A reader emailed me and asked me to discuss how I was able to turn my anger from myself and direct it outward toward my abusers. This was a tough one for me at first because I truly did not believe that I had any anger inside of myself. I only expressed anger about once a year. The rest of the time, I was a walking doormat, allowing anyone to treat me in any way he or she pleased. Then, I would suddenly find strength out of nowhere (which I now recognize as an alter part) and get really angry when someone crossed the line.
As I recovered numerous memories of a childhood filled with abuse, I felt no anger at all. I would feel shame, repulsion, and grief but never anger. I even argued with my therapist about whether I even had any anger inside of me. He assured me that I did.
What I did have was an enormous amount of anxiety and also on-and-off depression. I later learned that unexpressed anger must have an outlet. If you refuse to express it toward the offender, then your anger will turn inward and manifest itself as anxiety, depression, and/or self-loathing. I certainly experienced all of that!
I first had to reach a place of opening my mind to the possibility of having repressed anger. The best I could do was accept intellectually that a severely abused child probably got a little angry about it now and again. I chose to believe this about myself even though I did not feel it. Then, I made the choice to give myself the opportunity to express my anger. I decided to invite the anger out and punch pillows as an avenue. I felt like a complete idiot for the first three punches, but the anger exploded out of me with the fourth punch, and it came out intensely for about 20 minutes. I beat the pillows and screamed out all sorts of obscenities at my abusers. I was physically exhausted afterward, but I also felt empowered. I also experienced an immediately lessening of my anxiety.
The next step was to connect the anger back to the event or person that caused it. I would do this through visualization. I would experience an angry alter part that would “think” all sorts of cruel things – that I was a terrible person, etc. In my head (through thought), I would “tell” that part of myself that I did not deserve this anger. Instead, that anger needs to be expressed toward the abuser. I would then run through the faces of my abusers in my head. When I got to the “right” one, I would experience an intensely violent visualization of the adult me beating up my abuser. As I did this, I could feel the release of the pent up rage that I had been carrying around for my entire life.
If you were abused as a child and have never expressed your anger, you are in for a real treat. There is a reason that healing books call anger “the backbone of healing.” Expressing your anger is empowering!
Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt