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Mastering Anger/How to feel angry?

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QUESTION: Six years ago I came out of a 4 yr long marriage. I came out with lots of issues, which I masked and stuffed away. About 8 mths ago I decided it was time to deal with some of those issues. I began seeing a therapist and slowly began to reveal the abuse. My family had no clue during, nor did they suspect after. Only at the encouragement of my therapist did I share parts of my past with my family a few close friends. My therapist says I have PTSD and major depression. She has helped me label not only physical, mental and emotional abuse, but sexual abuse as well. It was hard to talk about the other forms of abuse, but the sexual abuse for me is very different. I can now say that he hurt me and I can even feel angry at him, but when it comes to the sexual stuff there just is no angry toward him there. I don't understand why! I know I should be angry at him, but I'm not. When I talk about the rapes and sexual abuse, I feel so hurt and broken. I feel angry at me, but never angry at him. I felt angry if I didn't resist enough, or if I had agreed to it in the beginning. I feel angry at myself for enduring it all and calling it love. I'm afraid that if I can't feel angry at him then I am not processing it and it will never go away. I spent so many years stuffing it all away. I don't want to do it wrong this time. How do I put the angry I feel toward myself back where it belongs? Do I have to actually feel angry at him? I just want to heal.

ANSWER: Dear SD,

I'm so glad you're working with a therapist on all of this. You have been through a lot!

It's clear, since you are depressed, that you tend to hold anger inside and direct it at yourself. There are many reasons we do this, often stemming from childhood experiences. Generally, depression is anger, turned inward, that we believe we would have gotten into trouble for expressing (when we were children).

If you're not aware of feeling anger about these things yet, I'd like you to be easy on yourself. Talk with your therapist and point this out to her. Know that getting the hurt feelings out IS working on the anger (under anger there is always hurt).

The way you have written this tells me you are still caught up in abusive-type patterns. When a person has been abused, they look for what they did "wrong" to cause the abuse. The answer to this question really is "Nothing!" No matter what you did, said, or didn't do or say, NOBODY deserves being treated in the ways you were experiencing. For starters, just begin to ask yourself "What if there isn't ANYTHING that I did that caused him to behave as he did?" Listen to what comes back. Ask this question at least once a day, if not more often.

Pushing yourself to feel angry is not going to help--or work. It's all part of you not accepting yourself as you are, which has been part of your tolerating abuse. All of us abuse victims (I was physically, emotionally and sexually abused as a child) tend to tolerate not being treated well by others, spending our time and energy figuring out what we have to do differently in order to "deal with" our experiences. People who have not been abuse victims behave differently. They say "I don't have to be treated like this!" and they leave!

You can begin getting to all your feelings by writing your experiences (and your emotional reactions to them) out. Write 10-30 minutes each day. Put whatever you think or feel on the paper. Do not show the paper to anyone (unless you wish to share with your therapist)--it's your private thoughts and your feelings. If you feel sad, write that. If you feel hopeless, write that. If you feel hurt, write about feeling hurt. After some time of doing this, more and more feelings will get uncovered. Anger may come out at that time.

Your best bet is to keep working with your therapist. Get help in healing the PTSD. Work to personally empower yourself. Deal with your self-esteem (which likely is not good). And work with angry feelings you may have--whatever they are. Emotions are energy, so it's not vital that you get angry "at or about a specific thing or behavior." The important thing is that you allow yourself to feel anger that's inside of you.

You can also sit down, once a day, and repeat the words "I'm angry, I'm angry, I'm angry....." in a cadence, like you're chanting. Keep going until something comes up in you that you feel angry about. It can even be "I'm angry that I can't feel how angry I must be!" When things come up, state out loud what has come up. This will eventually push you to remember and talk about everything you've ever felt angry about, though at first you may not be able to identify much of anything. Just saying the words over and over, aloud, however, will "unstick" anger that's inside of you. Be prepared to write down what comes up after you've spent this time with yourself. Do this for about 15 minutes each day.

I hope this helps you in your quest.

Please rate this response before you leave the site.

My best to you,

Ilene

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you. This helps a lot.

The abusive patterns are very hard to break. Now, I can see how harmful those patterns were, but at the time they were survival - they seemed so vital.

There was no childhood abuse, but I was still very young when all of this began. It sort of set the stage for my view of marriage and love. I think maybe the lines of love and abuse became a little tangled up in my mind. I couldn't be angry at love. I didn't feel I had the right to be angry and someone for "loving" me. The confusing part came when the "love" hurt so bad, but at that time I needed the "love".

The very few times that I expressed anger during abuse it was over very minor things. I have had a few memories come out where I was angry at a certain touch or something he said during an assault, yet no anger about the assault itself.

From what you have said, I think maybe I am doing okay for now, and I need to stop pushing myself so hard. I'm going to keep working with my therapist to process and allow the anger to take it's own course.

I have asked myself "what if I did nothing wrong", but I have not been able to answer that one yet. I will keep trying.

Thanks again!
Sarah

Answer
Hi, Sarah,

Forgive me that it's taken so long to respond. I went out of town for a couple of days and did not have access to email.

I'm glad that what I have offered you so far has been helpful. It's great that you have been so open to getting this new information.

Abusive patterns ARE very hard to break. However, it IS possible. When we are caught in the patterns that support abuse, we are indeed in "survival mode"--it feels like we'll die if we don't do what we are doing. (BTW, if you go to www.emotionalpro.com and click on "Store" you can purchase, for a small charge, my booklet on "Energy Sapping" which gives a LOT of information about how to end co-dependent patterns. Such patterns are at the base of abuse. I taught this information for nearly 8 years to California Probation Officers, many of whom reported being able to use it to break patterns of abuse.)

I'm glad you didn't have childhood abuse. Consider taking a look at "love" in your life. We learn our patterns for relationships when we are in childhood. We usually select someone to partner with who has the "best" and the "worst" of what we have observed in childhood. (This guarantees that we do the learning we need to do.) Check out Harville Hendrix's books, "Getting the Love You Want," and "Keeping the Love You Find" for more information on all of this. The likelihood is great that either you haven't felt you were lovable (and therefore had to pay a price for it), or that you saw other people paying a price for the love they received, and thus believed that was what had to be done. I would guess you also did not get encouraged to set personal boundaries for yourself, so that when you needed to do that you didn't know to do it, and you didn't know how.

I'm guessing that it felt (and may still feel) too dangerous to get all-out angry about the abuse you endured. The whole issue of abuse brings up the "sister issue" of Empowerment. This is another thing to look at in your therapy. My guess is that you have learned to cut back on your own personal power (this, too, usually occurs in childhood). People do this out of love (so they don't overpower a parent with their own power), or out of making a decision to "hang back" instead of coming out with all their power (sometimes a child is following the patterns of parents here, too). Empowerment is about being empowered from within yourself, following what is good for you and what is in your heart--it's not about power over anyone else. My suspicion is that you are a very powerful person (though you likely don't think so). This means that when you decide to embrace your own power, you can blast through a lot of this.

I'm glad you're utilizing the "what if I did nothing wrong?" approach to dealing with the patterns.

Thank you for your rating feedback.

My best,

Ilene

Mastering Anger

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Ilene L. Dillon, M.S.W.

Expertise

As a "Recovering Angry Person" and psychotherapist, I have thoroughly explored Anger and its related emotions, hurt, fear, depression and guilt. I'll give a free half-hour of coaching to anyone who can ask me a question I cannot address!

Experience

36 years as a family, individual and group psychotherapist. 15 years of teaching for California Probation Officers and Psychotherapists. Author of "Exploring Anger with Your Child" (now "The ABCs of Anger in its updated version). Personal, clinical and group work with anger, including in the parenting arena.

Organizations
C.A.M.F.T. (California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists) N.S.A. (National Speakers Association) Professional Member since 1984

Publications
Magazines: Woman's Day, Personal Excellence, Care Notes Newspapers: Marin Independent Journal, The FAX, San Francisco Chronicle, in-house publications for therapy organizations Books and CDs: Total of 17 published works (www.emotionalpro.com/)

Education/Credentials
M.S.W. from University of California in Berkeley Two California Licenses: Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Social Worker Lifetime Jr. College Instructor License in California Host of Internet radio program (since 2004)Full Power Living, focused on "awakening the world to the power and importance of human emotions" http://www.emotionalpro.com/

Past/Present Clients
Write me for a partial list; or look on my web site, www.emotionalpro.com/

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