Dealing with Anger as an Abuse Survivor
by Ruby Chaos
Anger is one of those difficult emotions, for many people.
It is difficult to know what to do with it, where to direct it and what forms that rage may take; this sense of difficulty is amplified even further if the focus of your anger and rage is unavailable.
Anger is an emotion that I am particularly familiar with, so in this article I am going to write about some methods of dealing with anger that I use, and some of the reasoning and causes behind that anger, including some simple exercises that help me identify that reasoning and the best methods of dealing with anger.
How Do I Experience Anger?
First, what is anger, actually? In my experience, it can be difficult for many survivors to truly understand the differences between various emotions, particularly emotions that they may not be used to experiencing. This can often make the experiencing of unfamiliar emotions very confusing and difficult, further adding to the process of not knowing how to deal with said emotions. The way anger feels varies from person to person, I personally experience it as a feeling of extreme annoyance that leads you to want to do something to fix the situation. Anger is an emotion which has the primary intention of solving whatever problem or situation it is that we are facing. It gives us the energy and the strength to both motivate us and to allow us to face that problem in the hopes of resolving it. This is the purpose and general feeling of anger, but as said, the feelings of anger can vary from person to person. Some people describe it as red and hot, some as white, some as something big and overwhelming, some as something narrow and focused. The following exercises might help you identify what anger means to you. These are the methods I often use to check where I am and how I am feeling. I find these really useful and I am hoping that they may help some of you, too.
Exercise: What is Anger?
This exercise can be done in a number of ways, whichever feels most comfortable to you. For all of these exercises, it does not matter if it does not make sense, how it is spelt or whether it is "right" or "wrong"; just write/draw/paint/create whatever first comes to mind, do not re-word it or start again, just keep it as it is and keep going until you cannot think of anything else.
- Writing - This is a patterning exercise. This basically means that you write the same phrase over and over, writing whatever comes to mind when you hear that phrase. The phrase for this particular patterning exercise is: "Anger is…"
Anger is scary.
Anger is white and blinding.
Anger is hitting things.
Anger is taking it out on someone else.
Anger is what I feel when I hurt myself.
Anger is when you can't fix something.
Anger is saying mean things to people.
- Drawing - In this exercise, all you have to do is think about the word "Anger" and draw/paint/sketch whatever comes to mind
- Collage - Similar to the drawing exercise, think of the word "Anger" and create whatever comes to mind.
- Any other method that works for you - Using whatever format is most comfortable to you; explore what anger means to you.
After you have done this, feel free to share your work with others, or keep it to yourself and do give yourself time to consider why you may have come up with what you did. I find that doing this really helps me understand what anger feels like and it means that I can recognize it when I feel it. When I am able to recognize that I am feeling angry then I am able to try and find the root cause of that anger and then find the best way to deal with feeling like that. This means that I do not get stuck in that anger for a long period of time which can leave me feeling tired, drained and even more angry because I have not been able to get rid of those feelings or find a solution to whatever has caused it.
Feeling angry for a long period of time can have really negative consequences on both your emotional and physical wellbeing. For me, it leaves me feeling sick and unable to eat and completely unable to focus; it causes me to lash out at those around me, sometimes physically but mostly verbally which can seriously affect my relationships with friends and supporters. It also leaves me feeling so stuck and so overwhelmed that I end up using self-injury to try and deal with it. Or I end up having a tantrum or crying or going to sleep to make it go away. It can be different for everyone. It can even cause things like high blood pressure, so addressing our anger is of extreme importance so as to keep our physical and emotional health topped up.
Where Does my Anger Come From?
I personally find it very helpful to work out where my anger has come from so I can address the real emotions behind it. I am going to talk very personally and honestly in this section, so please be aware. I do not usually talk in such a personal and honest way and I do not usually acknowledge that there is anything more to me than anger, particularly when it comes to acknowledging that there was any hurt, so writing this is somewhat difficult for me so I would appreciate a degree of sensitivity.
Many people believe that they are just angry at the situation, but I personally believe that for abuse survivors especially - there always might be more personalized and internal emotions laying beneath that anger and that they are actually a result of something that is entirely different or separate from the situation that I initially think has caused the anger. This is something that I have felt for a long time, but it took me a while to find anything that suggested the same. Now I know that there has been lots of research that looks at the emotions underlying anger. Read this article for more information.
I believe that underneath anger there is a corresponding fear and beneath that a hurt. We often hear how people lash out because of fear, but in my experience, that fear is usually compounded by a relevant hurt. Here is a simple diagram that shows that flow of emotions and afterwards I will give a few examples of my personal experiences with anger and how I have used this diagram to discover the root causes of my anger.
Alright, so now I am going to get somewhat personal and discuss the last time that I felt angry and how thinking about this diagram helped me to address why I was feeling that anger and what the real emotions beneath it were. This contains some triggering content in terms of rape, manipulation and domestic abuse.
Yesterday, I discovered that I had less money than I thought I had left in our bank account. I ended up getting really angry, storming round the flat, yelling and wanting to punch and hit things. I felt like there was nothing at all that I could do about it; that there was no way that I could get me anymore money before I next got paid and that I had to find a way to make what I had left last me for another week. After I spent a good hour storming round and feeling more and more angry and after I had finally dealt with the actual emotion (I will explain how I did that, later) I sat myself down and figured out what exactly was causing my anger so I could let myself deal with the real issue. You see, it was a stupid thing to get so angry about and knowing that was making me angrier. I know that I have enough food to manage till I next get some money and that I can cycle anywhere that I need to be and that all the bills are paid. The only real thing that the lack of money would affect was my smoking habit.
So, why was I so angry?
So, I sat down to think about it and even though at the time I could not remember the exact diagram, I instinctively used it. I realized that there was stuff beneath the anger. I knew that one of my options was to ask a friend for a little money until I get some again, but I realized that I did not want to do that and I was actually scared of doing that. I realized that I was scared of asking for money and that people may just think that I was bad with money and had no self-control. I had found the fear beneath my anger. Then I thought about why I was so scared of asking for money. It is a fairly normal thing, people do it on a regular basis and even though they might be embarrassed about doing it and even though they may not really want to, they are not really scared, are they? I would only have been asking for a small amount and I know that I would have been able to pay it back within a week. So, why was I so scared, what was there beneath that?
I then realized what it was, what was truly causing my anger. My ex-partner controlled many aspects of my life. This included money. I was the main bread-winner, so to speak, I had a much larger income which I worked extremely hard for whereas my ex was a benefits cheat and did nothing with most of his time. He controlled my bank accounts and decided what money was spent on. Each time I got paid, I would desperately try to put enough money away for bills and for necessities, but each time the ex would take it and spend it on whatever he decided was important. This meant that on frequent occasions, I would have to ask for money from family just so that I could avoid going into debt or being made homeless. This asking for money often came with either a lecture on being bad with money or with a price. If I had reached the point where I would have to ask my mother for money then it meant that I were to be raped by either her or her partner before I could have any.
This hurt; this being used just so I could have enough money to survive was the real cause of my anger, yesterday. It was not that I could not buy cigarettes; it was not that I would have to cycle to see our therapist on Monday; it was not that I would be extremely limited in my food choices for the next week. It was because I was scared. I was scared of having to relive that same hurt again; I was scared of what the consequences of not having money would be. I was angry because I have seen what money has caused to me that it had resulted in more rape and more traumas. I was angry because money has been used to hurt me. I was not angry about cigarettes, but about the hurt.
Acknowledging this hurt allowed me to really understand why I was so angry and it allowed me to address the situation with a clearer mind. It also allowed me to really deal with the emotional anger (as going through this thought process had led me to storming round the flat again, this time knowing why I was so angry).
Understanding where our anger comes from can help us in a number of ways. It can help us find the best way to immediately deal with the anger, it can help us have a clearer mind to deal with the situation that the anger originally seemed to stem from and knowing the hurt behind it can allow us to deal with that hurt and heal from it, in whatever form that may take.
Exercise: Why Am I Angry?
Think about the last time you were angry, write about it or draw it if that helps you and then, using the diagram above, think about what your possible fears and hurts were beneath that anger. I have never come across an example of anger with anybody that I have spoken with about this method that has not had a root in a fear and a hurt; some even have roots in many fears and hurts, that is okay, just as long as you know what they are. I find doing this extremely useful and it really helps me to work out where to go to next. There are many articles on healing from hurts available and you can always speak to people in the forums about that.
Dealing with Angry Emotions
The final part of this article is focusing on different ways of dealing with the anger and getting rid of those emotions. This is not an exhaustive list, everybody will have their own methods and ways that feel right to them and these are just some suggestions based on the ways that help me deal with feeling angry and get rid of angry emotions. I hope that you are able to find your own releases from anger; whether it is one from this list or something else that helps you.
- Physical Exercise - This one is my personal favourite. I find that exercise burns a lot of energy, both physical and emotional energy. It takes away my desire to hit things and makes me feel so much calmer. If I am feeling particularly angry and want to engage with hitting and kicking things then I will do some kickboxing training which I find to be a great release.
- Ranting and Venting - Sometimes it really helps to just get things off your chest. I rant and vent all the time to anybody that will listen, even if I know that they have heard it a million times before. I rant in person, in blogs, in the chat room, on the forums, in instant messengers; literally anywhere and everywhere!
- Writing - I sometimes try to write so I don't have to hurt myself. Because I know that Self-Injury is a bad one and that I shouldn't do it but when I get angry I get scared of taking it out on other people in case they end up hurting me so I end up hurting myself. So instead of going down that road I either write in my diary or I write stories or poems. Sometimes they're angry or sometimes they're just about anything but it stops me from feeling angry ‘cause I find it so relaxing. By the way, this one can apply to any form of creative expression, be it drawing, painting, playing an instrument, making a collage etc.
- Doing something nice for you - I sometimes try and do something nice for myself to stop feeling angry. Sometimes it is something as simple as drinking hot chocolate and reading a good book (for example, The Chronicles of Narnia) or taking a long hot bath with candles or whatever else it is that makes you feel nice and calmer.
- Crying - Crying can be a very positive emotional release and can help get rid of all of that frustration. I am a fan of this one and suggest having a nice nap after you have had a good cry.
- Talking it through with someone - This is different than ranting, this is simply talking the conversation through with somebody and finding solutions together to the situation. Finding somebody that is good at making you feel calm is a good idea with this one. When I feel angry I often end up talking with a friend who is the only person in the world who can talk me down from anger.
- Playing loud angry music - I love to listen to loud, angry music when I'm angry. I personally like Disturbed and Combichrist, but use whatever is best for you.
- Playing calming music - Sometimes I prefer to listen to calming music when I am angry.
- Spiritual release - This is something that I use a lot. When I feel angry I will often do something that makes me feel calm and is spiritual. This includes yoga, meditation, gemstones, aromatherapy, Tai Chi etc.
- Finding a solution to the situation - Sometimes, I try to ignore my anger and fix the situation instead. I will find solutions that feel possible and safe. This distracts me from the anger and allows me to use the energy and strength from the anger to fix the situation that seemingly caused it in the first place.
All of these methods give me the freedom and the headspace to then be able to work out where my anger came from, some of them can even help me release the fears and hurt behind the anger in the process! Sometimes, if I'm lucky and able to focus, I am able to work out the root cause of the anger first and then deal with the actual emotion, but I am aware that that is not always possible.