Question from Reader: Have I been angry too long?
© 2017 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
We received an excellent question from one of our followers: How do you know if you've been angry for too long?
Here is our response: Dear Recovering,
You have asked what is considered a normal time to recover from a tumultuous 20-plus-year marriage. You have given other details that I will leave out of this, as I hope to answer this in a way that’s helpful to many people. This is a good question.
There is no clear-cut “normal time” for recovering from a difficult relationship. It sounds like you’ve been through some very hard times that no one should have to go through, so it’s not surprising that it would take a long time to heal.
You raise the issue of whether someone with a high-conflict personality can heal at all, or will remain stuck in anger. The good news is that asking these questions means that you are unlikely to have a high-conflict personality, because you are reflecting on yourself. High-conflict people don’t tend to reflect on themselves and don’t take responsibility for the problems in their lives, and so they don’t heal and feel better. They blame other people and don’t look at what they could do different. In fact the four key characteristics of HCPs are: Lots of all-or-nothing thinking; Unmanaged emotions; Extreme behaviors; and Preoccupation with blaming others.
If these characteristics don’t fit you, then it’s unlikely that you’re an HCP. Regardless, it sounds like you have a lot to recover from: a long-term marriage that included being left for another woman twice, physical abuse and false statements about you; plus you describe an abusive childhood; and possibly an ongoing situation of having to defend yourself still.
If you are still engaged in a divorce process, I encourage you to read my book Splitting and get a lawyer who can help you deal with the difficulties you described.
I would also suggest getting a good support system of friends and/or professionals, like a counselor. Such a person can help you figure out what are legitimate responses to your situation. Anger can be an empowering emotion, but it can sometimes keep you stuck. Part of counseling can be looking at your self-talk regarding your situation. Sometimes what we tell ourselves helps keep us stuck, and we can often change our self-talk. Hopefully, you can tell yourself that you are out of the difficult marriage now and can make your own choices and decisions, and surround yourself with people who support you for who you are. You can also find things to do that give you strength—like following interests you have always wanted to pursue—which can distract you from upsetting thoughts and diminish the power that others have over how you feel.
These are just a few ideas. See if any of them help and you may find yourself feeling less angry over time.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high-conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.