taking care of your anger

When you say something unkind, when you do something in retaliation, your anger increases. You make the other person suffer, and they try hard to say or do something back to make you suffer, and get relief from their suffering. That is how conflict escalates. Just like our organs, our anger is part of us. When we are angry, we have to go back to ourselves and take good care of our anger. We cannot say, ‘Go away, anger, I don’t want you.’ When you have a  stomachache, you don’t say, ‘I don’t want you stomach, go away.’ No, you take care of it. In the same way, we have to embrace and take good care of our anger. – Thich Nhat Hanh

 The one thing that continues to make life unbearable after you’ve escaped the nightmare of an abusive relationship is the tricks your own mind plays.  We become conditioned by our environment to react in certain ways, and in an abusive relationship our mind is in siege mode. This is what your abuser intended, it makes us easier to control. We find ourselves doubting our own thoughts, double thinking gut feelings and being so confused we can’t make decisions, we feel sick to the stomach when we have to interact with our abuser.  Worst of all, we feel a deep sense of rage at the injustice done to us.  This rage can be self-destructive and we need to learn how to deal with and subdue it.  These are techniques that have worked for me.

NLP: Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Guided meditation and relaxation music.  Great for taking you out of yourself and forcing you to stop doing things for others for half an hour.  NLP works on a subconscious level so even if you find it silly and feel cynical about the process as I did, the affirmations still implant positive thoughts about yourself into your subcsonsconscious, helping stop ‘automatic thoughts’.  My fave is Bob Griswold of Effective Learning Systems “Conquering Fears and Anxiety”.

Stopping automatic thoughts: what you get when you see an email in your inbox from your abuser, or when you know you’ve got to see them soon.  Mine go something like: “Oh no, what does he say I’ve done wrong now?  Maybe I did do something wrong, what was it?  Maybe I didn’t _____(insert personal fear here)”. Physiological response follows (increased heart rate, sweating, nausea).  Stopping automatic thoughts is key to reducing your anxiety and anger.  You can distract yourself until the cows come home, but examining automatic thoughts and combating them with logic and humour work best for me: “What do I care what he says about me?  I know he lies to get what he wants and he’s no prize pig.  Hell, I’ve been assessed by Child Protection as a good parent, thanks to his meddling.  I know I’m a good parent, my kids love me and are happy. Yeah, I rock. I totally rock!  He’s just trying to manipulate me.”  More often than not, once you reread what was said, or calm yourself before you do, you will find that it’s a lot easier to ignore any insults your abuser might say or imply.  You might also find that you are projecting your own fears about yourself into the words.

Stopping projection: Part of the reason we become imbroiled in unresolved conflict is projection on both sides!  Yes, me too!  We all tend to judge others by our own experiences, how we would think in their shoes helps us predict what might happen next .  This is a useful evolutionary tool, but doesn’t help us when dealing with abusers.  Projecting our fears or problems we have onto others lead us to beleive: 1.  that others are as capable of good/reasonableness as we are, 2. that others are as incapable of evil as we are.  Projection is like mind reading, not a realistic assessment of the other person’s motives.  Best bet is you can’t read another’s mind, especially an abusive person, so don’t try.  It is a source of automatic thoughts.

Debreifing: Find a person to talk to after a traumatic emotional event.  A close friend or a counsellor.  A journal is also a good place for your more crazy thoughts.  I wrote one for six months after breaking up with my abuser. Reading it years later, I can see how angry and confused I was, still thinking that the relationship could be saved and that I had done something wrong. It shows you how much progress you have made in coping and lets you safely express and examine those thoughts that might fuel your resentment and anger if you repress them.

Reading: I am a big fan of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and especially Rational-Emotive Behaviour Therapy. Both you can try without needing a counsellor.  REBT’s icon is Albert Ellis, and I recommend reading his “A Guide to Rational Living”.  Timeless advice to help you examine your irrational thoughts that trigger anxiety. Another great read is Martin Seligman’s ongoing experiment in happiness “Authentic Happiness”http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx

If you are of a more spiritual or philosophical bent, try Thich Nhat Hahn’s writing’s on anger: “Anger: Wisdom for cooling the flames” http://www.amazon.com/Anger-Cooling-Thich-Nhat-Hanh/dp/1573229377 He also writes about happiness from a Buddhist perspective, but more practical and worldly than some spiritual writings.

Remmber that, no matter what your abuser says or does to try to control you or destroy you, you are the one with integrity. In the end, you have to expect nothing but the worst from them.  The anxiety comes from expecting them to be reasonable, fair and genuine. That’s not going to happen. It’s hard to accept, but it’s the bottom line. Take all threats and promises with several grains of salt!

You’ll survive, you’ve got integrity and honesty, something an abuser can never understand or have. You can grow as a person by surviving adversity. While your abuser will keep repeating the same pattern of relationship disaster and abuse, we survivors have a chance to recognize and move beyond our problems.

Feelings you don’t acknowledge can control you. Learning to cope with feelings of anger and resolve them lead to greater peace within yourself and the world in general.

Finally I’ll leave you with the sage words of Thich Nhat Hanh:

When we embrace anger and take good care of our anger, we obtain relief. We can look deeply into it and gain many insights. One of the first insights may be that the seed of anger in us has grown too big, and is the main cause of our misery. As we begin to see this reality, we realize that the other person, whom our anger is directed at, is only a secondary cause. The other person is not the real cause of our anger.

(If you are still in doubt as to whether you were the victim of abuse I suggest you look at the Duluth Model and bear in mind that not all abuse need involved physical violence.)

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