I’ve known many women who, after leaving a controlling male partner, experienced ongoing anger that just would not go away. Some women have incessant thoughts of revenge and fight with themselves not to do something they’ll regret. I’m writing this blog in response to a comment posted by Amy in my blog post about how victims cope with psychological abuse. Amy’s tried meditating, running, writing, art, etc. and continues to struggle with an “inner anger”. I have many questions/suggestions that could help expose and dampen the boiling lava underneath the surface . . .
Acknowledge your competence and functioning
List 50 ways in which you are a competent/functioning woman, sister, friend, daughter, mother, human – if you have trouble writing this list ask friends and family to help.
List 20 things you said and did in an attempt to make the relationship work.
List 20 ways you wish you’d behaved differently – then decide (a) which of these things could have in reality made a difference when faced with someone who was avoiding responsibility by denying, minimizing or blaming; and (b) which of these things you may need to practice in ongoing relationships with others.
Plan a meaningful future
Name 30 things/values/beliefs that are important to you. Prioritise them into what is the most important in your life. For me I make nearly all of my life choices based on the path that makes me feel most alive – “aliveness”.
Revise the meaning of “loyalty”
- Were you loyal to a committed relationship – or to your wellbeing?
- Were you loyal to respecting and trusting your partner despite some suspicious behaviours – or were you loyal to your gut feelings?
- Were you loyal to a situation that was depleting your lifeforce, that was eating you up inside, that was making you feel unwell – or were you loyal to whatever it is that makes you feel alive?
- Were you loyal to religious doctrines or social messages that it is a woman’s role to make a relationship work and that you made your bed you must lie in it – or were you loyal to your physical, spiritual, emotional wellbeing?
Unravel any remnants of confusion
Do you still hold tight to a Belief in a just world? (I wrote about the problem with this belief here.) Do you still wonder how someone you loved and trusted could be so deceiving, manipulative, denigrating and controlling? Do you still find it hard to believe he could do and say some terrible things to you? Do you still assume there’s something wrong with you and that despite doing a lot to try to make the relationship work you you still feel you failed? Do you continue to churn over ways you could have behaved differently to ensure you did not “fail”?
The way I personally deal with the “belief in a just world” is to acknowledge that so-called good people, people in positions of authority, people who are supposed to be trustworthy – can all do and say unjust, abusive things – fact. People misusing power and control lurk around many unsuspecting corners. Do NOT BE SURPRISED by this fact. Acknowledge this as a reality. Keep a watch out for it – do not live by the illusion that this problem does not exist. On the other hand MOST people are great. Be surprised every time you spend time with a new person who you can trust – and celebrate that person.
Another idea – List things your ex-partner said about you that you still wonder might be true. Get real about which of those things are true and change them. Get real about which of those things were blatantly not true – and tell yourself the truth.
Powerlessness and vulnerabilities often underpin anger
Brainstorm answers to each of the following. Say the question out loud to yourself over and over until you have come up with several answers to each question . . .
- A way I’m feeling vulnerable as a result of what happened to me is . . .
- A way I still feel unsafe is . . .
- Ways I now lack trust are . . .
- The fears underlying this anxious feeling are . . .
- A reason I’m resisting letting go of anger is . . .
- A reason I’m resisting letting go of revenge is . . .
- Something I still feel resentful about as a result of that relationship is . . .
- A way the feeling of shame is affecting me is . . .
Your answers to these questions will give you clues to issues you need to deal with – and anger may not be one of them. Finally, I recommend you read my post The Belief in a Just World because this will also help you to come to terms with your anger.
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While I think it is important to channel that anger – for our own sakes – into productive and constructive areas I also believe that anger expressed in an appropriate way and certainly acknowledging to ourselves that we are very angry is fine. I love the way my youngest child will say she is angry about something and when I ask her why, the explanation she gives me is usually justified – something mean, unjust, spiteful, unkind has happened. If I had been able to tap into my anger and express it I don’t think I would have got so involved in the last abusive relationship I had.
Moving on to forgiveness. For years I was a big proponent of forgiveness. I always believed that it was so important, if only so I could move on myself. I have more recently re-thought this and found it quite liberating. I do not believe we should beat ourselves up for deciding not to forgive our abusers. For those who want to for whatever reason, then that’s great, I am not making any judgement. However, I actually believe it is alright to say that I am not going to forgive that person who abused me and caused terrible hurt to my children. I will move on with my life but I am not going to devote any energy into forgiving someone who has abused me. I can hardly believe I am saying this but it’s true and I do genuinely find it freeing. I have put myself under huge pressure at times to forgive and that only makes me more stressed and guilty and is yet another ‘should’ in terms of behaviour. That doesn’t mean entailing going around in some perpetually angry state. I am just calmly (ish) angry at him and anyone who colluded with him. Someone said to me recently ‘why should you even think about forgiving a person who has behaved in such an abusive, destructive way, denies it all and has never made any amends?’ Er, yes.
I would like to comment on the subject of anger that just won’t go away and also forgiveness. I think it is completely natural to be angry when someone has behaved in an abusive way and has either denied that abuse, minimised it or failed to make amends. In the past I have spent a lot of time suppressing my anger about being badly mistreated at various times in my life because I felt that (a) I didn’t want to invite more abuse and (b) ‘nice’ girls/women shouldn’t get angry. Seriously! I failed to really acknowledge the anger I felt in my gut and this has inevitably led to other issues that I don’t think would have happened if I had felt able to express my anger.
I have the same issue of unresolved unrelenting unending anger.
Where did it come from?
I think maybe this or that and then I wonder if maybe it’s just me. I’m the kind of guy who hangs onto things that I did not at the time address.
I think that’s it. It’s me. When I think back of all the times when bad people tried to enforce their will on me whether through physical violence or manipulation or argument there are only two classes of events/results.
There are those where I responded by escalating and overcoming resulting in the physical defeat or humiliation of my opponent and there are those where I felt that I had to take it on the chin and I did not overcome.
It’s the latter that haunts me. I retain unresolved anger over those events when an unreasonable person or other entity tried and succeeded at imposing their unreasonable will upon me against my wishes.
Whose fault is that?
Well sometimes you just know you are up against a superior force. Sometimes ( and this is the real one that stays with me) it was just me that made a decision that I later regretted about whether I had to take it on the chin and in retrospect I feel I made the wrong choice.
This has ALWAYS been when I had been in a power disparity of my own making – as in employer/employee relationship – and the end of that relationship was conducted with ugliness by the party who had enjoyed power.
So is it possible to say that had I, earlier on, figured out that just a little bit of nimbleness on my part would allow me to extract myself (on a moment’s notice) from that power disparity and asserted myself that I’d not be carrying such unresolved anger?
Yah I think so. Because I have nothing but good feelings about those times when I beat the bully to his knees and made him beg. I still got punched , I still bled, I still went away with broken bones that took weeks to heal. But I gave better than I got and that makes all the difference in the world.
Oh what an epiphany~!!!
And it is.
But it does nothing about all that unresolved anger from bridges I can not return to and re-cross other than explain them. Sadly the explanation doesn’t act like a salve.
I went through an identical process. Just crying every night. It’s not him you miss but the union. At the most basic level, the “himness” of him can’t be missed because you can’t love that. Keep finding the joy and embrace everything you loved before you met him, and you WILL get there. I’ve reread this blog so many times. You are not alone in this, and whenever you waiver just promise yourself you won’t go back.
Thank you so much for your kind words. I seem to be less angry and now I miss him. Can you believe it??!! I am starting to find reasons to be happy, but it is very slow going. This is a process I want to never repeat. Ever.
Please don’t give up. Look into finding counselling. You will be able to work through these emotions and have a brighter future. Recovery from emotional abuse is difficult but the fact that you broke free is the hardest part. Hang in there.
This site helped me realize I needed to get out of my marriage. I left him 3 months ago, moved to another state to live with family, but the anger I feel is overwhelming. Because I let him control, manipulate and scare me, I left behind a lot of things that should have been mine. People keep telling me to get over it and stop talking about it. I almost think people think I am exaggerating about what he did to me. How could anyone be friends with him after this? No one cares how this has hurt me. I feel so very alone. My anger is seated in all that I lost, the emotional and materialistic. He is going on without skipping a beat, and I am consumed by this anger. I no longer want to save him, I gave up on that years ago.I saw someone commented to forgive him, and I just can’t. I hate him. I just feel I have suffered enough and I do not know where I am going to get the strength to get up, brush myself off and start over. I am almost 42 years old, unemployed with no college degree. Things are very bleak and I am about to give up.
I STILL experience anger over abuse that I received years ago. For instance, a head cashier at the bookstore I worked at was always either barking brusque orders at me, viciously chewing me out, or shouting at me, and always glaring at me with a dirty look afterward. What had I done? Did she think I was stupid? I tried to get it together the best that I could. When I remember these things, it’s as if they were happening now, and I’m helpless to do anything. I get angry at myself for not having complained to management more than I did. And this was 15 YEARS AGO! But it doesn’t seem that long ago. And the head cashier was actually nicer to me the last year that she was there. Most of it, anyway. But what am I really angry about? Maybe it’s my own low self esteem. Maybe I felt I was being treated that way because I was still what kids called me in the 60s, the “Mental Kid”.
What a find for me today! All of these articles that are helping me realize that my anger, discomfort, confusion, and more are really, truly, the reactions of a healthy person being abused by an unhealthy one.
No more thinking, “If only I hadn’t reacted that way when he _____ (insert any number of incidents of abuse.)
I am here because I needed to seek refuge from my anger and depression. Reading “The Belief in a Just World harms women who are abused and controlled” at this site was a good dose of bitter tasting medicine, but might be the antidote to my current suffering. Yes, I am angry that he will go on doing this as he has done to his daughters, ex-wife, and now me, and that his friends will always think that it was me that couldn’t handle it. He is so good at hiding his stuff.
This leads me to my question: For a while I wondered how his ex-wife put up with it for 28 years (with a lot of separations in that period). I now realize that the question is “Why do we put up with it?” What is it in me that would allow this to happen? This is my third such relationship. I want to be over this kind of man NOW! I hope that my most recent trauma has led me in that right direction.
But, oh, how I wish I could help him 😉
Anyway, is there more on “Why” we put up with it?
I have been married for 4l years to a very unhappy, abusive man. I have experienced some physical, much mental, psychological abuse. What has kept me going has been my social life, church, and I took up running 3 years ago. I boost my confidence through this and running too. Elaine Stewart
“Powerlessness and vulnerabilities often underpin anger”
This sentence resonated with me. I experienced ongoing anger, and the biggest reason for it was ongoing fear. I feel like they are practically the same thing. The fear was inescapable, therefore the anger was too. I finally found a therapist who understood what went on in my relationship and I’m extremely grateful!
I began this article interested in any way to deal with anger, but having a “romantic” relationship in mind. While reading and digesting this article I found myself going back to my relationship with my mother. She is very controlling. Very dishonest. Very manipulative. She has hurt me deeply and I have carried that anger since childhood. I am about to turn 47 and for the first time in my life….I am free of that anger. Am I hurt? Yes. Am I dismayed? Somewhat. Is my self esteem crushed? It is. Did I do my best to make the relationship work? Yes, emphatically, YES!
I believe that as long as I live, the scars from the pain caused by my mother’s selfish, unwell actions will haunt me and hurt me until I die.
However…………there is ONE THING that I have not seen mentioned in this article nor in the comments and that is the ONE THING that has freed me of the anger and acidity thereof. It is this ONE THING: FORGIVENESS
I am 16 yrs old and I feel like my Mum is psychologically abusing me. The reason I feel like this is because every time I say something about what college I want to go to she just starts yelling at me and tells me to stay at my current College.
Also I suffer from Bi polar disorder and my Mum keeps telling and convincing me that I have irratic mood swings. For example when I get offerd courses that are good for me my Mum is against that.
Also my Mum always wants to meet people who I confide in. In front of them she is like butter won’t melt. But when she is on her own with me she is very moody towards me.
Also she undermines what I believe and want. She also shouts me down when I voice my opinion this makes me feel really low sometimes. Can I go to my GP.
Thank you so much for this site! This topic of anger is exactly what I have been experiencing, after being in an abusive relationship for 19 yrs, and out for 5 years… I have made good progress in developing renewed self esteem, thru the Protected Persons programme offered through the Family Court. Now I enjoy myself, accept it was not my fault, and feel stronger. I do have an underlying rage that my abuser now seems to ride almost free, while I struggle with parenting children he neglected and didn’t care for… They are the ones that got hurt as much, or more, than me. Also, he only has ‘fun’ contact with them, not the nitty-gritty ‘turn-the-TV-off-and go-have-your-shower’ sort of daily disciplining stuff … and still attempts to abuse me by telling me none of the abuse happened (‘you lied about it in court’ type of statements). No one deserves to be so used by someone they originally loved and trusted. I am going to get further counselling, to hopefully get the hurt, the feelings of injustice and anger out of my system. After all, they messed up my past, and my bonding/relationship with my children, so they do NOT deserve to have any effect on my future wellbeing and my emotional health.
Again, your site is very helpful for me!
These are very powerful ideas, Clare. I think you hit the issue, spot on. Hopefully, I will find resolution, one day. I truly appreciate, and value your feedback, and I’m certain, it will be useful.
There is another long-term issue, that I’ve dealt with, which is fear of abandonment. I am beginning to recognize, that there is a correlation between my “inner anger” and “fear of abandonment.” I am beginning to date, again, so this makes my insecurities apparent. Yes, there are wonderful men in the world. One day, I hope to become a blessing to one. I will continue to work on changing my core beliefs, so that I am empowered to live in, and with love.
I think it’s important to acknowledge, that my activities have helped me cope. I’ll even admit that I, actually, enjoy art, jogging, relaxing, meditating, therapy. And combined, with your advice, I think things will be okay.
Thank you so much!
This entry about anger is so totally helpful. I have been livid for over three years. I get so angry at everyone in my life all the time (although I am too afraid to actually express that anger, it’s all kept inside) despite the fact that my two in a row abusive relationships ended over 3 years ago. I spent 10 years being manipulated and controlled. Now I am with a good, healthy man but still have so much anger that any time he is even slightly grouchy I come out swinging. I threw a glass at him the other day. I’ve never done that before let alone stood up for myself. I am terrified that I’m going to get back in a bad bad place so I am really struggling with letting this man close and really struggling with how much anger I still have inside about my past. I can’t wait to start the suggested exercises. I hope they help. Thanks for this site. Jill
Personally, I have never felt that the anger I have experienced since everything that has happened is the main issue. I feel like it’s more than that I’m just frustrated and tired of dealing with what happened. I know that it’s not going to immediately go away or anything, but, I guess, that I just thought that it wouldn’t affect me so much at this point, or that it would be easier at this point. My anger is mostly for the fact that it feels like I suffered a lot more in the aftermath of all of this crap than he did, and it just doesn’t seem fair. I know that the world isn’t just and everything, but sometimes I just wish it was, so that I wouldn’t have to keep dealing with all of this. I don’t even know if I should post this because it seems rather incoherent, but they’re just the thoughts I have.