“How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it?”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Have you ever seen the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie? It’s basically a spin-off to the Harry Potter series and in it, there’s this thing called an Obscurus which is the manifestation of violent, destructive energy from when a young Witch or Wizard has to repress their magic ability. That’s how I’d describe the anger I was left with as a result of the abuse because I repressed it for a while and so it eventually erupted into this powerful, detrimental, life-changing fury.
The first anger I experienced from the abuse wasn’t the first one that I reacted to. That sounds complicated… The first source of my anger that I actually responded to, was the anger against others; particularly, against my abuser’s colleagues. They were the people who saw myself and my abuser together the most and yet they didn’t stop the abuse. During the abuse, part of me thought ‘how the hell do they not realize what he’s doing?’ and the other part hoped they’d never find out. These two contradictions led to a lot of confusion for me and I struggled to accept that I was ‘allowed’ to be angry with these people. I wondered if I had no right to because I was doing all in my power to ensure they didn’t find out what was happening to me so how could I be so put out when they didn’t stop it?
This bewilderment was magnified when the Police told me that on questioning, some of his colleagues had said that whilst they hadn’t witnessed the abuse, they could believe it had happened!
In response to this anger I developed… what can only be described as an attitude! I was rude, arrogant, and generally disrespectful to his colleagues and even though the consequences for my behaviour made me feel even more miserable and lonely, I couldn’t stop acting this way. Sometimes it felt good – to be honest – and I found it a bit of an outlet for the anger and frustration because my attitude allowed me to punish them for their ineptitude and failings without it being obvious that I thought I was seeking revenge for something! I think that I hoped people would question things and think ‘this isn’t like Aimee’ but no one did.
The next anger that I reacted to was against my abuser. One of the reasons his colleagues could believe the abuse had occurred was because our public relationship was fraught with contempt and very personal arguments e.g. there was one occasion when we had moved from arguing in his office to being in a public space and I remember shouting at him to think of his wife and children. It was almost as though, in public, he hated me as much as I hated him, but it was confusing and contradictory because in private, he was telling me he loved me and that he’d leave his family for me! But I guess he couldn’t exactly have that attitude in public without raising a few eyebrows, so in public, he matched my disdain.
Other than the arguments, I genuinely believed that if I were an aggressive person, it’d be towards him, and if I had the potential to become an aggressive person then it was he who had the power to make that change in me! My anger felt too big for my body. It was huge and it was unstoppable. I didn’t know what to do with it – nothing felt like a good enough outlet. So, this, and many other things, led me to turning my anger inward.
The anger at myself mostly came from the fact that I never physically fought back against the abuse; I questioned what sort of person didn’t respond in that way and I wondered if it meant that deep down, I knew I deserved the abuse; and this thought, was unbearable. It was this anger at myself that led to me feeling suicidal because really, what better way is there to punish yourself than by killing yourself?
Realizing that nothing positive was coming from my anger was a huge learning curve that promoted everything that the professionals were trying to drill into me about learning safe and healthy coping mechanisms. I had to accept that some of the reasons for my anger, couldn’t be taken away; I mean, that the abuse happened was a fact that couldn’t be undone. In accepting this, I was sort of almost forced to learn these new ways.
I always hope that my blog can help others, so I thought I’d use this post to recommend some of the most useful coping strategies that I’ve learnt over the years for managing the anger I experience as a result of the abuse…
One skill I’ve learnt through Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is Mindfulness, this skill is all about being aware of everything you are experiencing; both inside and outside of your body. Taking a step back and noticing what is happening makes it less likely for you to experience overwhelming emotions because you have taken control of your attention.
There are two key skills in mindfulness; what skills and how skills. Within the what skills are three different strategies: observe, describe, and participate. The observe part is all about noticing sensory experiences e.g. what you can smell, hear, and see etc. whilst the describing focuses on finding the ability to put what you’re feeling into words. Finally, the participate skill is probably the most literal and simple; it’s about letting go of self-consciousness, judgements and fear.
The how skills are then the different ways to practice your what skills and again, there are three of them; non-judgmentally, one-mindfully, and effectively. Firstly, the skill of being non-judgmental comes from the evidence that doing so has shown to decrease emotional pain and damage relationships. One-mindfully refers to being fully present in the moment and not lost in memories of the past or thoughts of the future. Finally, the skill of effectively is about recognizing what you want from a situation and avoiding escalation as well as not sitting on your hands and merely hoping things will change.
I use mindfulness to be aware of my anger and the way I experience it through my senses, whilst using the how skills to do this without judging myself for being angry, without judging the rationale behind my anger.
Another Dialectical Behaviour Therapy skill I learnt was Radical Acceptance which is all about accepting reality just as it is without attempting to escape any overwhelming thoughts and emotions such as anger or suicidality. Instead, this skill recommends not using the ‘flight’ mechanism that we’re all so prone to using; but instead, using coping statements (e.g. ‘the present is the only moment I have control over’, or ‘I cannot change what has happened in the past’) to remind you that there are some things you can’t change. This is especially true and helpful where your anger is due to an event that has already occurred because it can’t be undone; and holding thoughts and feelings related to the want to eradicate the memories, will never be beneficial.
DBT recommends that accepting an event comes in four stages; thinking of the event, determining what has caused it, accepting the feelings surrounding it, and creating a proactive plan to cope with it.
If you’re practicing radical acceptance for the first time, it’s probably best not to choose a traumatic event as it might still be debilitating and destructive. Instead, choose something less overwhelming that you often find yourself ruminating over and then begin the second stage in considering the facts that have led to that event. Avoid judging or blaming yourself or others when considering these causes and don’t use this stage of radical acceptance as an opportunity to explain the event. Stick purely to the facts. The third stage is to accept your thoughts and feelings that arise when you’re thinking about the event; which you can do by observing any body senses that manifest such as a fast heart rate or a headache. Finally, devise a proactive plan about the event and its impact. This is especially useful where the event has had a huge impact on you and where it’s important - and maybe even essential - to your health and your safety to think of ways to improve the situation.
I’ve used Radical Acceptance where the anger from the abuse is overwhelming and potentially detrimental; especially when it’s triggering thoughts of suicide or self-harm. I find that this skill provides me with the opportunity to determine more positive, healthy, and safe coping behaviours than self-harming or attempting suicide.
One skill I’ve learnt that completely changed its meaning to me through Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is the art of distraction; because rather than mindlessly checking social media notifications, in DBT, distraction is more about doing something safe and healthy instead of the negative thoughts you might experience as a result of difficult situations or emotions. I really liked this skill the moment I heard about it because I was so convinced that if I were to stay in the moment – as the Mindfulness skill promotes – then I would be unsafe.
I always worried it sounded silly that I heard to learn about distraction because it sort of sounds like something people would naturally use but for me, it was an alien concept because my life completely revolved around coping with my anger through suicide attempts and self-harm. I was so caught up in those thoughts and the planning to carry them out that I didn’t stop to consider that there’d be healthier way to cope with my anger. Of course, if – for one minute – I’d thought there was an effective, alternative of coping then I would’ve done it. People don’t just choose to self-harm.
To give you an example of what is meant by distraction, my favourite things to do with this skill are writing/blogging, playing The Sims(!), doing arts and crafts, watching Netflix, and reading.
The final way to cope with anger that I’m going to talk about is Emotion Regulation. This skill is particularly hard because it’s about controlling and influencing when you experience an emotion, how you experience it, and what you do to express them. This skill advises sitting with an emotion, allowing yourself to feel it, but not letting it result in behaviours that will probably exacerbate the feeling, such as by self-harming.
It’s important to know that this skill promotes the fact that all emotions are valid. Never feel that feeling depressed or suicidal or anxious, is something that needs to be corrected; it’s about learning to correct the way you express or cope with those feelings. I think that this is especially helpful with anger because this skill doesn’t advise you to suppress it or pretend it isn’t there, it doesn’t tell you that you’re wrong to feel angry about the abuse.
I hope that this post has been helpful in some way!
Do you have any skills you’d add to this list?