how to express anger when it always bounces back..
November 5, 2013 2:58 PM   Subscribe

I was raised being punished for showing anger. I have since been unable to get angry without it bouncing back into me hurting myself. What are ways I can edge into anger safely and learn that is OK to let myself feel it? Highly detailed caveats below...

If you read my posting history you can see that I did not have a safe childhood. There is more to that dsyfunction but what it boils down to is I was gaslighted into believing my reality and emotions were never to be expressed or people I loved would die.

This has led to a lifetime of self harm in all sorts of fun ways such as physical harm to myself, violent sex, suicide attempts... The whole wonderful package. Always directed at myself because I never want to hurt anyone like I was.

I have pretty legitimate reasons to be angry at people in my past and can no longer repress it or it will be the death of me. The problem is the brainwashing kicks in automatically and I revert to thinking I am a horrible person for being mad at the people who hurt me and must punish myself.

I can see this pattern for what it is finally which is a big step but I still need to release this anger. The problem is I don't know how.

Even getting angry in my head reverts me back to childhood and a fear of loved ones being hurt. Obviously this isn't true but gaslighting is truly evil and some of the people who hurt me are true sociopaths.

I have a great therapist and we are working on this issue but I as wondering if by a long shot anyone else has experience with this and ideas of how to get around the huge idea that I have the right to be mad without it turning back on myself.
posted by kanata to Human Relations (13 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I have plenty experience in this one. The only things that helped was therapy and writing. I wrote letters to those who hurt me and then read them in my therapists office. It took a lot to write "I'm angry at $person" for the first time. I still have a hell of a time expressing my emotions, but it does get easier. I don't think I'll ever be truly be comfortable expressing anger, but I have made progress.
posted by kathrynm at 3:08 PM on November 5, 2013

This works for me (and I tend to suggest it for a lot of unwanted thoughts). When I feel a feeling that I think is intrusive, I don't try to suppress it. I will take it and try to feel it as strongly as possible, for as long as possible, but from a bit of a distance. Examine that feeling, and think of all the things that the feeling means to me. If I'm angry and afraid that something will happen because of that (for me, that's an OCD-type intrusive thought), I will feel as angry as I can, and think about what the anger does to me. Does it make me breathe harder? Am I clenching my fists? Am I feeling hot?

Then, after a bit, I can "de-saturate" the feeling and think about it more logically, while the feeling dissipates a bit.

Your therapist may know of something like this technique (if s/he works with OCD/intrusive thoughts), so it might be something to explore.

Good luck!
posted by xingcat at 3:21 PM on November 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

I don't know the specifics of your situation, obviously, but I am all too familiar with directing anger towards myself, and other kinds of misdirected anger.

Sometimes visualization helps, for me, it might not be helpful for you. Turn your anger into a laser beam and direct it towards those that actually deserve it. If it is applicable, start to look for options for justice, however you understand that. It might mean going to trial, or it might be reminding yourself "the best revenge is a life well lived." I don't know the specifics of your situation, obviously, but I am all too familiar with directing anger towards myself, and other kinds of misdirected anger, and often (OK, I admit, pretty much always) that trend does more harm than good.

Sometimes visualization helps, for me, it might not be helpful for you, but no harm in giving it a shot . Like I mentioned above, turn your anger into a laser beam and direct it towards those that deserve it. Make a list of your positive attributes that you can look at when you are feeling down on yourself. Remind yourself that it is perfectly normal to have self-esteem issues after whatever you experienced, hold onto that thought, notice your reactions to it, and go from there. But try, above all, to take care of yourself. I'm just a stranger on the Internet, but try to believe me when I say to you that you deserve at least that.

Good luck.
posted by mingo_clambake at 3:23 PM on November 5, 2013

First, you need a hug and I am sending you a virtual one.

Second, I second the motion of writing it down and not holding back. My husband had a horrific childhood and writing letters (that he would never send) has helped quite a bit.

Third, I would talk to your therapist about deprogramming because it sounds like "programming" is exactly the word for what was done to you. Our brains are funny things. Baby steps.

(I am sure you have had people talk to you about forgiveness. I won't, here, except to say that my (new) pastor teaches something that I have never ever heard elsewhere-that the first step in the process is to recognize just how bad you were sinned against and just how bad the effects were of that-no minimizing and no excusing whatsoever. My husband found this incredibly helpful and healing.)

Fourthly, I am so sorry this was done to you and I have no problem whatsoever being angry on your behalf. Again, hugs.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:25 PM on November 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

I would engage in a class that teaches you to own your space and defend your own boundaries. Perhaps you could start with a self-defence class for women, and if that feels empowering, move on to a martial art. I am not suggesting that martial arts are angry, violent undertakings but rather that learning to unapologetically confront others with your body may help you.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:28 PM on November 5, 2013

I have entirely other issues, but--okay, example. My extended family is very liberal but my parents were both, if I'm still not sure whether to label it abusive, emotionally dysfunctional to start with and not paragons of progressive politics. As an adolescent (and really going back to childhood), I kept falling in love with my best friends and basically hating myself for it. I ended up just by accident reading some books with characters who were gay and not totally dysfunctional, and that helped a little. Then I moved on to online text-based roleplay and fiction writing when I was in my late teens and early twenties, and that helped a lot.

It took awhile, mind, but writing about characters who were going through similar feelings--some of whom had things end well and others badly--eventually contributed a great deal to my accepting who I was and being okay with that, but it was safe. You can hurt fictional people as much as you want, and even turn around right afterwards and rescue them, you know? Realizing that there wasn't anything wrong theoretically with being queer came pretty quickly--getting to "and it won't be a total disaster for my life" took a bit longer but it was steady progress. Fiction can be a way to do a sort of end run around the bits of yourself that you're not feeling ready to confront head on right away.
posted by Sequence at 3:30 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, I am not a fanfic writer, but a lot of the fandom communities are fantastically supportive of people who come from screwed-up backgrounds and are using fandom as a way to get healing. Not that it suits everybody, but just in case you or someone else who catches this is so inclined. There was a very nice Tumblr called "Fandom Saved My Life" that seems to have gone away now that I go to try to find it again to link, but the sentiment's still very much there, anyway.
posted by Sequence at 3:38 PM on November 5, 2013

My upbringing wasn't like yours in a lot of ways, but I definitely relate to having been raised not to show anger. Therapy was the number one way I learned that it was OK to acknowledge it, and yoga and meditation have helped in terms of finding ways to let it go. For many years I also found that listening to music -- including singing along at the top of my lungs, whether at a concert or in the car or whatever -- was also crucial in helping to both acknowledge and release at least some of the feeling at a visceral level. A couple songs I liked for this purpose are PiL's Rise (the "anger is an energy" chant at the end is particularly cathartic) and Fugazi's Bulldog Front, but of course there's plenty of angry/energetic music out there that might be up your alley.
posted by scody at 4:03 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Read True Refuge by Tara Brach. She uses mindfulness based therapy practices. She talked about working with a woman who had had a horrible childhood and was very angry at her mother for some shitty things that happened. She worked with her on body awareness strategies to notice the physical sensations accompanying emotional states and memories and worked on establishing a safe place where she could "let her anger be as big as it wanted to be." When she allowed herself to fully feel it and be honest about the force of the emotion that was there, she said it unlocked something in the woman. I often use "Let it be as big as it wants to be" when I'm working on dealing with some unhappy state in my life, or how I'm responding to it.
posted by mermily at 4:14 PM on November 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

I think it can be helpful when you're feeling angry to try to feel what you're angry about. So if you are thinking of a specific incident, for example, what "makes up" the anger? Are you angry that you were made to feel humiliated? Abandoned? Scared? In feeling and processing the components of your anger it might help you to come to terms with them rather than be overwhelmed with a general feeling of rage.

As to the anger itself, especially if you have a history of making it physical against yourself, I'm a believer in physically expressing it and helping your body release it outwardly, but in a safe way. A punchbag can be one example - hit it til you're exhausted, and you can harmlessly project onto it whoever or whatever you want: "Take that, X! Fuck you, fear!" Another good one is to rip up cardboard. It takes quite a bit of energy and effort - again you're taking the energy and using it, and you can mentally destroy whatever the cardboard represents to you at that moment. I also heard of someone who used to self-harm, who learned to go into the garden and ferociously stab the soil when she felt full of anger. It's painful to have it swirling around inside you with no outlet so try to think of (safe) ways to let it out rather than turning it back on yourself. Take care.
posted by billiebee at 4:23 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a safe childhood that did not feel safe and I'm not great with anger. What I am good at is finding ways to manage strong emotions generally and ways to have positive self-talk about my emotions while I am having them. Similar to the mindfulness stuff mentioned above. Being 100% okay with feeling my emotions, and seeing them for what they are (responses to things that are mostly in my head and have some physical manifestations) and then finding appropriate ways to physically deal with that - often excersise, meditation, taking a long hot shower, cooking and eating a meal that I like. Basically trying to be my own friend, even though it sounds schmaltzy "Gee Jessamyn, you seem really upset about this. That's a thing that it's okay to be angry about. At the same time, acting angrily isn't going to make the bad feeling go away. Here are some things that you like doing. Maybe we should try one of them..."

So a thing that we do on MeFi is talk a lot about the difference between being angry (super normal, everyone does it, lots of things can trigger it, it's not a thing you can control) and acting angrily (more under our control, more harmful to ourselves and others, one step removed from the actual feelings) and learning to find the space in between those. For a lot of people there literally is no division there, the feeling and the actions always come together. So thinking about ways you can split the two up, either mentally, or in time, or in some other fashion.

And know that it's difficult, and it's good to try even if you don't always succeed. I spent a lot of time silently congratulating myself for not hollering at my boyfriend when I'm angry about something that usually only has somewhat to do with him or anything he's said and done. It's not really appropriate for me to get HIM to say "Oh hey great, you didn't yell about that, way to go you..." (because that should be the default, not yelling, not being an angry person all the time)but I can say it to myself.

And last, John Darnielle (of the Mountain Goats) gave an interview with Marc Maron where he talked about the triumph he felt as an adult just outliving his abuser. That it's a weird and slightly creepy thing to feel stoked about, but that it was a huge big deal in his life. I have no idea if or how this applies to you but I can say that when one of the neglectful caregivers of my life finally dropped dead, it was a cathartic moment that I was not expecting. I hope you manage to achieve one of your own and find some peace.
posted by jessamyn at 4:27 PM on November 5, 2013 [24 favorites]

Learn to voice your feelings before they build into anger.

There are some schools of thought that say that anger is not an emotion, but a reaction to some other emotion, like frustration or betrayal. So, deal with the feelings that lead to anger and you don't have to deal with the anger.

Whatever anger is, it is unhealthy. It pervades our thoughts and feeds onto itself, and seems to give us permission to be jerks to each other. So the lesson of avoiding anger isn't necessarily a bad one. Where that fails is not giving someone the tools and safety to express things before they lead to anger.
posted by gjc at 7:00 PM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Journaling and working with my therapist on writing letters to the people who make me angry has helped a lot. I still haven't gotten to the point where I can safely write and name who makes me angry but I am getting there.

I really appreciated the pointing to the mountain goats singer and his opinion on it.. Plus it was music I haven't heard before..
posted by kanata at 9:03 PM on December 19, 2013

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