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6 Ways to Release Anger After Forgiveness With Complex PTSD

“Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.” -Gandhi

In my journey of recovery from complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), I’ve been working through some deep issues of rage/anger. For 48 of my 59 years of life, I rented space at a duplex I affectionately named Unforgiving and Rage. It’s where I hung my hat. Although for years I’d sought to forgive the perpetrators of the worst abuse I’d endured, the rage and inability to forgive were immovable. That big pile of steaming feelings simply would not budge. They weighed heavily in the deepest part of me.

And then, it happened … forgiveness came.

I cannot pinpoint exactly when that soul-shattering burden was lifted, but one day, I woke up and forgiveness was staring me in the face. Seemingly out of nowhere, I’d completely and totally forgiven people I never thought I could. Truly a miracle. That was over 11 years ago.

But what about the rage?

That feeling didn’t budge … not one little bit. In fact, it seemed to grow bigger with each passing day. Immediately after I had gone through intensive PTSD treatment, the worst of the rage disappeared. The third day of treatment was pivotal and that is the day the rage began to change. Over the past 10 years or so of struggling with this concept, here is what I’ve learned about letting go of anger after you’ve experienced forgiveness for someone, if you choose to do so.

1. Remember: It’s about the process. 

Although I’ve experienced miraculous “only God” forgiveness for the multiple perpetrators in my early life, for the most part, “letting go” of the anger/rage is a process. Never easy. Never fun. Totally possible. Always worth it.

2. Own it. 

I wanted and tried to blame anything and everyone else for the pain. It took me until I was in my late 40s, after intensive PTSD treatment, to figure out even though I felt completely justified, if I kept looking in the rearview mirror to blame everyone else, I’d never be able to move forward, but instead stay frozen and powerless. Today, I know I’m accountable for bringing healing to my own life, and that no one else is responsible for that. The recognition I can choose a different way to react, even when life doesn’t turn out the way I want it is a very liberating thing. The actual journey of letting go of the rage (truly, it was more than anger) had been enormously daunting because of the depth of pain and anger I’d been carrying around for most of my life.

What I’ve learned is if I hold onto the hope of being free from the rage and am willing to do the hard work, it will subside. Unresolved anger holds us captive and leaves us little choice. Working toward releasing the unrelenting pain and toxicity of unresolved anger can be very healing.

3. Be persistent. 

Have you ever opened up to a trusted person or group about a tough situation in your life, and suddenly everyone is an expert? They slam you with a dozen ways to overcome “the struggle.” I know I feel almost immediate resistance when I’ve taken the risk and opened up and am essentially told to, “smile and look on the bright side, think positive or try to forgive.” In those moments, it’s hard to not feel alone.

So how/where do we find support? Be persistent. Reach out. More often than not, help is close by in the form of a support group, a faith community, clergy or laypeople who are known for ministering to the wounded and broken around us. A healthy place or person will offer people unbridled opportunities to grieve in their own way. Seek opportunities to talk about how you’ve been hurt and the losses you are grieving.

4. Acknowledge your anger and hurt. 

More often than not, underneath anger lives hurt. That emotion must be dealt with (processed in a healthy way) if we don’t want to get stuck and unable to move on.

5. Say the words out loud. 

This may seem a little goofy, but it can be therapeutic to hear yourself say, “I’m angry and hurt, but I choose to forgive [said person] for  [said action],” and then say what you’re forgiving and explain why. Say it to yourself out loud, so your brain can hear you. Forgiveness is far more than words, but those words are still important. Forgiveness calls us out of our comfort zone and demands action on our part, so saying the words out loud is pivotal to completing the process.

6. Remember when you were offered forgiveness.

It never fails that when I’m really angry about something, I can almost always turn down the internal heat by thinking about the kindness I’ve been offered, when forgiveness has been extended to me. Remembering the redemptive moments in my life can help soften my heart toward others and help me release those feelings. Forgiveness. It’s a huge word with a huge meaning. Forgiving someone is not something we do for the other person (if we choose to do it at all). I believe it’s actually the most caring thing we do for ourselves. Forgiveness offers us freedom to move on without regrets and a choice to embrace it in a healthy, life-giving way.

Getty image by cienpies