While abuse survivors often find themselves keeping silent or saying what they think others want to hear, eventually something uncomfortable can set them off. Long held bitterness and resentments due to past trauma—unresolved feelings, inexplicable emotions, and troubling memories—build under pressure.
Before I started to heal from abuse, I held my trauma so far below the surface, I didn’t know it existed. Something inside wanted verbal expression, but I couldn’t define what it was, let alone what I felt. Each time I was triggered by a bad experience—another person or a stressful event—I added to the already tightly covered container of intense feelings on the verge of exploding, and the tension started to seep out.
I brought the bulging vessel into my marriage, tainting it with insecurity and unhappiness from my past that stayed with me like a toxic friend who I didn’t know how to confront. I lived in a chaotic emotional jumble. Miserable, I thought I put up a good front, though I blamed my husband as the cause of all my problems and those in our relationship. My children often took the brunt of my frustration and hostile feelings. Sometimes, I unnecessarily lashed out, exaggerating the most minor offenses, and felt guilty later for disciplining my kids with excessive punishment.
Unhealed victims of abuse fall prey to anger when overwhelmed with feelings stemming from the past.
My husband and I had often had terrible arguments about the lack of money and him wanting me to work. I highly resented him because my mom drilled into me to get married and find a husband to take care of me. I did what she said, but it wasn’t working, and I resented my husband all the more for it. Instead of either of us compromising and finding solutions, I raged at my husband because he refused to see my side of things. Brought to the brink of hysterics, I slammed my fists a few times on the dining table and screeched something awful at him, not considering any potential damage to my hands and wrists. With that action, I helped to bring on early arthritis and exacerbated carpel tunnel syndrome from a previous car accident. And hurting myself did nothing to help the situation.
Ironically, the very thing I needed to learn—how to use my voice—I discouraged in my children because they were afraid to approach me, not knowing if I’d be receptive or verbally explosive.
Anger quickly grew into the most common form of expression for everything else I felt. It acted as a protective barrier when I was inundated with painful feelings like humiliation, embarrassment, frustration, anxiety, or shame. My temper showed up as swearing, finger pointing, shouting, name calling, invading physical space, slamming doors, or driving aggressively.
Sadly, it took years to discover that my anger was directed toward everyone except those who abused me—my brother, abusive ex-boyfriends, parents who didn’t listen, and bullies in the school and workplace. In fear of retribution, I wouldn’t direct any angry feelings toward anyone who reminded me of my abusers.
Unhealed victims of abuse fall prey to anger when overwhelmed with feelings stemming from the past—powerlessness and frustration, facing uncontrollable circumstances, feeling unvalidated, or recognizing the acceptance of low expectations. Nerves are struck when feeling criticized, unloved, unwanted just as in childhood. Victims can be quick to anger when recalling how much trauma was endured through unfair and painful treatment and threats. Not feeling valued or being allowed a voice can make one feel as if still living an abusive past.
All these are normal reactions for a victim of abuse, because as children, most victims weren’t taught how to manage feelings and never learned any type of effective communication within a dysfunctional family. Feelings are generally spewed onto the closest family or friends. Anger can be directed at oneself, too, in harmful or suicidal behavior. Angry reactions can be far more intense than the situation warrants when one isn’t aware of the underlying cause of abuse.
Triggers causing anger usually indicate that something hit a nerve, a truth in dire need of exploration, but then ego can create denial to protect us and keep us from facing reality of the present or past. We’d rather blame people or situations for our unhappy lives instead of admitting we are flawed.
Anger is a helpful gauge telling us when something needs to be changed in order to experience happier choices and a peaceful state of being. If an abuse survivor can determine and honestly examine what is really at the heart of their anger, repercussions can be diminished, and one may find the situation doesn’t warrant the amount of anger expressed.
The more we confront what makes us uncomfortable, the closer we grow toward understanding what we need to change in ourselves and our circumstances. Anger will lessen as we move toward a more relaxed and satisfying way of living.