This tool in your toolkit will always need to be handled with the utmost care:
This is an awesome and fearsome power.
There is an undeniable danger with anger (notice the only difference is the ‘d’ at the beginning). However, there is a greater danger is pretending there is no anger.
Suppressed anger becomes depression. It’s a good choice in the short run. It’s a really harmful choice to the person living with it in the long run. Long-term depression wreaks havoc on your body. Sooner or later, if you want to become healthy, you have to admit the truth.
I had to admit that I was angry about a lot of things. I was angry that I’d had no control over anything that happened to me. I was angry that I was punished for things I hadn’t done and for things beyond my control. I was angry that I felt guilty. I was angry that I was so angry. I was angry for feeling afraid. I was angry about being blamed for what happened to me. I was angry with those who abused me. I was angry with those who did nothing. I was angry with those who were close but didn’t suspect anything. I was angry that I felt so helpless. I was angry that I didn’t seem to be smart enough to stop the abuse. I was angry that all I knew how to be around men was an object, never a person. I was angry that so many things I wanted were out of my reach, love, peace, security, family, a healthy future.
I was also angry that my anger seemed to have so much control of my life. I could bury it, but then it would explode over the littlest things. I tried to keep it under lock and key, and mostly I was successful. I did a lot of screaming and hitting walls and occasionally throwing things and a lot of crying, but only if I was alone.
I was also afraid of my anger. I knew the destructive side; I’d seen it. Worse, I knew I’d learned it. I had managed to learn to radiate my anger, without raising my voice. People would think I was angry when I was only exasperated. The emotion was that intense. I truly tried to keep it from touching others in any way, even if it meant isolating myself.
Interestingly enough, being able to radiate my anger was very effective in keeping away stray dogs when I was out horseback riding. It was then that I began to realize my anger could be a blessing, used to a good purpose. It kept my horse and me safe.
Another difficult truth that took me a long time to admit: One of the hardest things I ever did was to finally admit how angry I was with God. If He loved children so much, why had He allowed those things to happen to me? Was there something wrong with me that made me less worthy than other children who were rescued? Was I worth so little that I didn’t deserve to be protected or cherished?
Cue the negative tape.
For as long as I can remember, I seemed to understand that God could not work effectively in my life if I wasn’t honest. And isn’t that a paradox? I was a consummate liar, but I wanted to be honest with God. So I was as honest as I knew how to be, gradually progressing as I learned more and more.
In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain said that you couldn’t pray a lie. How I struggled with that. If it was true, then what of my abusers praying for my safety? What of the pedophile who prays at church? An honest person can’t pray a lie, but then that’s pretty obvious. A liar has no trouble “praying” a lie.
Early on, I decided it was better to be angry with God and tell Him rather than to stew silently, isolating myself from Him. As long as I kept talking to Him (and yes, sometimes I was yelling at Him), there was hope, because sooner or later I would wind down. Then I’d feel that gentle prompting, “Child, are you ready to listen, now?”
Like all the tools, there is no “once and done.” Only the other day I found myself angry with God, again, about promises I believed He had made to me that were lost in the inevitable process of time. There were reasons I believed I would marry and have children. Things I had felt in my heart that, to this day, I would swear were promises. So, yes, I was angry to find myself forced to accept that I was wrong.
I know, I know, there are those who are saying, “There’s still time. Don’t give up hope.” I’ve certainly told myself that plenty of times.
Sorry, but this body is never having children, and I’m not holding out much hope for marriage. I have rekindled my hope for a home, a real home of my own, someday, complete with at least one dog, and, if I can afford it, a horse, or two.
It comes back to reflecting on what kind of marriage I would have had, if I’d married as I’d planned. It would have been a living nightmare. The abuse I passed on might not have been as severe as what I grew up with, but it still would have been there. How do I know? Because I occasionally catch myself doing and saying hurtful things that are no better than what I’ve complained about all my life. I finally learned to recognize that God was sparing me, even as I cursed Him for withholding a blessing I desperately desired because He knows me better than I know myself, and He knows what I want most, in my heart of hearts, is to be a blessing not a hindrance to myself and others.
Even as I raged over my sense of betrayal, I felt no rebuke from God. Instead, I felt Him near, offering any comfort I was willing to accept, no matter how long it took me to reach out to Him again.
I know I’m repeating myself, but I need the reminder: Anger does have the capacity to be an extremely destructive power, on many levels. Turned outward or inward and allowed unrestricted rule, anger destroys the person feeling it and anyone unfortunate enough to be in that person’s path.
However, I also found that anger could, in fact, be incredibly powerful in good ways. Anger keeps me from being apathetic about wrongs done to others, and to a lesser degree to myself, though I’m working on expecting the same good treatment for myself that I expect for others. It was anger that first pushed me to fight for my life, for myself.
I always thought I was such a horrible person for being angry. By accepting my anger, I also allowed myself to accept my passions, those amazing, wonderful, incredible things that touch me deeply and bring me light and warmth and give me the feeling of being truly alive. There are those who confuse anger with passion. They are not interchangeable. Then again, there are those who would place passion in the ‘bad emotion’ category.
I discovered that not only is anger a strong emotion, it can be so strong it overshadows anything else. I would be angry with another driver for cutting me off in traffic — a normal response, most people would say. What I finally admitted to myself was that my first emotion hadn’t been anger but fear. The other driver had frightened me by their carelessness, but I don’t like to feel afraid. In fact, feeling afraid makes me angry because fear was used against me all my life. It makes me feel weak and helpless. I hate feeling weak and helpless.
The problem was that I found myself angry so often it terrified me sometimes. I didn’t want to be angry all the time. It’s wearing.
When I bought my dog it was as a result of losing my temper. I’d been babysitting and became so angry I wanted to throttle the child. I didn’t, but the desire to do so horrified me so much I knew I had to make changes. After a long talk with God, in which I considered several possible plans, I settled on a dog. I’ve a soft spot for animals. Truth be told, I’m more comfortable with animals than people, but then when I consider that my only friend for the first four and a half years of my life was the family dog, it’s probably understandable.
I bought the dog, a dog with a shy personality. She was sweet as the day is long. Anger scared her to the point of freezing up, unable to respond to any command. It required me to let go of a lot of anger, so I wouldn’t frighten her.
Unfortunately, I also suppressed a lot of anger because I believed the gobbledygook about bad emotions. I didn’t want to be bad. In essence, I lied about how I felt. I was right back where I’d always been, pretending like everything was all right, even if my life was going to hell in a hand basket. And I’m starting all over again in denial. Lying to myself.
This time, I’m doing better about letting myself be angry. How else am I going to learn to let it go? It’s ever so much more productive to admit it, and to work on learning to resolve it and letting it go.
Remember that it helps to recognize why you are angry. As I was writing this book, I was told that anger is a response to feeling devalued.
I came to realize that it wasn’t only feeling personally devalued. I also found that it included feeling like anything I cared about was devalued. I also discovered that it doesn’t matter who is doing the devaluing.
How does feeling devalued relate to being angry at my dog or a baby? How could I possibly feel devalued by the dog or the baby? After all, both love unconditionally.
Search a little deeper.
I feel devalued by myself. If I were better, smarter, more loving, then I could fix the problem. And there is that ugly tape on automatic play.
I can make anger the enemy and fight it all my life, or I can make anger my ally, and use it to protect myself and others. I’m choosing to make it my ally, a tool, used by me, instead of allowing it to be used against me.
© 2010 The Project: The Tools I Wish I’d Known About Sooner / My Abuse Survivor’s Basic Toolkit by Judy