Core issues of abuse: anger

What Is Anger?

Anger gets a bad press but in fact anger is a feeling just like any other feeling – but the difference with anger is that it holds far more connotations than other feelings because it has the power to affect those around you in dramatic ways. It is an intense feeling and can have frightening proportions – it can be destructive and feel destructive in us.

However, anger itself can be very very positive – it can provide the motivation for change and healing. If you think about the people that have changed our world and societies – e.g. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Ghandi – they have been motivated by righteous anger at the injustices they saw.

Neil Warren describes anger as a “physical state of readiness. When we are angry we are ready to act” (Source: “Make Anger Your Ally” – Neil Clark Warren – Tyndale House – Published 1990 page 113)

When we are angry adrenaline is secreted, blood pressure rises, we are highly alert, pupils of our eyes open wide. When we are angry all the power of our person is available to us. This is anger – preparedness and power. This does not involve any behaviour people take because of anger – which is anger expression and not anger itself.

Underneath Anger

Anger is a secondary emotion – with anger there is always another more basic emotion which lies underneath.

This is pain in some shape or form often:

  • Powerlessness
  • Rejection
  • Unmet needs or expectations
  • Violation of boundaries
  • Being asked to live out of a false sense of self

Source: Dr Lisa Guinness Seminar on Anger: London: July 1994

Victims of abuse often experience all these types of pain underneath their anger.

Anger And Abuse

Abuse victims often appear outwardly placid and compliant but inside may be filled with rage and anger.

Anger towards many different people:

  • The abuser
  • The non- offending parent or relative
  • The society, church or school that allowed it to happen
Why Is Anger Frightening?

Anger is especially frightening if you have been surrounded by conflict, anger and violence as a child, either directed at you or else directed at another family member. Anger is also frightening if there was no outward conflict in a family as it is a completely unknown quantity.

Anger is frightening in ourselves because if we tap into pools of unresolved anger – rage – we feel out of control and unsafe.

Rage Versus Anger

Rage is a pool of unresolved anger that has been building up for years.

The expression “the straw that broke the camels back” is very appropriate for tapping into rage. For abuse victims they often have years of unexpressed rage that may suddenly be ignited by a present day anger. This can be extremely frightening for the person who is angry and for those around them. Tracing the roots of outbursts of rage and rooting them in a past event empowers you to have insight and control over your anger.

Dormant Anger

However, many victims of abuse many not feel or look angry but in fact their anger is held inwards and surfaces in different ways:

Through depression, tiredness or physical ailments.

Often in fantasies and daydreams we express anger that we are too afraid to express in real life.

We can often react angrily to certain people even though they may have done little to harm us. This is because someone in our present life reminds us of someone in our past with the same resulting emotions in us.

Processing Anger

As a society it is probably true to say we aren’t practiced at expressing anger appropriately – so angry feelings in ourselves and others can feel very unsafe. For abuse victims especially we need to process our anger and rage – and there is a lot to be angry about! This is difficult and often lengthy to do – sometimes you need another person e.g. a counsellor to help you. We need to trace the roots of our rage and by processing it – release it – to free us to express anger which is relevant to the situation we are facing today.

When you experience an angry outburst that you didn’t feel in control of try and write down what you felt later or if you have time then and there. Can you root any of the anger in more primary painful feelings e.g. powerlessness, rejection? Does it remind you of an earlier experience in your life? Thinking these things through and writing them down can help you to feel more in control of your feelings.
This will help us:

  • Feel more in control of our feelings.
  • Be more able to deal with life’s frustrations.
  • Be able to assert ourselves without being aggressive.
  • Be able to be more loving and effective as people.
Things to think about:
  • Do you think you have fully expressed the anger of your abuse?
  • Do you think you tap into rage from the past at times when you are angry?
  • Do you feel you have held your anger inward?
  • What do you feel when you get angry – where is it in your body?
  • Notice when you get extremely angry and try trace the trigger.
  • What do you think is behind that trigger?