You Don’t Have to Be An Angry, Resentful Person Just Because Everyone Else Is

I don’t think this entry needs a trigger warning in the traditional sense, but perhaps a “take offense” warning is necessary. I’m not attacking or critiquing any specific individual with this entry, although if you take offense, maybe you should stop for a second and figure out why.

One of the biggest parts of my recovery journey is the conscious attempt to be a better human being. I actively work on skills like empathy, inclusiveness and compassion. While I still certainly have a long way to go before I’m the person I’d like to become, I feel that while my life is swinging in one direction, the attitude of the population in general is swinging the other way.

It could be the 24-hour news cycle, more social media than we know what to do with or some other factor, but people seem to have no problem putting their lack of compassion and empathy on full display. Instead, those traits have been replaced with resentment and anger.

I’m not going to get into politics, religion, science, patriotism, parenting or any of the other areas that seem to set people off. I’m far less interested in the specifics of peoples’ opinions than I am in the way that many people present those opinions these days.

I think there are reasons that people become addicts, but there are only excuses why they don’t seek help, especially after learning why they have the problem. I also believe there are reasons that people turn into who they are with the belief system that they have, but only excuses why that belief system allows them to present themselves as boorish oafs.

I’ve been trying to figure out the cause of what feels like this massive pendulum swing in the attitudes of our society. I know it can’t just be the fact that I’m actively trying to become a better person. I’ve come up with a few theories:

The world is moving too fast. While older generations always make the argument their experience and wisdom trumps youth and inexperience, our older generations have seen exponentially more change than those before them. I think this is also filtering down into middle-aged generations. Technology moves at such speed that it seems like only 17-year-olds can keep up with it because the rest of us don’t have the extra time to learn. With all of the new media we have, getting glimpses into the past is easier than ever. I’m sure because of television and the Internet, I understand the culture of 1955 far more than the people of 1955 understood the culture of 1895. I believe this causes a bit of romanticism of the past, forgetting the negative and remembering only positive. The feeling you’re being left behind doesn’t feel good.

People are smarter than you. This has always been the case, but with the Internet and 500 TV channels, we’re constantly exposed to people who are more intelligent, deeper thinkers and understand things many of us could never grasp. I think we also are aware that most smart people recognize their intelligence and far too many of us make the leap that they therefore believe they are better than us when that has never been established. There is deep resentment in this world toward people who act like they are better than someone else, but we seem to be at a point where we invent the idea that others believe they are better without them doing anything to suggest it.

There’s more diversity than ever. I’m sure there have been studies done and I’ve just never had enough incentive to look them up, but I’d like to know when it comes to fear of people who are different how much is nurture and how much is nature. Somewhere, there is somebody out there who has 100% the opposite views as you when it comes to politics, culture, entertainment, etc. They are the bizzaro, anti-you. And guess what? They’re not a crazy psychopath either. It’s not just diverse ideas, it’s also basic demographics. Communities are not as homogenous as they once were. Different languages are being spoken, even in small towns and people who don’t look like previous generations now live there. This is scary to many people.

The recognition you were wrong. I think at one time or another we’ve all recognized we were incorrect about something and instead of correcting course, we doubled-down, despite being wrong. I believe this also extends to those around you who you discover were wrong. Many people directly get their beliefs from their parents and others they knew when they were young, but how many of those beliefs ever get questioned? Something isn’t OK just because mommy or daddy acted like it was. Your friends may all think one way, but that doesn’t mean it’s the correct thing. When recognition that those around you made poor decisions, it’s often hard to stand up to them and blaze your own path.

Simply because you can’t relate to someone does not make them a bad person. Moreover, simply because you can’t relate to them does not mean that you have to present an argument why they are not a good person.

A changing world does not mean it is changing for the worse. Yes, new things – including attitudes and societal norms – take adjusting, but that does not mean they are bad. Despite what people who eschew change believe, most change is designed to make the world a better, inclusive place. Yes, it takes getting used to new ideas, concepts and technology. Changing who you are does not mean you are any less or more of a person before and after that change.

I think most people today are of a mindset of looking for what makes them different than the next guy, and whatever that difference is, it becomes the weakness of the other person, ripe for attack. This is also true with thoughts. The general rules seem to be that if two people think differently, one must be wrong, and it’s always the other guy. In most cases, neither – or both – are wrong.

We live in a world full of angry, sad, resentful, non-compassionate, close-minded people. Standing behind the fact you have the God-given or governmental-given right to be that way doesn’t make it OK. Feeling emboldened by like-minded people to share your negativity doesn’t make it OK.

There is someone, probably more than just one, who is reading this feeling attacked. I’ve shared no actual specific opinions here. I’ve isolated no specific group or type of person. If you’re feeling attacked, I hope you’ll take a few minutes and figure out why.

 

Holding onto Hate, Grudges and Resentments Hurts You More Than The Other Guy

At what point is making the other person pay for their sins enough? When have they atoned for the wrongdoing they did to you or the wrongdoing they did to the world? Who decides? A judge? You? Them? When is it time to let somebody move on with their life…but more importantly, move on with yours?

Now, obviously, if you murder someone, you’re going to be paying for it the rest of your life behind bars. I’m not talking about extreme circumstances like this.

The judge in my case seemed to be very clearly weighing two options: nine months in county jail or three years in state prison. Since I attended two inpatient rehabilitation facilities and had been part of intense therapy for the 22 months between arrest and sentencing, not-to-mention that my support system was local, she opted for the county jail, followed by three years of probation.

This week, I’m finished my second year and the countdown to being off probation falls under 365 days. For anybody who thinks probation is easy, spend some real time on it. When I got to jail, I met people who opted to do extra jail time to NOT get probation. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now. It’s a cross to bear and a black cloud that follows you everywhere – or at least the places you’re allowed to go.

I have heard people say my sentence was too long and I never should have seen a day of jail time and I’ve heard people say they should put me in prison and throw away the key. From the moment I heard her verdict, I made the decision to accept the nine months I got (of which I served six months and six days) was appropriate. After all, isn’t the judge the person who was appointed by the Governor of Maine to make these kinds of decisions?

Dealing with injustice

Are you able to let things go? As I’ve mentioned on this site before, letting go of resentments has been a huge piece of my recovery. There is too much energy and thought wasted on resentment.

Sure, there were times that resentment felt good because I felt there was genuine injustice happening, but I now practice the concept of radical acceptance. It’s found in the Serenity Prayer in its purest form…know what you can fix, what you can’t and how to tell the difference.

Do I still think there is a lot of injustice in this world? Absolutely. Whether it’s a bunch of inept duck boat operators or a President who seems to get a pass on behavior that would have taken down any public leader before him, I see all kinds of injustice in this world. I just accept that my righteous indignation doesn’t change anything. And putting that righteous indignation on display says far more negative about me than about whatever I’m railing against.

If you want to see a bunch of resentful people, visit the comment section of any story on the Fox News website. Even when a story isn’t about politics, there are people who will twist whatever the topic is into a political debate where they are correct, you are wrong, end of story. And this comes from both the right and the left, politically speaking. It’s a place where people go to argue politics and when there are no immediate politics, they’ll argue about anything because they don’t know how to communicate any other way. It’s actually quite sad when you just stand back and watch.

Resenting other people takes time and energy and thought. Do you really have those things to spare and in looking back, how many positive results have developed out of your resentments?

Grudges are Resentments, too

Maybe you don’t think you carry resentments. Maybe you’re able to let the injustices of the world melt away. What about grudges? Carry any of them?

While it will probably be gone by the time you read this, somebody posted a vitriolic review of my book on Amazon recently. It wasn’t a review of the book at all, it was just a chance to call me a few horrible names. I don’t think the person did it to try and hurt sales. If they did, they don’t really understand how the process works. I think they did it to feel better about themselves. I hope it worked, but I know resentment doesn’t ultimately work that way.

Based on the content, they seem to be local and seem to still harbor a lot of anger toward me. It doesn’t seem like we were close based on what they said, but they knew me from afar, or maybe was an acquaintance. Six or seven years ago I would have been crazed to get their review off the page and making a federal case over the fact I was called a few names.

When I read this review, which is probably gone because it violated Amazon’s terms of services, I immediately felt bad for the person who wrote it. They seem very angry at me not just for the crime I committed, but for the fact I presented myself as someone I wasn’t prior to the arrest.

I still get the feeling that the populace where I’m from hasn’t let it go. The funny thing is, it’s not about any crime I committed, it’s about a deeper betrayal. I was a City Councilor and the “good guy” magazine maker who had the film festival that brought celebrities to town every year. I was eccentric, but in the best way possible. I was an interesting guy who was fun to have a conversation with.

Most of those things disappeared in many people’s eyes when I was arrested and convicted. Anything positive I did for the community was buried. I erased everything positive in one fell swoop.

There’s nothing I can do about that view of things. Once I figured it out a few years back I let it all go.

Let It Go

I will not be welcomed back into my community at any time because there are too many people who spend energy disliking me for poor choices I made five years ago when I was sick. I don’t use the illness as an excuse. I allowed myself to get there, but I also feel like I paid my dues and I’m done groveling. I’m sorry. I’ll always be sorry and I’ll always be vigilant to make sure nothing like my behavior ever happens again. But I have to move on. If you’re waiting for more groveling, you’re going to be waiting for a while.

I am a vastly different person today than I was prior to my arrest. Those who know me best can attest to that. Those who only knew me back then through Facebook postings couldn’t tell you anything about me, so they hang onto the anger and hate. I can explain for days I’m now a pornography addiction expert trying to do good with my situation. It won’t matter. They’ve frozen their opinion of me in time. I can’t unthaw it, so why try?

I paid my debt to society, or at least I’m in the last year of that process. I can get into the pathology of the people who yell the loudest about me not getting enough time, but it fascinates me far more than it bothers me. People don’t get as angry at gang members who knife somebody in the park. That person is expected to do that. I was never expected to commit my crime. I violated their trust.

I know there are plenty of people like that Amazon reviewer still out there and there probably always will be. It is what it is. I urge them, as I urge you, to let things go. Hate, resentments, grudges…they’re all a waste of time. Still hate the ex-husband or ex-wife? Let it go. Think Trump is the devil? Still want to prosecute Hillary Clinton? Let it go. Planning on being a bitch to the bitch who was a bitch to you in high school when you get to the reunion? Let it go.

When people get angry or indignant with me now, it just kind of goes through me. If they have a point, I’ll address it, but mostly it’s about needing to spew venom. That’s OK. I’ve got a permanent snake bite kit working 24/7 inside of me. That is one thing I will never let go of.

Practicing Empathy Has Been Huge to My Alcohol & Porn Addiction Recovery

Early in recovery, going through the inpatient rehabs, I was told many times I had a history of exhibiting a clear lack of empathy in my life’s decision making. I understood what they meant as I tended to be outwardly cold and indifferent. I would listen to another person’s problems simply to wait for my turn to talk and put on display I had mastery over their issues, which made me superior.

For most of my life, people did not come running to me for emotional support because they knew they’d be met with a logical answer for solving whatever ailed them. I’m sure there are people who are born with a legitimate lack of empathy, but mine was shut off as a defense mechanism.

I was the guy at funeral who would blurt things like “I don’t think he looks peaceful, I don’t think he looks dead” or “You’re right, he’s not suffering anymore. He’s not anything anymore.”

I knew even then how things like that sound, but it was a way for me to ignore not only my feelings, but theirs as well. I could barely deal with my own stuff. I didn’t need theirs cluttering up my head.

In recovery, I came to the recognition that I would need to work on how people perceived me. I wanted the world to know a more authentic Josh, not just the carefully crafted eccentric character I portrayed. I’d done such a good job building up these walls of emotional resiliency, people actually thought nothing was on the other side.

Because of my probation restrictions, I wasn’t able to get on social media for a long time. Lacking an audience for my philosophical or political rants was good for my mental health. I stopped following national and international news and I actively started to practice putting myself into other people’s shoes when they shared their stories.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t that hard to let down my guard and let the world see my more authentic, empathetic self. It was less energy than trying to keep my armor up at all times. While I know many simply can’t believe this, it’s actually easier to find why you’re more alike with someone than why you’re different.

I think the biggest piece of self-realization came when I recognized most people didn’t care what I had to say and that was perfectly OK because almost nobody was ever going to change their opinion based on what I said, nor was changing their opinion going to result in anything different. They just wanted to be heard for reasons that had nothing to do with what they were saying.

There has been a giant change in the social landscape of America in the last five years, probably becoming it’s more outward “authentic” self as I’ve been going through the same process. It’s not like people just got racist and hypocritical and mean in the last few years. They always just hid it, the way I hid who I was. I think it’s politics and social media that have caused this change, but that’s a discussion for another time.

What I see in this world now is so much anger, fear and sadness. I see so many people who have such little sense of self-worth and need for validation. I see people who reach conclusions without even consciously deciding to ignore the facts. I see segmentation into more “tribes” than ever before and an instinct to blame others before looking within. I see who I proudly once was.

Five or six years ago, I wouldn’t have let myself care. I would have played along, making sure I portrayed myself as righteous to those who agreed with everything I said and vilify those who didn’t. I would have used my communicative skills to manipulate to get what I wanted in both my professional and private lives. I would have played the game so many other people were playing, fooling myself that I was two moves ahead of everyone else.

At the end of the day, when there wasn’t anyone around, I’d retreat to my world of alcohol and porn because I knew I wasn’t the guy I was showing the world, but I wasn’t ready to meet that guy either. The pornography and alcohol allowed me to run from myself.

I don’t use those things anymore and I don’t play that game anymore. I’m so much happier and healthier for it. Years ago, my life was about fooling myself into thinking I was successful. Now, if I give an interview and someone calls me a “pornography addiction expert” I kind of laugh inside my head….of all things to finally be successful at.

Today, I can clearly see all of the people who I acted like still living in the world around me. I couldn’t back then. I see the people with all of the negative emotion and non-constructive ways of dealing with it. I read the words of those who are so blinded by resentment and greed that they can’t fathom how resentful and greedy they are. I witness people pointing fingers at others and wonder if they could do that in a mirror for any length of time.

I see a world that appears to be on the verge of throwing punches or collapsing in tears. Who wouldn’t want to have the kind of defense mechanisms I used for all those years? Isn’t it obvious why addiction rates are sky high? Isn’t it clear why so many young people choose pornography over real life? And in a very sad way, isn’t it somewhat understandable why a person might confuse suicide with a positive conclusion?

I’ve read 101 definitions of empathy in the last few years. I’ve come to believe it’s about recognizing the character flaws in others, yet not letting those flaws disqualify you from caring. I think it’s also about recognizing what you see as flaws, other see as virtues, and debating which-is-which is a waste of energy. Empathy is about not letting your own baggage get in the way of someone else’s. It’s about understanding, even if they can’t, and especially when they can’t.