I can respect my shame and anger as a consequence of my abuse, but shall try not to turn it against myself or others.

REMEMBERING [Step 6]: Anger is a natural reaction to child abuse. Yet survivors have a hard time managing anger. They veer between lashing out or over-controlling it, not knowing when it is appropriate and when it isn't, not knowing how to express themselves forcefully without overdoing it. You were no doubt angry as a child, but probably were not able to express the anger safely in your family. You may still be afraid of your anger because it may have been intricately connected to many of the bad things that hurt you. But bottling up your anger will also block your recovery because, without ventilation, the anger may turn into aggressive behavior.

Where did that anger from the past go? Most survivors turn the anger against themselves. This pattern could possibly be a major reason for your difficulties as an adult. Fighting, criticizing or withdrawing from your friends, lover, spouse or child(ren) are also likely patterns for you, especially if your family was ever violent. If you are a parent, you need to recognize how your anger may be triggered by your child(ren)'s inadvertently pushing the wrong buttons at the wrong time. As was true with your parents, it is your responsibility to control your behavior and your anger with respect to your child(ren).

Many survivors do not express their anger overtly. In addition to turning the anger inwards into anxiety, self-loathing and depression, many survivors develop habits that serve to cover over their anger and dull its impact. Compulsive eating, drinking, sexual activity and a host of other behaviors serve to blunt the anger as well as the pain, shame and isolation that arise from abuse. This kind of behavior Ø often called self-medicating in the case of alcohol or drug use Á masks the underlying feelings and promotes a blustery, but often hollow, public image.

If you have to express your anger to better manage it, the best strategy is to externalize it that is, to get rid of it by discharging it outward. But do it safely, with maximum control, and direct it where it belongs: at your abusers. Of course, it is not always possible to do this, nor is it always advisable. Refer to the discussion in Chapter One about whether to confront your abusers, and talk to the members of your support network about any plans. These people can help you with ways to access this pent-up anger and turn it away from yourself and towards the proper target in a safe manner. Practicing how to express your anger and learning how to turn it on and turn it off will not only be therapeutic, but will also give you the skills to use your anger in appropriate ways in the real world.
© The Norma J. Morris Center, San Francisco, California