November 10, 2011

Anger That Sucks You Dry

When it comes to how we treat our feelings, particularly anger, we often spend much of our time burying them, avoiding them, or looking the other way. If we try to approach difficult feelings, we experience another very powerful feeling – anxiety. We fear that we will just explode, like a volcano, if we express these feelings. Also, we may believe we won’t be able to cope or manage if we allow ourselves to really feel these emotions.

Notice, anxiety is not so much the fear of what will happen or the unknown. It is, however, the fear that we will not be able to cope with what might happen! We buy into the false belief that we don’t have the capacity to feel these emotions and survive or respond in ways that are healthy. This keeps us stuck in a cycle of pushing away the feelings that need to be expressed in order to recover or heal from a hurt.

As you explore the anger you feel (particularly if it is tied to past abuse), remember not to judge the feeling. You are quite justified in feeling angry. However, the work to be done here is to explore how you behave as a result of your anger, where your anger is getting in the way of you keeping your word, and what you can do to balance the anger with positive emotions.

I was one angry redhead…

Of all of the emotions that have come up as a result of the abuse I experienced, anger – well, really, rage – has been the thorn in my side.

After my mother discovered what was going on, she and my father were great. They immediately got my grandfather out of the house and got me into counseling. Around week three of counseling, the therapist asked me what it was I thought had caused the abuse. Here I am, a little ten year old girl being asked to explain what I still can’t explain to this day!* I was so angry, I stormed out of the office and refused to go back. My parents were dismayed and tried to get me to see other therapists, but I wasn’t having it. Not really sure how to handle things, my parents, in my view, simply withdrew from the battle.

This left me feeling abandoned and further reinforced my belief that I had to make my way on my own. From that point on, I was on the defensive – ready to attack. I would have outbursts of anger that included slamming doors, breaking things, and even sometimes hurting my own body. It was not a pretty picture.

The raging continued well into my 20s. One day, I sat down and wrote my own “spew” letter. I let fall onto paper all of the fears I had about being alone, being rejected, the hatred I felt for my abuser, the lack of connection I had felt in my life.

Eight pages and lots of tears later, I was met with one very profound realization – my life was being sucked dry by the anger. That day, I decided enough was enough and made a commitment to have peacefulness and joy in my life. My first step was to start saying out loud every day, “I am peaceful and joyful.” When I started, the words felt like steel wool on my tongue. After a month, I could say it and partially believe it. After three months, I felt a sense of ease and comfort that I thought I’d never feel again. After six months, I was no longer filled with rage.

It wasn’t all just about the words. I had to challenge my false beliefs about being abandoned, rejected, and alone, too.

Today, I still “go redhead” from time to time – but I never rage in the way I used to – as if the world is out to get me and I have to fight with everything inside of me to survive. I go for a walk, I read a book, I take a nap until I feel grounded and able to process what’s going on. And, yes, sometimes, I manage perfectly. Other days, not so much. Either way, I know that my feelings are just feelings, and I can choose how I will respond and what I want to give priority to.

*Notice how that moment in the therapist’s office is so filled with story. He asked me a question, and, while perhaps not put very well, I immediately latched on to the idea that he, too, thought it was my fault and just wanted me to admit. Even back then, my stories were in play.

  • What are some of the unhealthy ways that you respond to anger? Which behaviors that are born out of anger do you need to put in check? (e.g. throw things, yell, stuff it, perfectionism, make nice, turn it on yourself, etc.)
  • How do you bury, avoid, or stuff your feelings?
  • What do you believe will happen if you express your anger?
  • How can anger be beneficial?
  • If you were to give yourself permission to feel angry, what would you say to yourself?
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  1. Good morning, Rach. I know that this Blog will help so many people! It opens the door for us to look at our anger in a more productive way. It is the universe screaming at us, to enjoy our lives, in the face of what we deem destruction. We can heal. I love this saying: "When there is no longer any value in suffering, healing is instantaneous." May you live every day with Passion! -Jodi Frenna

  2. @Jodi: thanks so much for taking the time to comment! and I love the quote - perfect!

  3. I got a lot out of this post. Something terrible happened to you, your therapist's question was all it took to make you think you had to defend yourself from people from that point on and so you started protecting yourself using anger. In order to justify and fuel the anger, you developed beliefs that were exaggerated and outright false. The key for me is that in order to undo this whole sorry affair, you have to challenge the false beliefs that are at the foundation of the whole anger defense.

    For me, my false belief that fuels my anger is that if someone hurts me, it was an act of deliberate cruelty by the irredeemably evil. I'm trying to replace that false belief with this: If someone hurts me, it may have been inadvertent, they may have been completely blinded to my viewpoint by the pressing instinct to assert their own will, they may feel bad about it if it were brought to their attention, it may be killing them that they keep doing this to me but they don't know how to stop it.

  4. Thank you, Rachel. By sharing what you went through you are helping so many others. People don't realize how anger can destroy their lives. Finding other outlets can be life saving. And I love your point about stepping back and acknowledging that feelings are just feelings. Not blaming yourself for what you feel is a huge step to recovery. Namaste!

  5. Rachel, I know sometimes it is hard to share parts of ourselves, but it is so powerful. It draws people in to feel a connection with the writer. You have done that with your blog this week. I'm sorry for your abuse. It is wonderful that you have turned it around by helping others in your work.

  6. I'm so sorry for the abuse you had to live with and so happy you are healing. Breaking free of the anger and choosing joy is a choice and I applaud you for having the strength to do that. I know it's hard, but once on the other side, it's easy. Your example will hopefully help guide others to your peaceful side of the fence.

  7. Beneath my childhood anger was a bottomless pit of grief. Anger and sarcasm helped me cope with my loneliness, disappointment and grief but now, as an adult, I use anger to my advantage. When anger comes up, I realize that something is not right in my world and it helps mobilize me to take appropriate action. Children don't have the same resources, skills or strategies as adults do, to cope with betrayal, abuse, overwhelming experience coupled with inept parenting. You are a very courageous person. You made a conscious choice to transcend your heartbreaking experience. Bravo!

  8. sobbing a little and feeling protective of that young girl (and feeling rage toward that therapist.) You are a miracle of self-preservation. When I get angry I tend to lash out verbally (and use some of my favorite "choice" words.) I've recently started keeping a journal again (after 30 years) and find it helps me "get the ugly" out. )I also scrapbook which helps me to remember the loving feelings I have toward the people in my life.

  9. Wonderful post and story about your unfolding anger and then moving away from it. I have written often about giving ourselves space for feelings--whatever they are--and giving them room to dissipate. I really appreciate how respectful you are of your feelings, and also the stories behind them. It is an incredible gift to free ourselves of anger, not by pretending it doesn't exist, but by really acknowledging it and then letting it go once we understand it. I came from a family full of resentments (and proud of them!), always looking for ways to throw anger about. Happily, with a lot of work, I moved beyond that.

    Judy Stone-Goldman
    The Reflective Writer
    Personal-Professional Balance Through Writing

  10. One of your comments that stood out the most for me was "anxiety is not so much the fear of what will happen or the unknown. It is, however, the fear that we will not be able to cope with what might happen! " I'm inspired to hear how you've transformed coping mechanisms that hurt you (and others?) and you no longer want to to ones that sustain and help transform energy that is draining to you.

  11. I too used to be afraid of my anger and I realized that not expressing it in some way was more damaging to me than expressing it. And I learned that I could find ways to express it that honored me and didn't "injure" anyone else. As you said so well, anger is just an emotion. It is what we do with it that makes the difference.

    Susan Berland
    A Picture’s Worth

  12. Great post. Thank you very much for sharing. I rarely get angry. I mean really angry. In fact, I can't remember the last time I did. I do get annoyed, but not often. I have always thought anger was a stupid emotion (along with worry). I suppose that I could be burying my anger, but as far as I know, there were no traumatic abuses in my life that lead me to bury anger.

    I liked your growth and your realization of what you went through. I can see how you must be an excellent coach for that experience.

    Candace Davenport ~ Little Books with a Big Message

  13. Im not the type to keep things inside long enough to reach the boiling point. I rarely get angry these days and I can attribute that to all the Spiritual work I do on a daily basis.
    It seems like your experiences are very beneficial to others, its a great way to coach.

    Being fit Mind Body Spirit Business

  14. I too was once filled with anger and belief in my story to put blame on everyone and taking no responsibility for me and my life. I resided in anger and revenge for many years. I reside in peace, joy and laughter as much as possible now. Now and then I may visit anger but it's not for long, a few minutes. I realize that I always have the choice as to how I feel.

    Julieanne Case
    Always from the heart!

    Reconnecting you to your essence, joy, vitality, youth.| Healing you from the Inside Out |Reconnective Healing | AgeLoc Skin Care | Pharmanex Supplements

  15. Oh, Rachel, I definitely connect with what you are saying. Abuse, abandonment, anger, feeling alone. All what I grew up with...and story. Yup, story.

    Recently, I had to deal with a situation that has made me **VERY** angry since I was seven. Though intense work, I see that focusing on the anger I have toward the murderer, I couldn't see past him to what she meant to me. Now that I am able to move him out of my line of sight, I can love her and miss her and feel grateful for all she was/is in my life.

    Current anger is a little harder to deal with! I am surrounded by people who don't handle emotion in general very well. I have other outlets, though: art, exercise, writing. All much better than exploding I think.

    Thank you for a fabulous post, and for the willingness to put it out there.

    Jillian Todd Portrait Couture

  16. Your story was very moving. I rarely get really angry, but when I do let it out you don't want to be around! More often I allow a murmur of irritation to fester, which means cranky comments, etc. to my nearest and dearest. I'm much better off when I acknowledge my feelings (rather than letting them leak out on my family) - whether anger, sadness or simply being in the bad mood. Once I acknowledge what is really going on - that is I am actually present to myself and my feelings - then I can deal with them in a more reasonable way and move on.

  17. I could not help feeling some anger reading about what happened to you -- the loss of trust and the need to protect yourself in the only way you knew how, regardless of whether it was helping you or not. I feel terrible too for your mom and dad...I can only imagine what I would be feeling and what I would do if that happened to my little girl...I was always so protective of her when she was growing up as I had some fears about something like that happening...not sure if it was because I had heard about such things happening or if I had some lack of trust in people for other reasons. But the whole issue of anger and what to do with it has always been something I have struggled with...I tend to push it down! Through my own search for answers and counseling I have learned healthier ways to respond and to release -- writing is my favorite healing tool! I truly appreciate your willingness to share your story and to be willing to help others who need that help. You are a courageous and inspirational woman!

  18. I certainly could have used this very valuable information in my teens. While my experiences are in no way comparable to yours, I was known for having a temper - nearly a hair-trigger temper at that. To this day, I don't really know where it came from. I do know that, like you, I made a conscious decision in my late teens not to let anger rule my life. I didn't want to be controlled by the ongoing possibility that I would lose control - usually verbally and immediately.

    I was fortunate that such instances didn't happen often and didn't damage relationships beyond repair. There are so many people who are not in that situation and who will benefit immensely from your story and your advice.


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