Many survivors of child abuse tell me they don’t experience the emotion of anger. Biologically, anger is our warning sign that something is wrong for us. We know we’re angry because we feel it in our bodies. What happens, then, to prevent many victims of abuse from experiencing this warning sign?
In Confessions of a Trauma Therapist, I describe the first time I experienced anger. I’d left my parents’ home and was living in my university residence. To my surprise, I found myself raging at the dry cleaner that may have ruined my blouse. This was an entirely new experience (Confessions of a Trauma Therapist, page 35.)
Do you know how it feels in your body when you’re angry? Would it be possible to simply sit with this physically felt response to a situation in your life? Would you be willing to let it tell you its story? This is how Focusing approaches the felt sense of an emotion. Perhaps some part of you doesn’t want you paying attention to your anger? Please just be curious and non-judgmental.
Why is it that people who have been victimized by child abuse often feel anger for the adults who failed to protect but not for the perpetrator?
What happens to block this life-saving response? Why can’t we muster our anger for people who wrong us?
Thanks to the folks who replied to my question about directing rage against the non-abusing parent or passive authority figures, I gained a new insight. (I directed my rage against my mother who didn’t protect me, not against my abusing father.) My new insight is this: whenever I tried to think about my father I dissociated. It’s very hard to experience anger when your head is fogged over.
If you have trouble accessing your reasonable anger, ask yourself what that’s all about. Remember this: when we’ve been harmed it’s normal and healthy to feel anger.
For Further Reading: The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships, Harriet Lerner, Harper Collins, Inc., New York, N.Y. 1997.