Archive for the ‘Anger’ Category

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

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On my blog entry entitled A (Helpful) Christian Perspective on Forgiveness after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

I just wishi I could actually feel anger and hatred toward my abusers….at this point I just feel numb about it and frankly don’t even believe most of the stories the other parts of me tell. ~ Barbi

I was once in that same place. My self-perception was that I had a very long fuse. I would never stand up for myself or show any anger (or really even feel anger). However, about once a year, I would “blow up.” I now recognize that an angry alter part would finally have enough and express my repressed anger.

I told my therapist that I really did not feel any anger toward my abusers. I also felt very detached from the abuse, as you describe. My therapist assured me that I did have anger inside that I needed to express. When I was ready, I would experience the anger. I did not believe him.

I believe it is the book The Courage to Heal that calls anger “the backbone to healing.” That book, along with the Survivor to Thriver manual, provide good exercises for tapping into your anger. I was actually afraid to tap into mine. I knew that, based upon the memories that I had already recovered, the anger had to be intense. If I turned the anger “on,” could I then turn it back “off”?

The first step to tapping into your anger is believing your memories. Even though they might not feel like “your” memories, they are. You need to start accepting that those memories are of events that really happened to you. I know how hard that is to do, but it is crucial to healing.

Then, choose an exercise to give your anger a voice. I chose punching pillows. I felt an idiot for the first three punches, but the anger exploded out of me with the fourth punch. It was empowering to tap into the strength of that anger, and my anxiety symptoms eased immediately afterward.

I have heard many wonderful suggestions for processing anger:

  • Beat the ground with a baseball bat
  • Punch pillows
  • Take a kickboxing class
  • Throw objects against a wall
  • Visualize beating up your abuser
  • Write your abusers’ names on red balloons and pop them

I find that doing something physical is helpful when you are first learning how to tap into your anger. Invite your anger out, and tell yourself that it is okay to feel and express your anger. Then, give one of these tools (or something similar) a try and see what happens.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry How to Forgive an Abuser after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following question:

Yeah, I know there must be rage. It bubbles up a little now and again. I am scared of its depths. I want to find it, connect with it, but something is blocking me…perhaps fear? How did you get in touch with it? How did you find it? I find others’ experiences helpful.

Anger (or rage) was the emotion that I most deeply repressed. I felt so disconnected from my anger that I honestly did not believe that I even had any. My therapist assured me that I did and that I would process it when I was ready.

Although I felt no anger, I felt an enormous amount of anxiety, manifesting in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms. I also struggled with depression on and off. I later learned that both anxiety and depression are a manifestation of repressed anger. Because the anger has nowhere to go, it turns on you.

I finally reached a place where I knew that I needed to heal my anger, but I did not have the first clue about how to get in touch with it. I decided to lock myself in a room when I had the house alone and invite the anger out. I thought I would punch pillows and see what happened. I was scared about how I would handle the anger if it came out because feeling anger was such a foreign concept to me.

I punched a pillow hard once, then twice, and then three times. Nothing happened, and I felt like an idiot. However, on the fourth punch, rage exploded out of me. It felt like releasing the force of a hurricane from inside of myself. For fifteen minutes, I screamed and cursed at my abusers. I beat, clawed, and mangled the pillows. I was scared, and yet it felt soooo good — like this was something that should have been released years ago.

After about fifteen minutes, I was spent. I was also relieved. Even though my anger/rage was powerful, it was not uncontrollable. It just needed somewhere to go, and it felt wonderful to pour that energy out of myself. Immediately afterward, I noticed a dramatic decrease in my OCD symptoms.

Since that time, I have used a couple of other tools. My ritual abusers used popsicle sticks to “program” me, so I fought back using popsicle sticks. I bought a box of them at a craft store. One by one, I broke the popsicle sticks and yelled taunts at my abusers. I saved the broken sticks and, when needing to process more anger toward my ritual abusers, I would throw the popsicle sticks at the wall. Hearing them hit the wall and watching the broken pieces fall to the floor was healing for me.

One other helpful tool has been visualization. I will visualize the child me about to be harmed. Then, the adult me swoops in and kicks some serious butt. I allow those visualizations to get as graphic as I need them to get. This has become my preferred method for processing anger.

Other tools that work for other people include…

  • Beating the ground with a baseball bat
  • Popping red balloons with the abusers’ names written on them
  • Taking a kickboxing class
  • Writing an angry letter that you don’t plan to send

Doing something physical is often the best way to get started with processing anger.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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