Anger: a healing power
Anger sucks, let's face it. 'Perks' include body aches, sleepless nights, anxious nightmares, inability to focus or concentrate on everyday tasks, clumsiness, and a general sense of edginess that could scare off Freddy on the worst days. But, for me, it was also my first real step towards healing after an abusive relationship.
Anger is triggered when a victim finally recognizes abuse inflicted upon them for what it is. My awakening happened about nine months after I left my husband when I truly began to understand that nothing I did had warranted his abusive behaviour. No one deserves abuse, period. And so I fell from "yay, I'm free!," down a dark hole that seemed bottomless but for the fiery rage-filled hell beneath. The protective "forget, move on" shell I'd built around my Island of Freedom had cracked into a million pieces, and now my brain yelled, "Wake the fuck up and deal!" I wish I could say I didn't resist and woke the fuck up immediately, but anger doesn't work that way. Anger demands that we confront the shit in our lives, and that takes time and a whole lot of emotional energy. It's the most challenging part of healing, but healing can't happen without it. Anger is our first step towards acknowledgement, growth, and rebirth.
Saying "NO!" is anger's key component. NO to abuse. NO to self-doubt. NO to silence. NO to re-victimisation. And NO to giving a fuck about the opinions of others. The topmost thing that matters during the anger phase is to heal. Somewhat ironically, all the ass-kicking
I've suffered through during this phase has been myself screaming at me, "YOU MATTER!" And I'm sure I'll keep getting my ass kicked until I finally embody this message ... thanks to, umm, Me, my friends and I 😉
We've been taught from a young age to control our emotions, especially anger. "Suck it up," "Be polite," "Keep your voice down," "Don't be a snitch," and "Turn the other cheek," were some terms used during childhood that kept us "in line" and suffering in silence. Anger is often assumed to be the worst kind of emotion, an emotion that must be avoided at all costs - 'anger is what stirs people up, creates wars, and ruins lives!' So we keep it in and jam the lid on tight, at the expense of our own well-being. The effects of keeping anger completely bottled up are extensive. They can include depression, anxiety, passive-aggressive behaviour, as well as physical illnesses such as hypertension and high blood pressure. In my own experience, the expression of anger, let out in a non-aggressive way through talk therapy and writing about my experience, was needed for healing from trauma.
The American Psychological Association explains that there are three ways people tend to deal with anger: expressing, suppressing, and calming.
Expressing anger in non-aggressive ways is the healthiest way to deal with it. This involves becoming aware of your needs and expressing them in a way that doesn't hurt others*. Talk therapy, writing and other creative arts are some non-aggressive ways to express anger. *However, I want to add one exception to the "do no harm" rule: when dealing with trauma due to abuse, I encourage speaking out. Protecting an abuser's social credibility (i.e. saving them from the pain of being outed) by silencing their victim can have dire consequences for the victim and the fight against domestic violence - silencing victims is never acceptable.
Calming is when we consciously recognize our feelings of anger and attempt to calm ourselves on the inside, from thinking to breathing. Grounding techniques have been helpful for me. I stop, recognize my feeling of anger and what triggered it (yes, I feel angry, this is why, and I'll be okay), then I consciously awaken my senses and breathe, feel, look and listen. I might smell flowers or coffee, look at the leaves blowing through the trees or at patterns on a wall, touch the grass or something cold, and listen to the birds or the waves or the sound of crunching snow beneath my feet. As I do this, I take 10 slow deep breaths. Usually, by the end of 10 breaths, my heart rate, breathing, and thinking have slowed down enough for me to at least think more clearly if not entirely calmly.
Suppressing anger (often with positive thinking strategies) is what many of us do, as we protect ourselves by avoiding complex issues. I often tried this technique during my marriage, while I was suffering through abuse. Although this may work for a while, the suppression strategy can cause more harm than good (listen to Tim Ferriss' interview with Gabor Mate on How to Process Anger and Rage). The folks at the American Psychological Association (apa.org) describe the effects of suppressing anger as a high-risk strategy that can cause harm to self and others.
Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn’t allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward—on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression.
I see the expression of anger as a tool that can be gently wielded to help us heal our hearts and minds. Anger can help us look inward, acknowledge our struggles, and prioritize our needs. Feeling angry is not wrong, it is a needed step along our path out of trauma. As we express our anger through writing, painting, dancing, building, climbing mountains, and other types of soulful pilgrimages, we become more in tune with what our inner self needs to survive and to thrive. I'm only beginning to emerge from my dark hole, so I can't yet tell you about my own post-anger "rebirth", but I can say that I've done a hell of a lot of growing over the last few months, and it feels awesomely peaceful.
If you think that you or someone you know is being abused, call (in Canada):
BC: VictimLinkBC: 1-800-563-0808
AB: Family Violence Information Line: 1-780-310-1818
SK: Mobile Crisis 24/7 Helpline: 306-757-0127
MB: Domestic Abuse Crisis Line: 1-877-977-0007
ON: Victim 24/7 Support Line: 1-888-579-2888
QC: SOS violence conjugale 24/7: 1-800-363-9010 (bilingual service available)
NB: Chimo Helpline: 1-800-667-5005
PEI: Island Help Line: 1-800-218-2885
NS: Neighbours, Friends and Families (Abuse and Violence Support Line): 1-855-225-0220 NL: NL Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre 24/7 Support and Information Line: 1-800-726-2743
Nunavut: Kamatsiaqut Nunavut Helpline: 1-800-265-3333
NWT: NWT Help Line: 1-800-661-0844
YK: VictimLinkBC: 1-800-563-0808
"Control Anger Before It Controls You"
Dr. Gabor Maté on How to Process Anger and Rage | The Tim Ferriss Show
"The Importance of Anger and Rage"
"Anger, The Forgotten Emotion Unveiled: How Trauma Influences Problem Anger"
"Anger Management: 10 tips to tame your temper"