Week 6, Session 1: Anger is Not the Same as Aggression
Hello and welcome to Week 6, Session 1.
If this is the first time you’re reading this, welcome! We’re so happy to have you here. However if you’re just starting out please do head back to the first session. We build on material throughout the weeks, and we don’t want you to miss anything!
We’d recommend having your thought diary on hand for the homework, so take a moment to find it if you haven’t already.
Today, we’re continuing with our discussion of shame into other, often difficult feelings. In fact, we have a whole week dedicated to these more slippery sorts of emotions: the ones that often feel harder to hold. Anger, guilt, and grief will all be explored in the context of surviving abuse.
For that reason, when we start on the topic of anger in today’s session, we want to be clear that anger is not the same as aggression.
While anger can express itself aggressively - in acts of screaming or intimidation - it is not married to anything loud, hot, or hostile. Anger feels different for each of us. And, unlike what we covered with shame, anger can also be a teacher. When we listen to its cues - rather than ignore the unease or else let its feeling overtake us - anger can help us know when we’ve been violated, when we’re unsafe, and when we need critical change.
However, as survivors, it makes sense that our relationship with anger may have been warped. It may be difficult for us to know just what our anger looks like, as our perceptions have often been coloured by the actions of our abusers. When we witness the motions of anger meant to silence or control us, we come to understand anger as a negative emotion: harmful and out of control.
For that reason, we may also have distanced ourselves from anger we link to abuse. We may even have worried that, by being angry, by having anger ourselves, our feelings make us just like them.
But being cold is also a form of anger - even avoidance or sarcastic remarks. Self-harm can also be anger, turned inwards. Ultimately, anger occurs when we feel violated. It doesn’t have an off-switch, and it will seep through and into our behaviours if we don’t let ourselves engage with a full spectrum of human feeling.
No matter how your abuser may have weaponised their anger - whether that was against you or against the world - you deserve your own relationship with your own emotions, independent of their choices. Your anger does not make you an abuser. Your anger is your own. It belongs to your story.
Today, as we start our session, give yourself permission to meet your anger as it exists. Explore it. Then, we can learn together how to process this feeling and how we proceed - rather than let ourselves be controlled by something that is so often justified.
Anger does not have to be a chain.
The goals for this session are:
- Accept that anger is a natural emotion, separate from the aggressions of our abusers.
- Acknowledge and start to understand our feelings of anger, including its triggers.
- To explore individual anger management strategies, so we can feel in control of our emotions and choices.
For now, let’s start with our grounding exercise… We’re going to list names in alphabetical order. They can be names you like, names you find funny, or the names of people you know. Start with A, then B, and get all the way down to the letter Z - as a challenge!
Fun question: If you got to pick a new name for yourself, what would it be? Why?
Let’s talk about anger!
Everyone feels angry sometimes. This is another perfectly reasonable, rational, and normal human feeling.
Stepping away from the context of abuse, we wouldn’t blame a child for being upset if another child stole their lunch at the playground. We can justifiably tell them it’s wrong if they lash out or punish the person they’re mad at as a result, but they are still right to be angry about what has happened. Their anger points them in the direction of harm.
Anger is an emotion, not an action. And that emotion is information: about the world at large and about their place in it.
As survivors, we have every right to be angry about the ways we’ve been treated - during or after abuse. It does not make us hateful or spiteful to acknowledge the realities of our own lives, to know what we’ve survived, and to identify the injustice of our mistreatments.
Whether we’re angry at our abusers; mad at the betrayal of trust; angry that no one protected us; angry that our abusers so often get away with so much; whether we’re angry at our circumstances; angry at ourselves; or angry that we have to live with these memories, and put that work into healing, day after day after day.
We may even be mad at those we’ve turned to for support who’ve let us down, as many are not capable of meeting our feelings or holding space for us in a society so ill-versed in trauma and care.
The pain, abuse, manipulation and - again - the injustice associated with the violence of what we’ve been through can evoke strong feelings of anger. And rightfully so.
Whether you feel your anger as mild frustration or as rage, the feeling differs for everyone. Anger can be fleeting or can bubble away in the background, for ages.
We may not even know that it’s there, or in what ways its heat is shaping us.
As we said in our intro, it’s normal for our relationship with anger to feel strange or altered - even severed. As survivors, we typically associate anger with the actions of abusers, in that our abusers often use anger to threaten and control us. We may also have been coerced into reactive anger in the past - a protective rage that our abusers turned back against us. Claiming we’re just like them, when we’ve been trying to keep ourselves safe: responding to an intrusion, rather than inciting the violence ourselves.
Socially, as well, if we’re women, women are also conditioned not to express any “unwanted” feelings in public, such as anger. These needs are too often mislabelled as “hysterical,” “impolite” or “unkind.”
Anger, therefore - although perfectly natural - can so often feel threatening to us, as something difficult to feel, to express, identify, or to own.
BUT, as we will continue to stress in today’s video, anger itself does not have to be negative. If we can accept our right to anger - as its own valid emotion - we can also learn to express anger in a healthy way. Both can be helpful in our healing. As with fear, anger is important, as it spotlights when our boundaries have been trespassed, when our humanity has been violated, or when our limits are disrespected.
Of course, anger can still put us at risk when it takes over. We have often witnessed what anger can do as outrage, but its harm includes when we hide our anger away - turning the emotion inwards, like acid, peeling away at the inside.
While many survivors of abuse learn to ignore or hide their rage, that does not make the emotion non-existent, non-damaging, or neutral.
Remember: anger is a rational reaction to threatening circumstances. It comes from the real ways in which we’ve been hurt, and we deserve to speak to those injuries without self-judgment or fear.
If we remember that anger is a rightful reaction - not an aggression - we can also accept its need for an outlet.
Without healthy and constructive ways to express our anger:
- The anger can build-up, making it difficult to control.
- The anger can be misplaced or later turn outwards, leading us to lash out at others, such as our support systems.
- When our anger goes inwards, this also leads to self-harm, depression or substance abuse.
- We can feel triggered when our anger is not acknowledged, or when situations tip-toe too close to the source of our hurt.
This is why we will wrap up today’s Bloom session with practical steps to “manage” our anger.
Managing anger is not the same as storing it away or pulling us back from aggression. It is about the practical steps we can take to live fully with the pain we’ve been through.
We are still using our feelings appropriately: just when and how we choose them.
Identifying triggers for anger:
Triggers will be unique to each person, but there are some common ones that many people experience - which may overlap with your abusive experiences. For instance, it may make you angry if:
- you are lied to
- someone talks over you
- you’re being insulted
- someone is not respecting your wishes
There are millions more, all of them valid. Think about what triggers your anger. Actually, why not take a second to stop reading for a moment and write down anything you can think of in your thought diary. It doesn’t have to be polished, you can always return to it later, just spend one minute writing down whatever you can think of.
Are you back? Great! We’ll keep going.
Once we know what brings out our anger, we can work on putting it in the direction that feels best. Whether these triggers are big or small.
- If you feel yourself starting to get angry, try breathing deeply from your diaphragm in long, slow breaths - give your heart rate a chance to slow down.
- As you breathe, imagine a strong core inside of you. Repeat a word such as “relax” or “calm” as you breathe.
- Then, give yourself some time to think!
- Get out of the situation that is angering you if you need to - find someone to talk things over with, who will help you calm down.
Interrupt your thoughts before they get bigger: with another person, another room.
- Try and think logically about where your anger is coming from. What’s causing it? Can you remove yourself from that source?
- Has there been a misunderstanding? Are you really angry about this or is it something else that is making you angry that stems from past experiences?
Feel free to write out these strategies and steps in your thought diaries!
Five steps to help cope with anger:
Step 1: Stop! Take ten deep breaths.
Step 2: Think of a positive personal mantra. ‘I am in control of my feelings, I can stay calm and manage this situation.’
Step 3: Acknowledge and identify the feeling. ‘I feel angry. In order to deal with my anger I must be calm and reasonable, and look at why I feel this way before I act.’
Step 4: Analyse the situation to understand it. Try to identify the main reason why you are feeling angry. If there is a genuine reason for feeling angry, whose problem is it? Is it in your power to deal with it? It is important to identify clearly what kind of power you really have in each particular situation.
Step 5: Act on the situation. Acting on a situation that makes you angry can take many forms. For example, if you decide that you shouldn’t really be getting angry over something, walking away from it is still acting on the situation. If you do have the power to change something, work out the best way forward to resolve the situation, using assertiveness techniques.
- Learn relaxation or deep breathing techniques.
- Take some time out every day to meditate or attend a yoga class.
- Go walking or running. Regular exercise can help us decrease tension in the body.
- Take a moment to shout and scream when you are by yourself in a private place.
- Be creative. Vent some of your anger through drawing, singing, or expressive dance.
- Change your environment - and try to find alternatives to things that increase your anger.
- Create a good support network around you with friends who will listen to you - and avoid people who intensify your anger.
- To deal with ongoing and in-depth feelings of anger, start some counselling or therapy sessions.
Learn to express yourself calmly:
Slow down - think about what you want to say before you say it
- Try to understand what is underlying the anger
- Be clear about you are asking by using “I” statements
- Be patient and ask questions to get to the heart of the problem
Reflecting on our feelings by examining the past may help us understand our current angry behavior.
Eventually we can learn to manage our anger so that it becomes a helpful, controlled reaction to everyday frustrations.
The homework for this week is…
Think of an anger trigger of yours and make a note of it in your thought diary. Reflect on it and a way you might want to try to manage it. Always continue with those thought diaries!
We stressed the ways that anger is different from aggression - write down your own definition of anger that does not relate to abuse.
Answer these 2 questions:
- How is anger a teacher?
- What strategy will I use to acknowledge and then manage my anger practically, so it does not cause me harm?
Remember, this is an investment in your own journey to recovery. Give yourself the best chance to build resilience. You can do this.