Facing the Anger

It’s understandable that being assaulted and repeatedly traumatized would cause anyone to be angry. The sad thing is that a lot of abuse survivors will direct that anger inwards at themselves. Sometimes it can make them angry at the world too, because it seems like such an unfair place, especially if you’ve been hurt by abusive people since you were a child. Anger has always been a scary emotion to me, one I have tried to suppress a lot. Because I have DID, my anger is compartmentalized and basically kept at a distance from me. We see anger as dangerous because our abusers were always angry. We didn’t want to be like them, so the angry parts of us are locked away, and the other parts are ashamed that the angry parts even exist. But we’re learning to face the anger now, together. This allows us to slowly be free from it.

Anger itself is a secondary emotion and actually has a lot of benefits from an evolutionary standpoint. Early humans needed anger because it helped them mobilize and fight for their lives. If there was a threat, they would feel fear (primary emotion) and then anger to cover up that emotion and promote survival. Anger causes the body to become activated, increasing adrenalin, heart rate, and blood flow to the muscles. In modern society we don’t often face the same kinds of physical threats of survival, but sometimes we do, and anger helps us act regardless of the level of threat. This is a difficult example to share, but when I was date raped, I was scared, ashamed, and dissociated the experience for weeks. When I remembered the incident, I called a sexual assault counselor, and she said yes you were assaulted. I immediately felt anger. I also felt anger every time I looked at the ER record from the exam that described my injuries. The anger I had towards my perpetrator helped me fight the shame that I felt, and it gave me the courage to submit a written report to the police. Unfortunately the cops did a terrible job with my case, and I was left feeling like the justice system is useless for assault survivors. This caused more anger, and I didn’t know what to do with it. The cop I talked to victim blamed me, and it just made me so pissed off at myself as well as at him. I told my therapist I wanted to start boxing or learn mixed martial arts because I needed to get my anger out in a healthy way. But the truth is, punching a bag, pillow, or even fighting in a controlled way won’t get to the source of my anger. Activity and exercise is helpful for anger and healing from trauma, but it’s not the way to let it go. I needed to get to the root of the problem. That’s why I go to therapy and write a lot. Allowing myself and other parts of me to have a voice, to verbalize the pain, shame, and sadness covered by the anger, is the key to healing.

So in this post I will vent a little bit, and hopefully as I write, I can let some of it go. The last year has been extremely difficult for me. I guess my life has always been one struggle after another, but I was trying so hard to fix my life and everything kept going very badly. I was getting more and more angry at myself and the world. It all started last January when I finally got the courage to ask my ex wife to move out. It took almost two months to get her to finally leave, and in that time she was very emotionally abusive. As I’ve mentioned in my domestic violence post, she was even trashing me to her mother in front of my child. She broke into my personal possessions which made me feel violated and full of rage. But I never retaliated. I think some of the anger was because I felt like I was suffering in silence. This is an old trigger from my childhood. I posted something on social media about what my ex did to me, and a few family members shamed me for speaking up. I only posted it for my close friends and family to see, but unfortunately it bothered some of them. British people tend to try and cover up everything to keep up appearances. It’s seen as attention seeking and disloyal to your family to shine light on difficult topics like abuse. Even when I tried to find my voice I was being shut down. This parallels what it felt like months later when I tried to speak up about being date raped. The anger in me just grew.

Then later that year, in October, my ex wife got in my face one day while she was picking up my daughter. She was yelling obscene things at me, so I told her to leave or I’d call the cops. Luckily she left, and I drove to therapy shortly afterwards. About forty minutes into that session, my therapist randomly terminated with me. I didn’t see it coming, I was absolutely blindsided and obviously having a very bad day. When we get angry, we usually suppress it. My therapist started saying we should look for a dissociative disorder specialist for me, and I was shocked. I was also very confused, and there was a lot of anger inside because she had agreed to work with DID. We immediately ran from her office. I found myself in the passenger seat of my car with a bruised hand from punching my dashboard, something I don’t remember doing. I was ashamed. It took weeks of phone calls and letters for T to fix the damage to the therapeutic relationship. At one point I was trying to find a new therapist, but I was so angry at T that I knew therapy would do me no good until I worked out some things with her first.

After trying to process it all with her, I found out that I was her last client because her job had changed and she was in a more administrative role. I also realized that T might have autism. In a way, it was good that it all happened, even if it was painful. I no longer make assumptions about her because I know her brain just works differently. I always thought my trauma stories didn’t bother her, but maybe they did, and she just didn’t show it like a neurotypical therapist might. I began to see why she unintentionally hurt me that day.

In the end, she got better supervision (something critical for therapists who see patients with chronic trauma). We now understand each other better than ever, but some younger parts of me are still very angry at T. I’m grateful that she continues to stay calm and allows us to verbalize that pain and anger (we obviously do this in a respectful way). It was also very hard to be angry at her when I knew she didn’t mean to hurt me. I knew that she was probably a bit overwhelmed and had just said something impulsive not knowing how much it would affect me. I know how her brain works now, so I understand that she was just trying to do what was best for me and herself. And in the end, I gave her a second chance, which is something we usually don’t give people. It’s helped me be more open to repairing issues in relationships in general, as long as I feel that the person is being sincere like she was.

Since all this happened, a random guy did something obscene to me in a waiting room, my ex wife has occasionally been verbally abusive, a physical therapist assistant crossed my boundaries in session, the district attorney decided not to prosecute the date rape, I ran into an abusive ex girlfriend who tried to intimidate me in public, and my sister continued to allow my parents to watch my nephew despite my many warnings. Any of this would make someone enraged, but all of these stressors compounded were destroying me inside. My anger would often come out when I was driving, because I can’t stand bad drivers. It’s kind of funny, but my road rage was bothering me too. I didn’t want to have those negative interactions with strangers, even if they were putting my life at risk by being careless. I wanted to be calmer. I didn’t want anger to hurt me anymore.

I started allowing parts of me to talk to T about their anger despite my fears of letting them out. At first I was terrified because I hate switching in therapy, and I told T it makes me feel like a freakshow. I inadvertently switch in front of people all the time, but they often don’t notice because I try to hide it the best I can. I was worried that T would pick up on my switching because she never misses a detail, so I always tried to stay present in therapy. Sometimes parts would say things in sessions, but I’d never give them full control unless I was extremely stressed (which didn’t happen often). I had to let go of some of that control in order to let parts of me talk to her and find their voice. T never got defensive, and she showed those angry parts of me compassion and understanding, which helped our healing so much. She showed me the compassion I needed to show myself. I was able to calmly disagree with those angry parts of me who said I was an idiot for not reporting the date rape right away. I also explained to the parts that were angry that we froze instead of fighting, that freezing is a survival technique learned through years of trauma and wasn’t our fault. Animals and humans fight, run, or freeze based on what they think will save them. They often freeze as a last resort to reduce the amount of physical damage if they feel they can’t get away. We have young parts who tried to fight my father, only to be overpowered and hurt even more, so I helped them to see that they did the best they could in all these circumstances. I showed compassion to the parts that hated T for almost abandoning us in our time of need. I told them that I understood how much it hurt, and they had a right to be angry even if she didn’t mean to hurt us. This was the most powerful thing I was able to do for myself, to stop being angry at myself for the ways I reacted to my trauma. Everything we did was a learned behavior for survival. I gave the angry parts of me credit for saving me, and for holding the painful rage for years. I said it’s ok to feel so angry that you want to scream, but it’s what you do with that anger that counts. Feeling angry doesn’t make us bad, and despite the pain and rage we felt, we never took it out on others like all my abusers did. I gave them immense respect for that. Even though I didn’t like how they sometimes got angry at T, I was proud of them for speaking up. I learned to say to myself and other parts over and over again that the way we reacted to all these bad events was just a trauma reaction, and we did the best we could. Sometimes the parts of me who are extremely critical still say that we’re stupid for being victimized yet again, but I tell them we need to show more compassion. Rejecting the self hatred is the key to never being assaulted again. The self hatred is what kept us quiet all these years. We now trust that if anything bad like that happened, we would react differently. And I also trust myself to listen to my instincts so that I don’t end up in situations like that again.

A lot of people say that you need to forgive your abusers for yourself, not for them. I disagree. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive my abusers, what they did was unforgivable. But I forgive myself and the parts of me who went through the abuse and torture. This is how I’m now able to be free from suicidal thoughts and self harm. I talk to myself like I would to a client. I’m grateful that I have the therapeutic training to work with those damaged parts of me, but anyone can learn this in therapy. I normalize the trauma response, and I show compassion. This slowly eases the anger and self hatred. This doesn’t mean that I won’t be angry about shitty circumstances from time to time. This month I was angry that I got really sick and triggered by the shortness of breath from COVID-19, had to spend time in the ER which scares us, and couldn’t go to therapy because the whole world shut down. I was pissed off that I lost my support and coping skills like exercise, sports, and being outside. I was angry that there might be some happiness and positivity in my life very soon, but I was just sitting locked in the house struggling to breathe. I was mad that all I do is survive, and I wanted to actually live my life.

I was also very angry that I had to call my parents out on abusing my nephew in order to save him, even though parts of us thought that meant my parents would come and kill us. In the end, my sister finally listened to me, put my nephew in therapy, and won’t let them be alone with him. He’s started eating again and has gained 5 lbs. The light in his eyes came back. The relief I feel from saving my nephew is empowering. Of course I’m bullshit angry (beyond enraged because they hurt another kid) that my sister didn’t listen to me for a long time, but I’m also grateful that he is safe now. (I will be writing about my sister in a future post, but that’s a very difficult topic and will have to wait a while. However I think it’s an important one to write about because sibling relationships get affected and sometimes destroyed by childhood abuse). Basically, my little sister watched me suffer for decades but still couldn’t let the ideals of her “perfect” father go. She watched many therapists diagnose me with PTSD, saw me hospitalized countless times as a teen, and yet still wouldn’t believe me when I warned her. She once said that therapists make people think they were abused, and that I had false memory syndrome. This hurt more than I can ever explain, especially because research shows false memory syndrome is essentially a lot of bullshit. Yes, memories can change in your mind as time goes on, but it’s usually the small details that can change slightly. Research shows that traumatic events stay in your mind very close to how they were experienced. The truth is I was severely abused, and she witnessed some of it. She even wrote a poem in one of my journals when she was 12 called “Trapped,” which is an eery account of me being put in a box. Her mind tried to protect her much like mine did, because as I said before, it’s an impossible situation for a child to be in when their own parents are that dangerous. My sister never once said a bad thing about my father and still hasn’t to this day. I think that underneath it all, she is extremely scared. She still talks to them, but now that she’s in therapy, she has distanced herself from them more and more. I’m just sad and incredibly angry that it took her child showing obvious signs of abuse for her to get to that point. But I try to focus on the positive, which is that my nephew’s safe, he will always have me fighting for him, and I put a stop to the intergenerational trauma in my family because I knew I had to be brave. That is incredibly empowering, and feeling empowered is a great antidote to anger.

Finally, I think gratitude also helps me deal with my anger. Instead of saying why did all these terrible things have to happen, I remind myself of all the good things I have. I have an amazing daughter, a roof over my head, and I have some awesome people in my life who give me strength and help me keep going. And I found my voice. That is huge. So please, if you’re reading this and life has also been a bitch to you, please keep going. It may not always feel like it, but the world needs you. Keep talking, keep sharing, and keep connecting with healthy people. Don’t ever give up on yourself. Most trauma survivors are incredibly hard on themselves, and it breaks my heart. We deserve better from society and from ourselves, because we’re strong as hell. Let yourself be angry. Try not to hide it or fixate on it, and if you can redirect that pain it can help. Don’t allow your self hatred and/or anger at the world to imprison you. The world can be a horrible place filled with selfish people, but it can also be a joyous place full of light and love. It’s ok to be angry on those bad days. But I hope that on the good days, you’re able to let some light in and be kind to yourself.

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