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Abuse Survivors and Anger

Anger can be a difficult emotion for anyone to deal with, but can often be paralyzing for an abuse survivor. As an abuse survivor, you experienced anger being used as a weapon against you. Your abuser used anger against you in the form of yelling, hitting, kicking, threatening, and generally overwhelming or over-powering you. Because of this, you learned to fear anger, and most likely think anger is a “bad” emotion. Other survivors embrace anger and the feelings of power and strength that come with it.

As an adult survivor, you most likely experience anger in your life in some unhealthy ways. Some of the most common ways include an avoidance of anger, or the use of anger as a weapon- either against people as an abuser yourself, or to drive people away from you for self-protection. Using anger in these ways can lead to depression, anxiety, self-abuse, isolation, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, relationship problems, or legal problems. Because of this, it’s important to learn a healthier way of coping with anger.

Anger's Positive Side

Anger doesn’t have to be a horribly scary thing in your life. Not all people who are angry are dangerous or harmful to others. Anger, if managed appropriately, can be a positive thing in your life. I often tell people that anger can be a messenger there to tell us when we are being violated or injured in some way.

Research shows us that feeling anger can help you to be more optimistic, increase creativity, and improve your task performance at work and at home. Anger also is a strong emotion and as such can be energizing and motivating. Many people who have found themselves in the position of the victim have used their anger to push for change. Consider how MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) was formed by Candice Lightner after her daughter was killed by someone driving drunk. It’s a great example of someone using their anger to motivate a sweeping change in the larger society. Most of us won’t start a whole social movement, but we can use our anger to make changes in our personal lives.

How to Begin Using our Anger for Positivity

I think a good place to begin is to take a good, long look at our beliefs and family history of anger. To in essence, find out what our internal story is telling us about anger. To do this, I’ve compiled some questions based on those from The Courage to Heal Workbook by Laura Davis. Please, take your time with these questions. This is not an exercise to be rushed through, and don’t be surprised if it brings up emotions in you. You can write the exercise out on a separate sheet of paper.

Anger Inventory

1. How did your mother express anger when you were a child? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

2. How did your father express anger when you were a child? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

3. When I got angry as a child, I would ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

4. How did you parents respond whenever you expressed anger: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

5. As a result of how anger was treated and expressed in your family growing up, what decisions about anger did you make: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Answer the following questions considering your current beliefs and behaviors about anger:

6. When someone is angry at me, I: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

7. When I get angry at someone, I: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

8. Ways that my anger is hurting me currently: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

9. Ways that my anger is helping or empowering me currently: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

10. At what times am I aware of being angry: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

11. What times have I not been angry, but either myself or others thought I ought to be: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

12. Can I think of a time that I witnessed or used anger in a healthy way? What happened: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

13. Can I think of a time that I witnessed or used anger in an unhealthy way? What happened: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

14. Is there anything about my anger that scares me? What is it: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

15. Insights I have gained from completing this inventory: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Closing Thoughts

Anger is a normal emotion that is experienced by every single person. If you were abused as a child, anger was turned against you in ways that a child should not have to deal with, and that a child is not equipped to deal with. No matter what method you used to cope with the abuse, know that it was ok because it allowed you to live through it and survive. So no matter what you did to cope, you are not to blame, the abuser is! If nothing else, please believe this.

If you need someone to talk to about your history of abuse or would like to talk with me about pursuing trauma treatment, please follow the link. I would love to hear from you.


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