“Anger is remembered pain”: 3 steps to healing from difficult experiences at workplace

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Subject Matter: Self-help
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Author: Swati Jena (Founder, GhostWritersWorld)

When the horrific treatment of women at Uber came to light with the Susan Fowler blog, there was another woman who blogged about her experience. Unlike Susan, she wrote anonymously, calling herself Amy Vertino.

One sentence from Amy’s blog particularly stayed with me.

“I deleted the Uber app on my phone. Even though I don’t work at Uber any longer, the damage that was done to me by Uber’s work environment ruined my spirit. It damaged what was most precious to me : dignity and self respect.”

Many individuals, both men and women, go through experiences at workplace that threaten to change them for worse. These could come in the form of:

  • Bad treatment by manager
  • Wrongful termination
  • Deception, office politics
  • Discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Being maligned or discredited

The list is long.

One part of the story is the right and wrong of it.

The other is the invisible and unaccounted for human impact on the individual who went through the experience

Therefore healing from an emotionally difficult situation at workplace is important, whether or not the organizational process delivers justice.

Here are 3 steps that could lead to healing

#1) Give yourself permission to feel anger

Anger has various manifests – from its more violent avatars to seething resentment to passive aggression.

Of all other negative emotions, anger is the most feared and misunderstood

The most common advice given is to “control” it. The best definition of anger I have come across till date is by Dr. Deepak Chopra, who says:

“Anger is remembered pain”

A particularly painful experience is likely to revisit the person in form of anger; and this understanding of anger as remembered pain helps make better sense of it. Some of the helpful strategies that I have learnt from various experts like Deepak Chopra, HH Dalai Lama and Eckart Tolle are:

  1. Becoming aware of it, observing anger as a third person, and letting it pass
  2. Anger may also localize itself as physical sensation in some part of the body, and becoming aware of the physical sensation when anger appears is important
  3. We also tend to indulge in mental projections – e.g. imagining that you are in a nasty argument with a person who hurt you. You might even be winning the argument in your imagination, but if you realize your body experiences the same nasty sensations as you would in a real argument. We must train ourselves to become alert as soon as a session of mental projection begins and bring ourselves back to present.

A good way to bring oneself back to present is to focus on the breathing for a few seconds. It takes the attention away from the projection, and weakens it.

While recuperating from an experience, we might receive advice from friends that “feeling anger is useless, so forget about it”. The only thing useless there is the advice itself. Whether or not anger is useful, a human being feels it nevertheless.

Feeling guilty about feeling anger is a double whammy.

Now you have two emotions, instead of one, to deal with.

The above strategies must be repeated, for as long as it takes. Because, there is a difference between giving yourself permission to feel anger and indulging in it.

#2) Revenge, justice, forgiveness, apology

This aspect never gets spoken of, especially when we are talking of “professional situations”. But the fact is we are human beings, and human mind does not differentiate between a workplace situation and personal situation. Therefore, these must be addressed in a conversation on healing from an experience when you felt wronged, even at a workplace.

  • Revenge and justice

Sometimes we use them interchangeably. We seek revenge in the name of justice. But they are not the same.

There is this story in the Indian tradition. In the world’s longest epic Mahabharata, a beautiful and proud queen named Draupadi, also wife to five of the bravest warriors of the time, is dishonored and disrobed in the royal court as a result of a conspiracy at a game of dice.

According to one of the versions of the epic, Draupadi is furious after the incident and refuses to meet any of her husbands who could not save her honor as they were bound by some protocols. The only person she meets is her friend Lord Krishna, who had magically extended the length of her robe, despite not being present when the incident happens.

Krishna urges Draupadi to gradually let go of her anger. Draupadi asks Krishna: “How can I do justice to wrong-doers, if I let go of my anger”

Krishna responds: “It is only when you let go of your anger will you be able to do justice to your wrong-doers”

We fallaciously use anger to fuel our pursuit of justice. But justice comes from a place of fairness. Therefore, the only thing that anger fuels is revenge.

Revenge causes new wounds. It can never lead to healing.

  • Forgiveness and apology

Forgiveness and apology are not connected, despite popular belief.

Firstly, forgiveness is an act of letting bygones be bygones. It frees the sufferer from the pain of re-living the same experience in his mind. Forgiveness ensures that you don’t carry a baggage that burdens your future choices and relationships. Therefore, forgiveness is not for the wrong-doer but for the one who suffers.

Secondly, forgiveness does not mean letting the wrong-doer off-the-hook. Lot of people resist forgiveness because of the perception that – if I forgive her, she will be exonerated from her wrong-doings. That is not true.

Forgiveness is simply saying, whatever happened caused me pain. But that was the past. I cannot give it anymore attention and time than I already have. I experienced it, it is over. It is not allowed into my present or future.

Thirdly, forgiveness is not incumbent on apology, we should forgive anyways. We tend to think that, I will forgive when the person apologizes. But what if the person never realizes the mistake? Or when she does, you are not around? Or the person apologizes, but you still feel too upset to forgive? Therefore, forgiveness must happen without waiting for any apology.

Which brings me to apology. Apology is for the wrong-doer, not the sufferer.

A genuine apology relieves the wrong-doer from the burden of his acts

The best definition of a good apology I have come across is Professor Randy Paush’s Last Lecture which left millions of people in tears.

He said a good apology has 3 parts:

  1. I am sorry
  2. It was my fault
  3. How do I make it right

#3) Begin the healing process

Healing is not forgetting an incident. It is getting back to a sustained state of happiness and purpose. Few important things for this to happen are:

  1. Don’t worry why it all happened

Simon Sinek said “start with why”. This is one situation, you should leave “why” alone. Steve Jobs said in his Stanford speech, life makes sense in retrospect.

Maybe someday you will figure it out, maybe you won’t.

In his book, the Art of Happiness, HH Dalai Lama asks if you are hit by a poisonous arrow, will you sit there worrying about who did it and why, or will you pull out the arrow first?

Healing is pulling out that poison arrow first without worrying about who and why

2. Focus on your destiny, not your history

There is a wonderful line Bishop TD Jakes said while speaking at an Oprah life class.

“When you hold on to your history, you do so at the expense of your destiny.”

The logic is simple. If you spend energy on thinking about the past, you will not be able to focus on what you are doing right now. Letting go is not easy, but reminding yourself of this every time, and committing yourself whole-heartedly to a cause definitely helps.

3. Identify and re-program triggers

There could be people and events that act as triggers to re-living the experience in your mind. It is important to consciously identify what those triggers are, and stay away if possible. Even better, is to try an reprogram the trigger.

For example, if Alice is the person whose memory makes you relive the experience, you can find another Alice (an aunt, a friend, neighbor, or Alice in Wonderland), you have positive or atleast neutral feelings about. Everytime you hear the name Alice, think of the other person. Slowly, the trigger gets reprogrammed. It works.

All the above can help you heal and move on.

A few final thoughts.

  • Allow yourself time, people may take different amounts of time to heal
  • Someday learn to look at the experience objectively. Sometimes the situations are complex. Maybe you too had a small responsibility to take. Take it. Honestly helps healing
  • If you feel anger, guilt, shame – its okay. You had a human experience

Rumi said profoundly,

“Wound is the place where light enters you.”

There is something about painful experiences, that have the power to elevate you to a higher level of consciousness; to help you move one step closer to understanding yourself.

So the final chapter about healing, is to surrender yourself to the experience. As the little boy stranded on a boat with a tiger, in the movie Life of Pi says,

“I suppose in the end, the whole life becomes an act of letting go..”

(c) 2017 Swati Jena All Rights Reserved

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