Is anger the right response to child sexual abuse?
If it comes to healing, do we need anger? Certainly if you have been abused, you’re entitled to be angry at what has been done to you. And I do believe that it’s important to feel that anger and deal with it appropriately. For most survivors expressing it was not a safe thing to do, all too often you suppressed anger. Sometimes to such an extent that feeling it has become too difficult, too threatening. This causes a problem in your life, because healthy anger is necessary, in order to set and maintain boundaries. Unhealthy anger on the other hand can pose serious health problems.
Unhealthy and healthy anger
Healthy anger is all about setting and maintaining boundaries. If you can’t be angry, it’s likely that people will take advantage of you. It’s like you become a doormat of sorts and say: ‘Please, feel free to step on me’. Generally this get’s to be a pattern until you can’t take it anymore! All the anger you’ve suppressed comes out. You get out of control angry and expres it in (verbal) violence towards others. This is a road that leads nowhere fast and into trouble even faster.
Putting unhealthy anger to ‘good’ use
Some people put this anger to ‘good’ use and join community action committees against child sexual abuse. Sometimes they direct their anger at high profile abusers. While it may seem like at least some good comes of this, for the survivor it’s actually a recipy for disaster. Instead of healing the past and leaving it behind, they feed the anger until it feels like anger is the only emotion they ever feel. Don’t be mistaken, I don’t think this is true for everyone in those committee’s, but if anger fuels your actions, beware.
Unhealthy anger generally hurts those closest to you
Unhealthy anger, the kind that boils over, most often hurts the people who are closest to you. They are the ones you feel safe with. Sometimes even safe enough to express your anger. They bear the brunt of your anger because they just happen to trigger it. The response of your loved ones makes you either cringe back in fear (if you throw anger back at you) or make you cringe back in guilt (if they start to cry). Either way you damage the relationship you’re in and love is put to the test.
Unhealthy anger turned inward
Anger under tight control is generally turned inwards. Sometimes this leads to all kinds of medical conditions, like heart attacks, high bloodpressure and so on. Sometimes it is more directly expressed in the form of self harming behavior, ranging from cutting and suicide attempts to poisoning your body with (legal or illegal) drugs. If your anger comes to a boiling point and the world around you is not safe enough to express your rage, you may resort to what many survivors do: Harming yourself in some way.
Learning how to properly use anger
Living without anger is not something to aspire to. Healthy anger is necessary to prevent you from being taken advantage of. For setting boundaries and maintaining them and protecting yourself from further abuse or any kind. It can also be a frightening thing, in particular if it was used against you. If you have been at the receiving end of out of control anger on the part of the abuser, quite often you are afraid that if you let your anger show, you too will lose control. You’re afraid that if you blow up at someone, you will become like your abuser. But, ironically, by keeping it all bottled up inside, you actually increase the risk of that happening.
Releasing anger wisely
I own a boxing bag that hangs right in my living room. Whenever I have had a particularly frustrating day at work, I pound the bag until my anger is gone. Then I am again able to deal with reality intelligently and from a peaceful place. If boundaries need to be set, I am able to set them without resorting to (verbal) violence.
There are many way’s of releasing anger
The boxing bag is my way, but there are many ways of achieving the same.
- Ride a motorbike really fast.
- Go for a long intens hike up in the mountains someplace.
- Excercising rigorously.
- Go ‘rooster tailing’: drive down a gravelroad making a huge rooster tail behind you.
- Scream loudly to music (I’ve done that)
- Paint horrible pictures.
- Write or think up horrible ways of revenge
The main objective is to release your anger while refraining from harming others or yourself while doing so. Do you have a healthy way of expressing your anger? If you have a tip please feel free to add it below!