Anger is a natural and spontaneous emotion that grips survivors of sexual abuse for the wrongs perpetrated against them. It is a very powerful emotion and can be all consuming. Anger is a healthy emotion, but when misdirected, it can be very damaging and destructive. A survivor of sexual abuse has every right to be angry but the anger should be directed at the abuser and not at loved ones or at oneself.
Often, survivors of sexual abuse blame themselves for being in the situation that led to the abuse or for bringing the abuse upon themselves. They assume the responsibility for the abuse and this gives rise to anger directed at self. This misplaced anger can be devastating and lead to extremely self destructive behavior and sometimes even suicidal tendencies. Survivors live in a confused state of mind and often do not know how to vent their anger. They may tend to hurt themselves, lash out at loved ones, their friends or may choose to completely withdraw into themselves. This can lead to severe depression and can be very debilitating to the self.
Anger is a very potent force and if directed at the right target, can be a very therapeutic release for the survivor. Anger and rage need to be processed and purged from the system but in a healthy way. There are many ways to use the positive energy from anger to do constructive and creative things that can be very fulfilling and satisfying.
My experience in dealing with anger has been both frustrating and rewarding. When I first realized that I had been sexually abused, my anger knew no bounds. I harbored anger both at myself and my abuser. I was enraged at myself that I had allowed the abuse to happen and that I had not done anything to stop it or prevent it. This was misdirected anger and led to mindless frustration. I felt terrible and there was a self-hatred burning inside me. I was inconsolable and incapable of letting go of the anger. I felt guilty and ashamed. There was a deep sense of self-loathing and I found that I could not respect myself anymore. To lose self-respect can be a very painful and demeaning experience. I was irritable and depressed. It felt like there was a volcano building inside my head that threatened to erupt at the slightest provocation. I could not think straight and I snapped at the slightest excuse. My spouse bore the brunt of my anger and I was constantly apologizing to him. It took a lot of convincing from friends, family and my therapist to make myself believe that I was not responsible for what happened. I ultimately realized that I was not to blame and that the anger should be directed at the abuser. Once such realization dawned on me, it was easier to manage my anger.
I was livid, furious and enraged at my abuser. It was an all consuming anger and I did not know what to do with it. I was constantly seething with rage and snapped at all and sundry. I was very frustrated because I so badly wanted to hurt my abuser and make him suffer as much as I was suffering. This feeling of revenge was overpowering me and the fact that I could not do any real damage to the abuser made me feel absolutely impotent. It was painful to acknowledge that even though I knew the whereabouts of my abuser, I was powerless to do anything to get back at him. This was something that gnawed at me all the time and I had great difficulty in coping with my ever present anger. It felt like my soul was on fire and I was breathing fire. I could define my life in one word: ANGER. It was the story of my life for a period of time. In my therapy sessions, I complained that I was stuck on a plateau and angry all the time.
My therapist explained to me that anger was a good emotion and that I should not feel guilty about feeling angry. She convinced me that as long as I did not harm myself or others, it was okay to feel angry. She encouraged me to vent my anger using different tools. I often wrote in my journal whenever I was angry or in a foul mood. Writing in the journal helped me analyze my feelings and also allowed me to vent my feelings with no holds barred. I wrote a letter to my abuser using language that expressed my anger. I did not send the letter to my abuser but it helped me to get a grip on my anger. I discussed the letter with my therapist and it helped me to understand my feelings. I took refuge in my old hobby of reading books and that really diverted my mind away from the issue at hand. My therapist patiently enquired about how best I could let go of my anger. I did not have an answer to that. I contemplated having another confrontation with my abuser but I soon realized that it was not going to purge the anger from my system, because, there was nothing he could say that would excuse what he did to me. In my past experiences of dealing with anger, I realized that probably time was the best healer. My therapist assured me that time would definitely help the anger to recede to a point that it would not affect my everyday existence.
I also read a lot of material on anger and forgiveness. I thought about being large hearted and extending forgiveness to my abuser but that did not seem too appealing. This was not an act that merited forgiveness of any sort. It had caused too much pain, hurt and trauma to wipe away with forgiveness. I knew that I had to somehow come to terms with my anger. I then decided to channel all the energy emanating from my anger to do something constructive and positive. It was my anger that inspired me to start building a web-page. I also started writing about all my experiences in dealing with my emotions and feelings regarding the abuse. All these activities helped to distract my mind and calm me down. I used exercising as another avenue for releasing the energy from my anger and frustration. I forced myself to exercise everyday and I felt better instantly. It helped me release my stress in a healthy way and I benefitted health-wise too.
I cannot claim that I have let go of all my anger. I am still very angry at my abuser and my blood boils when I recall what happened to me. But, I have learnt to manage my anger such that it does not overwhelm me in that all consuming manner. I am able to function normally and it does not interfere in my daily existence. I do have days when I find myself seething with rage at my abuser and all the old feelings of uncontrollable anger return but I find it easier to calm myself down. I am not angry over extended periods of time now. I am able to laugh, and enjoy my life without the anger hovering over my soul all the time. Once I learnt to process my anger, I made rapid progress in my healing. I am at a point where I feel good about myself and can see something positive from this whole ugly set of incidents. I am a much stronger person and am proud that I have conquered many feelings and emotions that have plagued me ever since I was abused. I still battle with abuse- related anger and feel out of control at times but the impact of this on my life is not as marked as before. I hope that my experiences in dealing with anger will help other survivors come to terms with their anger and empower them to process their feelings in a healthy way.