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There is nothing quite like being betrayed by the person who is supposed to love you most. Somewhere inherent in the concept of love is the belief that you will protect one another’s best interests. Allowing yourself to love someone requires a level of trust that you likely didn’t give easily. So when the trust you give gets trampled on, anger is a perfectly normal, self-preserving response.
But the wound that gets inflicted from betrayal can sometimes linger long after a relationship ends, and when you hold on to anger and resentment, it can become toxic and keep you from moving forward. When your anger over another person’s actions is keeping you stuck, it means he or she still exerts control over your life.
So how do you let go of the anger? Following are four steps that can help you work through the process.
1. Acknowledge it. Anger is an emotion that people are often uncomfortable with. You may hold beliefs about anger, such as: Nice people don’t get angry; Anger is unattractive; I’m above being angry. Some will go to extreme measures to numb the anger, often with self-destructive and unhealthy behavior, but avoiding it doesn’t help it go away.
The first step to letting it go is being OK with it. When someone treats you poorly, violates your boundaries, or does something hurtful, you have a right to be angry about it. Feeling the anger in these situations tells you that you have a healthy level of self-respect. Realize that the anger is there to help you. The anger is telling you that you are in a situation that may not be in your best interest. It is often the emotion that gives you the courage to separate from an unhealthy relationship.
2. Express it. This is a tricky one. You may have had the experience of stuffing your anger down until it erupts in one big explosion, only to later regret it and promise to keep it stuffed down even deeper next time. Or you may have been criticized in the past for showing your anger. To be clear, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to express anger and doing it in an unhealthy way can be damaging to you and your relationships with others. Expressing anger in a healthy way is something that many people struggle with, but letting it out is an important part of freeing yourself from it.
While there may be times when expressing your anger directly to someone may be important, when dealing with an ex, the relationship is already over, and the healing you need is about you, not him or her. Sharing it with your ex isn’t necessary, because the reality is you don’t need their apology or even their acknowledgment to heal. A safe way to get it out is to simply write it down. Write a letter to your ex telling them everything you really want to say. Don’t hold anything back, because you aren’t going to send it. Underneath a lot of anger is often a good deal of hurt, so if tears come while you are doing this, let them flow. After you’ve written down your feelings, put the letter aside and make an effort to go do something fun and active. Later, if sharing it still feels important, then share the letter with someone you trust, such as a close friend or a therapist. When you’re ready, put it away, or better yet, get rid of it.
3. Depersonalize it. What any one person says or does is always much more about them than it is about you. If your partner cheated on you, it wasn’t because you weren’t good enough; it was because he/she chose to be unfaithful. Learning to release your anger can often happen more easily when you take your focus off of the specific events that occurred and instead try to see the perspective of the people involved. Most people don’t act with the intention of directly hurting another person; generally, they make choices intending to make themselves feel better. For better or worse, it is in our nature as human beings to operate from our own self-beneficial perspective, and the impact of our actions on others is often a secondary consideration. It doesn’t make it right, but sometimes seeing the other person’s perspective can help you better understand the events that unfolded and make them less personal. It can also be easier to forgive someone when you see them as a whole person. If you find yourself stewing in anger over something that another person did or didn’t do, try to pull back and remember the good qualities you saw in that person when you first met, and recognize that we all have flaws and we all make mistakes. Remember:
“Love didn’t hurt you. Someone who doesn’t know how to love hurt you.” —J. Shetty
4. Heal it. Recovering from an emotional injury is not unlike recovering from a physical one. You need to rest and nurture yourself during the healing process. Practice self-compassion as much as possible, engage in as many healthy self-care activities as you can, and most of all surround yourself with friends and family you know care about you and have your best interest at heart. Know that no matter how awful the experience, there is always something you can learn from it that can make your life better going forward, selfishly look for the silver lining. And keep in mind it is always better to be alone than to be with someone who doesn’t see you clearly enough to value you.