Transforming Nurses' Stress and Anger: Steps toward Healing

By Sandra P. Thomas | Go to book overview

8

Overcoming the Legacy of a
Painful or Abusive Past

Anger is healthy, while resentment and hate are detrimental.
Anger is fresh, expansive, active, constructive, and varies with
changes in the situation. Resentment and hate are past-orient-
ed.
They remain and remain, working chiefly on and against one-
self.

—Eugene Gendlin

Many nurses are mired in resentment about the past: pain inflicted by a mother who was critical, a father who was never around, a brother or sister who was the favorite and got more “goodies,” a lover who dumped them for someone else, a friend who turned out to be a traitor, a lost educational or work opportunity. While their anger may be entirely justifiable—at least, initially—it begins to affect their mental health when it’s chronic and corrosive. Old angers often mingle with new ones in a multilayered amalgam, hurtful incident piled upon other hurtful incidents, until there is so much bad feeling that there’s hardly any room for joy. Remember the woman who talked about her unexpressed anger that rolled up into a big ball? To refresh your memory a bit, here is what she said:

It’s like you build up so much anger inside or resentment towards somebody without
really sitting down and talking about the problem that it just rolls up into a big ball
and you’re not even sure what it’s really about. And then you have to take that ball
apart again in little sections and you’ve got to ask questions and poke places that are
really deep and hurt you sometimes.

This chapter is about unraveling your big ball of anger and taking it apart, bit by bit, so that you can overcome the legacy of a painful or

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