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Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
I am in my mid-50s and I am struggling with anger and negativity issues. Menopause has not been easy, and I think I’m mostly through it, yet these overwhelming emotions continue to haunt me. I was on antidepressants for a number of years but I went off two years ago, deciding that I don’t want to go through the rest of my life in a fog. For a while things were OK, but more and more lately I find myself plunged into such negativity, such bitterness, such anger — I don’t want to be this person! It’s like I get pissed off and/or have my feelings hurt over situations where I feel slighted or left out — for example, it seems that every time I turn around, friends are planning a trip to Europe or somewhere I’d love to go but can’t afford, and then I’m envious and resentful. Or I hear about a big gathering of friends to which I wasn’t invited, and I wonder why and my feelings are hurt. Or I feel bitter toward my job and co-workers because it seems everyone is moving forward and I’m stuck and feeling marginalized. I seethe inside over stupid stuff like if someone fails to say hello to me as he rushes past or when someone cuts me off in traffic. I really try to stop myself from being so ridiculous, but I can’t seem to do it. My husband once remarked that everything seems to be an affront to me, that I take everything so personally, and it’s true.
The good thing is that I don’t feel this way all of the time. It’s quite the roller coaster I’m on, though the highs aren’t extreme or manic — I just feel a little better, less negative. But the lows are downright scary at times. I’ve been seeing a therapist since last November, and I felt that I was making breakthroughs and learning about myself a bit (though I can’t say I’ve reached the point where I like myself any better), but we seem to be at a standstill. She keeps promoting meditation, and I do understand that once I make the effort to include it in my life on a regular basis (I’m sporadic at best), it will hopefully make a difference, but I’m starting to feel a little desperate for a more immediate relief from all of this negativity and anger. It wears me out! I feel like I’m distancing people from me, and I can’t blame them. My closest friends have been supportive (yet I haven’t been totally forthcoming about what’s going on with me — they just know I’m going through a really bad time), but I suspect my more casual friends wonder what the hell is wrong with me. I feel like a blob of paranoia, insecurity, and self-doubt, and those feelings all too easily merge into the anger and negativity.
As I said, I don’t want to be this person. Thanks for listening.
Angry All the Time
Dear Angry All the Time,
Have you talked with your therapist about the automatic thoughts that occur right before you feel this anger? Can you bring them to consciousness? Can you say them out loud and/or write them down?
These immediate thoughts are sometimes the key to our subsequent emotions. If we can get to them, we can avoid the negative feelings. That’s what I’ve found.
For instance, when stuck in traffic, I may find myself impatient, gripping the wheel hard, having vengeful thoughts about the other drivers, offering uncharitable words for their hair or the way they jut their chin or their clothes or the state of their cars; all these thoughts swarm in my head, but if I can calm down and go back to the original thought that went through my head, it may be something like, “Fuck! I’ll never get there!” or “I’m going to be late!” or “I’m always late!” or “People don’t know how to drive!”
It is these thoughts that cognitive behavioral therapy teaches us to catch and evaluate for truthfulness and relevance. The idea is that if a statement is neither true nor relevant (or, I suppose, even if it is true, but not relevant), it doesn’t make sense for us to feel badly about it. It doesn’t matter. If we can substitute other words for these automatic thoughts, we can avoid the subsequent feelings. And if we avoid the feelings then we can be happier. We may even come out of a bad depression over time.
We take such thoughts apart and substitute more realistic, appropriate thoughts, like, “I may be late, but if I’m late, my friends will wait for me,” or, “I’ll get there eventually if I just stay in the car and keep inching forward,” or, “People’s driving styles really differ from mine, probably because they were taught differently, or they don’t have as much experience as I do, or they aren’t as skillful as I am. But they’re legally allowed to drive, so I should steer clear of them so they don’t succeed in running into me.”
The book Feeling Good describes how to do this. Ask your therapist if you can get to work on some kind of cognitive therapy.
I’m glad your therapist is suggesting meditation. How are you doing with it? Sometimes it’s hard to make time for something that involves doing so much of nothing. If you were going bowling, that would be one thing. But you’re just going to sit there. What is that? That’s so close to nothing, it’s hard to schedule time in for it.
But it works. It works for me anyway. I emerge from 15 or 20 minutes of sitting with a new, fresh outlook. Stuff that made me angry seems just fine now!
Make some time for it. Give yourself a break. You deserve to feel better!
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)