Anger is one of the most misunderstood emotions in our culture. It is important to know that anger is actually a healthy emotion. It is only when it is polluted by resentment that it becomes toxic and self-destructive. So that begs the question: “what‘s the difference?”
The most common misunderstanding about anger and resentment is that people, places and things make us angry. That is totally wrong. We know from Cognitive Behavioral Psychology that nothing outside of us can make us angry. Things outside of us can trigger the anger, but the anger itself is inside of us, and therefore we are the only ones that can control it.
All emotions are like fire, and this is certainly true for anger. When controlled, fire is very useful: it heats our housed, drives our cars, cooks our food etc. But when out of control it is one of the most destructive forces in nature. The same can be said for anger. When left unchecked it is a very harmful, and self-destructive feeling.
Let’s start with the model that explains the destructive nature of resentment. It begins when our rights our violated. That triggers a thought in our minds, either a conscious one, or more likely a destructive “silent assumption”, belief, or interpretation of the event. That thought then produces the feeling of resentment, the feeling that we need to take revenge on someone and make them feel the pain they caused us. That resentment prompts us to want to take revenge on the person that wronged us, which sets in motion a feud, as the other person’s resentful thoughts and feelings are triggered and they seek to get revenge back on us.
Take the example of a patient or loved one we are caring for who is suffering from dementia, and gets irritated very easily. They may yell at us, or worse, strike out or even spit at us. If that makes us feel that we want to get back at them, that is a sure sign we are feeling resentful, and the destructive thought is in some form condemning that person as a worthless human being. These kind of thoughts can most easily be identified by swear words, and demeaning foul language. Therein lies the difference between anger and resentment. If we are feeling resentful we are making a personal judgment and attack on the other person; if we are feeling angry we confront the other person about their behavior and leave judgments about their character out of the discussion.
If you find yourself “losing it” and lashing our personally at someone you are caring for, the remedy is to write about it. Create an “emotional” journal detailing what happened, how you felt, and the thoughts you had that made you lash out at that person. Then re-write the scenario with thoughts or interpretations that address the person’s behavior, and options you have to address those unwanted actions in more productive ways. This is a proactive way to prepare for the next time your patient lashes out at you. Then you’ll be able to respond more maturely and professionally because you made a plan and prepared yourself for the situation. That is real growth and maturity, and has the best chance for a healthy outcomes for everyone involved.
If you want to find out more about our mental health presentations for healthcare professionals throughout Sacramento, please contact us at (916) 933-9777. We strive to improve the quality of Sacramento home care and transitional care throughout the region.