps you work with the beliefs that stand between you and peace. The Work isn't about what someone else did; it's about how you reacted to them. It's about being clear. And it's about forgiving yourself for being human instead of being perfect.

Sounds as if that's what you'd like right now, and only you can provide it.

Thanks for writing.


  1. MrsDitters, you make a great point about how it is impractical to argue with the facts. All that protest -- he shouldn't have -- is just arguing with that he already did. So it is a kind of delaying the inevitable, which sometimes means acknowledging things aren't as wonderful as we deluded ourselves into thinking.

    Reminds me of an old saw: You can't con an honest man."
    Or woman.

    I'm not too churchy so can't add to the back and forth. I do know it's not a good idea to put oneself in harm's way, much. And that there is a difference between Hurt, and Harm.

  2. @Anon, above: Love your point about there being a difference between Hurt and Harm, and keeping yourself out of Harm's way. I think, though, that you can be in Harm's way inadvertently...the real question is what do you do with it after it happens. That's where some real life decisions happen.