May 23, 2017

Riding the Wave of Emotions (Especially Anger!)

This week, we continue our series with Adena Bank Lees. In this post, she talks about the power of emotions, how to be with our emotions (particularly anger), and how she was able to restore her spiritual life through the expression of this powerful emotion.


Feelings are simply energy that show up in body sensations often with thoughts attached. “Don’t talk, Don’t trust, Don’t feel” can be some of those thoughts. They are classic alcoholic family messages but are also common in family systems where sexual abuse happens. 

Being sexually abused, either covertly or overtly can create body experiences that feel good, icky, scary and/or shameful. Because of the confusion and overwhelm this causes, we learn to shut off feelings and disconnect from our bodies. This is a survival strategy that loses its potency as we grow into adulthood and wish to enter and engage in intimate relationships. Not having a voice or a safe place to express it, locks feelings inside and greatly their impact.

“Feelings and sensations will rise and fall unless we assign danger to them.” -Recovery Inc.

This tells me that if I believe feelings are scary, they will get stuck and not move through my body. I won’t “ride the wave” so to speak, and I will pay the consequences. Feelings last between 30-90 seconds. Therefore, if this is a part of recovery and healing, I can do this for 30-90 seconds, right?

A feeling that I have struggled with, and sometimes still do, is anger. I witness this with clients all the time. I have learned many important lessons from and about anger. I would like to share a few with you.

1. Anger, like all feelings is simply energy I experience in my body. It does not mean anything about me as a person. It is simply energy in my body. I do not have to be afraid of it.

2. Anger is not a “negative” feeling. There are neither positive nor negative feelings. There are just feelings.

3. It is okay and healthy to feel angry despite negative cultural and gender stereotype messages. (a woman who is angry is often called a “b#$%^)

4. The gift of anger is the energy and motivation to take care of myself.

5. It is important to get help in how to be with and ride the wave of anger because it is such a powerful energy.

6. As a young child, experiencing my caregiver’s anger felt like the love was cut off and I was cast into space by myself. This can be a universal experience that causes the fear and suppression of anger.

7. Anger is a feeling of protest; that my boundaries have been violated.

8. As a person who experienced sexual abuse, I probably have anger towards the “abuser”, and more importantly, the person, people or institutions that did not protect me.

9. It is okay for me to be angry with “God.”

“God?” Why did I just bring “God” into the conversation? Because many abuse victims spent and/or spend hours praying to an entity asking for the abuse to stop. They pray for their pain to be removed, for someone to listen to and believe them, and for the removal of the symptoms that are plaguing them. They wait for something to happen. What happens? Nothing. The abuse continues. The pain continues. No one has rescued them. The post traumatic symptoms continue. “God must not love me. I must be bad or have done something bad. I am being punished,” are just some of the messages a child gets with this scenario.

The crux of my healing from CEI and CSA has been the nurturing of my spirituality. I have explored and discovered many facets of this. One facet being this entity called “God.” When I started 12 step programs many years ago, I was challenged to confront my beliefs and feelings about “God.” I carried distorted ideas such as “it is not okay to be angry with 'God'”. If I am angry, I will be punished.” 

My mentor in the program suggested that it was acceptable to be angry with this power greater than myself and it was necessary for me to directly express it. I took the suggestion and began to speak about, raise my voice and even curse at “God”. This is how I expressed my anger for “God” not listening to me, for forsaking me, and for allowing the abuse to happen to me and others like me. I had these monologues for about two years. 

Something surprising happened. I began to soften, and realized that nothing bad had occurred because of my yelling, cursing, etc. I actually felt relief and began to trust that there might be something out there that is loving and that I can plug into for strength and courage to continue my healing journey. 

Obviously, this concept was very different from what I had thought “God” was previously. This was the whole point. I got to experience my concept of “God”; the one that worked for me. This “God” or Higher Power was a force of love vs. an omnipotent being that controls people’s actions and decisions. I could not have had this pivotal experience if I had not been given permission, guidance and had the willingness to own and be forthright with my anger.

I share this story with you to acknowledge that anger towards “God” may be an important issue for you to address in your healing. I also share it with you as an example of how honest and straightforward expression of anger can have a much needed positive and empowering outcome.

It would take a book to discuss all the ways I aid clients in identifying, labeling and expressing their feelings, anger, in particular. Due to limited time, space and the purpose of this blog, I will stop here.

What I do wish to close with is for us to remember that anger is simply energy in our body. We have the choice of what to believe and say to ourselves about this energy. Asking for and receiving guidance on how to experience and communicate anger in a healthy way is a crucial part of the healing from childhood sexual abuse.

Read Part 4: It's Now What You Eat, It's What's Eating You


Adena Bank Lees, LCSW, LISAC, BCETS, CP, is an internationally recognized speaker, author, trainer and consultant, providing a fresh and important look at addiction treatment, traumatic stress and recovery. She has been providing premiere clinical and consulting services for over 25 years. Adena is a licensed clinical social worker, licensed independent substance abuse counselor, board certified expert in traumatic stress, and a certified psychodramatist. She is the author of “The 12 Healing Steps for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse; A Practical Guide” and is currently penning an educational memoir on covert emotional incest due out in late 2017. Most importantly, Adena is a thriver, enjoying travel, hiking in the Arizona desert, and filling her days with laughter.

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