Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Unit 7 Lesson 1, Healthy Expressions of Anger

I botched up my last post a little...  I had our next unit wrong.  Between blogging lessons here and beginning a brand new support group here in town, I opened up to the wrong place the other day.  We have just finished the guilt & shame unit and are now moving onto feeling the anger and hurt.  So, my last post was more of a wrap-up of the lesson as opposed to a kick-off!  Sorry for any confusion.

Now for the correct lesson!

Focal passage and memory verse for Unit 7:  "Be angry and yet do not sin."  Ephesians 4:26

A young woman who had been a child victim of sexual abuse described how rejected and humiliated she felt as a young girl when the police came to her house.  She said, "I had been walking home from school when a man approached who said he would give me candy.  I never got candy, even though I went to the woods with him.  He raped me.  I was so sore, and blood was all over me.  He tore my dress.  A woman had seen me go with him, bu tit was over so quickly.  My mother got real mad at me and kept saying, "How could you be so stupid as to go anywhere with a stranger?"  With that statement, my mother gave me a good weapon to punish myself.  I was so confused.  I didn't think anything could feel worse than what he did to me, but this was worse.  I thought, "She's right, my mom's right.  Why did I go into the woods?  I was stupid.  I hate myself."

In this unit you will examine anger and hurt in the light of survivors...

Sara, a 25 yaer old woman, was expressing her feelings in a sexual abuse group.  "I am angry at my brothers!  I am angry at anyone who looks like my brothers!  I am just angry!"  For eight years Sara had been tormented by her brothers.  She had been held down, tied up, and forced to imitate pornographic material.  She described many humiliating and vicious acts perpetrated against her.  Sara had begged her parents for help, but they ignored her pleas.  She is very angry about what happened to her as a child.

Almost everyone would acknowledge the right of the victim to be angry about being abused.  Yet many people feel uncomfortable allowing survivors the right to express their anger.  All victims have anger and need to learn to express it appropriately - whether or not the person who committed the abuse, those who enabled the abuse, the church, or the world might be offended by the victim's anger.

As a general rule, expressing anger appropriately does not mean blowing up or throwing things.  It never involves using any form of violence.  In fact, these methods do not work and can become addictive behaviors leading to more emotional pain.

Most of the time expressing your anger appropriately means acknowledging, accepting, and expressing your anger in a mature and controlled manner.  Sometimes recovery from abuse requires more intense expressions of anger and rage than would, in most situations, seem appropriate.  You will learn some ways of channeling these intense feelings through this study.  You can also ask your therapist to help you express and release these intense feelings.

In your journals, write words or phrases that describe how you typically express your anger.  

Throw things.  Yell.  Stuff it inside.  Write.  Talk it out.  Slam doors.  Run.  Curse.  Control people.  Control circumstances.  Be a perfectionist.  Be nice.  Other??

Some of the responses above are more helpful than others.  Writing and talking out anger will help you to clarify your feelings.  Sometimes yelling, throwing things, and slamming doors does release some built-up tension.  However, others may be in your path so be careful to determine whether your anger is being destructive to yourself or to others.  You may not even realize when you are using behaviors such as controlling and perfectionism.

A Preliminary Word of Caution

Before you proceed with the main focus of this unit, consider this caution:  If you cannot use restraint in expressing your anger and you may harm others or yourself, immediately seek the help of a professional.  A qualified Christian counselor can help you to explore the factors that make it difficult for you to deal with anger constructively.  Lack of proper rest, physical problems, improper diet, depression, or being overwhelmed by memories of abuse can all impair your ability to cope with anger.

If you are prone to outbursts, you may find it helpful to meditate on Galatians 5 and the Book of Proverbs.  Try to recognize any behavior patterns in yourself that you learned from being around angry people.  For example, if you had an explosive parent, you may be imitating his or her uncontrollable temper.  If you get "too angry", you can delay your response to the source of your anger and remove yourself from the circumstances until you have received professional counseling.

In your journal, write a description of your behavior the last time you were very angry.

Be honest with yourself about your anger.  If you need to seek help to control your anger, find a counselor or support group in your area.

Do you need professional help to deal with your anger?  Why or why not?

Jane realized that she was taking her anger out on her husband and her children.  She felt sad as she realized that she was building a wall between herself and her family.  She determined to focus her hanger where it belonged.  She began a feelings journal and started talking about her anger with her support group.  (You are welcome to share your feelings in the comments on this blog, on the Facebook Fan Page or even in a private email to me, if you'd like.)

Give Yourself Permission to be Angry

Anger always will be expressed in some way.  Either you express it appropriately or it seeps out in ways that damage you and others.  Let's look at the need to give yourself permission to be angry.  Some of you may laugh at this idea because you consider yourself and angry person, or others consider you to be angry.  You may say, "I don't have any trouble being angry."  The challenge lies in allowing yourself to give appropriate outward expression to the inner anger you feel toward those who abused you and those who made it possible for them to abuse you.  Taking out your anger on yourself or on others who are not involved is not appropriate.  Some of you shut down your anger a long time ago, and you wonder what it's like to feel angry.

At the end of this section you have the chance to make a list of everyone with whom you are angry.  This list should include everyone from the actual people who abused you to all the people who allowed the abuse.  People who enabled the abuse - some call co-perpetrators - include everyone who, by what the did or what they didn't do, allowed the abuse to happen or to continue.  Those who enable abuse can include parents, siblings, teachers, pastors, and protective services...  You may also need to consider your anger toward the legal system and even toward God.

The role of the legal system is particularly important if you were molested as a child.  For example, many states require children as young as five years old to testify in front of their abusers.  Victims who have experienced these types of circumstances have a great deal of anger about the way the legal system re-victimized them.

A 36 year old woman described the experience of reporting her second rape by the same man.  She had not reported the first assault because she thought it would be better if no one knew, including her husband and family.  But when she was raped a second time, she chose to tell her family and the police.  Instead of help, however, she incurred accusations from them and eventually was encouraged by them to drop the charges.

Because of the deep hurt and anger involved, do not leave out any person, system or organization when you make your list of abusers and enablers.  Don't be afraid to include God on your list.  Virtually every victim feels great anger toward God.  Later in this unit you will explore the issue of anger toward God.  Cindy was so angry with God that she left he church for a few years and made a decision to be an atheist.  Last, but certainly not least, make sure to include yourself.  You probably have been beating yourself over the head for years anyway, so put yourself on the list.  Take plenty of time and allow God to reveal everyone toward whom you feel anger.  Don't misdirect that anger towards those not involved or toward yourself alone.

Make a list of every person who abused you, every person who enabled the abuse, and every organization or system that you feel has hurt you, let you down, or toward which you feel anger. 

Make another list of people toward whom you feel angry because they didn't understand your pain or support you when they learned about the abuse.

Your list needs to include your abuser or abusers and others who enable the abuse.  You may have also included friends, relatives, adn others who knew you at the time of the abuse.  Most people also experience anger at God.  Review your lists and add any people or organizations necessary.

Pray for yourself and other members of this online group.

Remember that ...

You can accept God's love and kindness.
The truth will set you free!
You are worthy and have God to lead you and comfort you.
You are clean.
You are wonderfully made.
You have permission to feel your anger and hurt. 

1 comment:

Lily said...

As always, I learn so much from each of your posts about myself and how I choose to deal with my experiences. Anger is not something I have had a whole lot of experience with, as I tend to keep it at bay, but just reading about proper ways to respond to that feeling as well as others right to be angry regardless of the reason has definitely helped me.