Dealing with anger in abuse recovery

Healing from abuse of any kind is best accomplished by understanding and allowing your emotions, without getting stuck in a cycle of emotion. Seems like a simple enough concept, but those of us who have been down this road know it’s far easier to just eat, sleep, work, shop, drink, or “busy” away our emotions than to deal with them. The one we seems to be most afraid of is anger.

Anger is an Illusion

The feeling of anger is real and valid, but drilling down always reveals something else: pain. In psychology, the saying goes that pain turned outward is anger and pain turned inward is depression. That’s pretty spot-on. The question then becomes, what do you do with your anger?

Let it Out
“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”
― Maya Angelou

The one thing I tried hard to do when first in recovery was control my anger. I thought it somehow made me more mature or evolved in some way. The abuser knows this weak spot well and, when you show any emotion at all, will portray you as some crazed lunatic with anger management problems! I heard more than once, when I wasn’t reacting at all, how I was “bitter, angry and unable to move on” because he knew that the accusation itself would make me angry. Here’s the rub: you must allow yourself to express anger.

Anger Doesn’t Make You an “Angry Person”

When appropriately managed, anger is a tool. Instead of just saying, “I am so angry” add to that “because I am hurt by this!” Linking together the anger and the pain somehow creates more balance. If you feel as though you are “constantly” angry, it simply means you have more pain to address.

“Many people believe that they are just angry at the situation, but I personally believe that for abuse survivors especially – there always might be more personalized and internal emotions laying beneath that anger and that they are actually a result of something that is entirely different or separate from the situation that [they] initially think has caused the anger.” (From Dealing with Anger as an Abuse Survivor on Fort Refuge)

Outlets Matter!

You need a buffet of safe choices for expressing your anger. Mine included writing, pounding the ground with a hammer, throwing things away that he left behind, removing photos and usually destroying them, screaming into a pillow, and walking my neighborhood or running the stairs in my house as fast as my short legs would carry me. Each of these tools helped me get the anger out so I could address the pain and heal. Create your own safe list of outlets and practice using them! Anger is not something to be scared of but rather a tip-off that there is sadness to be addressed

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Aubrey Cole

Aubrey Cole

I survived a quarter century of psychological, emotional, economic and sexual abuse. When I got out, I vowed to help others do the same and founded the Emotional Abuse Survivors Network project in 2012. Now, I offer hope and healing to others on their journey as they rediscover themselves. My forthcoming books, Bodies in the Basement and Define Winning, chronicle my experiences, escape, and recovery. There is nothing so special about me that others can't emerge and thrive.


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