“The opposite of anger is not calmness. It’s empathy.” ~Mehmet Oz
In December last year, I went to India to study yoga and meditation. About a week into my training, I noticed I was becoming increasingly angry.
I thought that coming to this peaceful and supportive place would be all about gentle healing while perfecting my yoga practice. Instead, I was furious, very negative, and frustrated with everything.
Eventually, I talked to my teachers and shared what I was going through since I was becoming worried. They explained that since the training was intense and we were doing lots of activities to purify the mind and body, any stuck energy within would want to be released. This cleansing process could manifest in unwanted negativity, fatigue, emotional imbalances, and more.
Although it comforted me, I had no idea what to do with this anger and how to deal with it. So I asked myself: “What am I thinking when feeling angry?”
The answer was quite straightforward—other people.
Since I removed myself from everything and everyone I knew and was familiar with, there was a sense of silence around me. This allowed my anger to become extremely loud.
My initial thoughts were about everyone who didn’t support my decision to go to India, at least not at first. I replayed all the scenarios when people tried to change my mind or tell me I should do something else.
A few days later, older situations began to come up. Things that happened six months ago, when someone said something that hurt me, and I stayed silent. Or when people told me I couldn’t do something, and I believed them.
After two weeks of this internal rage, I thought my head was about to explode, then one day, it felt as if it did. I woke up with an extreme fever and sinus infection that hurt my face. I was crying all day and couldn’t even attend classes. Eventually, I ended up in the emergency room.
I remember meeting an Ayurvedic doctor with orange hair and a gentle smile. He gave me some ayurvedic medicine and said I would feel 100 percent in four days. I couldn’t see how that could happen, but I felt too weak and mentally defeated to protest, so I took the medicine.
I spent the first two days in bed with a high fever and almost zero energy to even move. On the third day, the fever was gone, and I could eat. On the fourth day, I felt energized and ready to continue my studies.
The most amazing feeling was the lightness I felt after I got healthy. My anger radically decreased, and I was more patient and happier.
This state of peace and joy prompted me to look at what had happened to me. First, I knew that my sickness manifested because of accumulated negative energy seeking its way out. Frankly, I was grateful that I was able to release it.
However, the anger still dominated my days. At first, I began looking at everyone who I believed had wronged me in any way. I tried to forgive them and rationalize their behavior while developing the understanding that everyone acts from their level of perception. Although I could ease the feeling of anger, it was still very present in my life, and I felt it every day.
Then one day, as I was sitting in meditation, a profound realization came to mind. I couldn’t let go of the anger because I wasn’t angry with others but myself.
Since I’d allowed things that I didn’t like and never spoke up about them, deep down, I knew I was betraying myself. However, my need for validation and inclusion was stronger than my desire to stand up for myself.
Since taking responsibility for enabling such behaviors was confronting, I turned my anger toward others and blamed them.
Although this realization was uncomfortable, it gave me a sense of strength. Realizing that my power was in self-responsibility made me feel empowered.
Over the next few days, I battled with myself, feeling like a victim at times and, at the same time, refocusing on my new epiphany.
Here is how I decided to proceed and begin letting go of my anger once this emotional turmoil slightly settled and I could think clearly.
1. I focused on where my power was.
Since I had a habit of feeling like a victim, taking responsibility for what I tolerated was new, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable. Therefore, I often slipped into victimhood.
Once I observed it, I refocused and reminded myself how amazing and freeing it was to live from a place of responsibility. Eventually, I felt less like a victim and more like a healthy individual who could make her choices.
The most common reason why we shy away from taking responsibility for our thoughts and emotions is because we think it means letting people off the hook. We want them to realize how they wronged us. We want them to validate our feelings, and we believe it will happen if we just stay angry long enough.
Ironically, we are the ones who suffer. The word responsibility is derived from the word response. And that, we can choose. In the same way, we can choose to set boundaries while defining what we tolerate and being responsible for ourselves.
After a few weeks of this mental ping pong, I knew there was a component I was missing.
2. I decided to forgive myself.
There was no way I could go through this process without forgiveness since I judged myself profoundly for what I had allowed.
Self-forgiveness was the hardest step. Although I practiced self-forgiveness in the past and was quite familiar with it, forgiving myself for sabotaging my mental and emotional health was a hard pill to swallow.
Every time I closed my eyes and began speaking my forgiveness affirmations, I started crying. I realized that I didn’t believe I deserved forgiveness—a belief that stemmed from my traumatic childhood—so I decided to incorporate inner child work into this practice.
I created a vision of my adult and younger self meeting on a bench. Every time we met, I would ask her to forgive me for letting her down and hurting her so much.
After one week of this conscious practice, my heart began to soften, and I could look at myself with more compassion and empathy instead of harsh criticism.
This created a huge shift within my healing since I realized a fundamental truth when healing anything in our lives. In order to let go of anger, guilt, shame, judgment, or any other negativity we feed, we must go on the other side of the spectrum and embrace emotions of care, nurturing, understanding, and empathy.
Inner child work, practicing self-forgiveness, or loving-kindness meditations are only a fraction of what we can do to ease into our healing.
As I was preparing for my return home, I knew there was one more thing I had to put in place to make this process lasting and successful.
3. I chose my non-negotiables.
It was time to boundary up and decide what I would tolerate going forward. I remember feeling so scared and uncertain. It wasn’t the boundary itself that scared me as much as the reactions from people who weren’t used to them.
At first, I felt like a toddler taking their first step. I went back and forth, contemplating whether my boundary was good or bad, right or wrong, and whether I really needed to put it in place. Then I realized something—there is no right or wrong when it comes to our boundaries. We set them, and that’s it. They are our non-negotiables, and they are not up for debate.
The moment we begin setting boundaries, we act with respect toward ourselves. We are sending a message to our brain saying, “I love and value myself enough to honor what feels right and let go of what isn’t.” We are also ready to build relationships with a strong foundation underneath.
It’s important to acknowledge the fear that comes from setting boundaries. Do we fear the loss of people? Are we worried that we won’t be validated or that others will get upset with us?
Although these concerns are valid, and we all battle them, it’s important to remind ourselves of the cost of self-sabotage and self-betrayal. This way of life isn’t sustainable or healthy, and eventually, it will bring us back to facing the same challenges.
It has been a few months since I made changes within my relationships and how I navigate them. Although some of them radically changed, I was able to work through my anger and let go of lots of negativity in my life.
I still fall into my victimhood and try to let myself off the hook. However, I am now better at recognizing it while understanding the privilege I hold to be responsible for my life, and how empowering it feels when I act on it.