The Healing Power of Righteous Anger by Pam Witzemann

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 I am grateful and excited to have another guest post from Pam Witzemann ! This time Pam is writing about Anger. Righteous anger. Justified anger. Pam is a frequent guest blogger here at Emerging from Broken and contributes her voice to the comments in almost every post. As always please add your thoughts and comments. Darlene Ouimet Founder of Emerging from Broken

Justified AngerThe Healing Power of Righteous Anger by Pam Witzemann

Righteous anger is the anger that Jesus used to clear the temple. It is the force behind the Civil Rights Movement and can be a powerful force for healing when employed by those who are victims of abuse.

As a child, I was emotionally and medically neglected. I was also emotionally and psychologically abused. This came by the hand of my parents. As a teenager, I was sexually abused and exploited by men. I spent most of my life thinking that I was the one at fault and my anger (which was enormous) was turned inward. I was angry with myself for all of the things that I suffered as a child and it led me into self-destructive habits and even, attempted suicide by age 18. I was angry enough to kill and I attempted to kill the one I viewed as my enemy, Me. At the time, I couldn’t even acknowledge what I felt as anger. I saw all anger as being wrong and I denied my own angry feelings. I, like many people, was taught that all anger was inappropriate and I hid my angry emotional responses by stuffing my anger and being mad at myself for being angry. By the age of 12, I was very depressed and I believe, my stuffed and misdirected anger (which was rage, a mindless and destructive anger) was the underlying cause of my childhood depression.

None of us can control what we feel. Feelings simply come and have a mind of their own. We can learn how to express our feelings in a healthy way and it is possible to not only express anger appropriately but also, to harness it as a force in emotional healing. Most of us are taught that anger is bad and uncontrolled human anger is destructive. Rage or wrath accomplishes no good. However, all of our emotions have a purpose and anger, also, has purpose. The basic purpose of anger is for self-defense. When a threat is perceived, anger rises and chemicals are released that empower us physically to meet that threat and also, make us less aware of pain. Anger is an important ally for survival and many people who have been abused have been disarmed of their normal anger response to impending threat. Thereby, they are made helpless to future abuse. The psychological and emotional abuse that I endured as a child not only disarmed me of my normal response to defend myself but caused me to view myself as the source of all that threatened me. My dad teased me mercilessly and didn’t allow me to be angry or cry as a result of that teasing. If I responded to his teasing with anger or if I cried, I was demeaned and punished. His favorite form of teasing was to hold me so tight that it hurt and if I cried or got mad, he would squeeze tighter and tighter until I gave up. I learned to submit when threatened rather than fight. When others wanted something from me, I often would give in out of fear. My emotional responses also became inappropriate. For example, I often laughed at things that should have made me cry or made me angry. By the time I was a teenager, I was completely out of touch with my feelings and often, I had no idea what my feelings were. Emotionally, I was a tangled mess and until I learned to acknowledge my anger, direct it toward the correct source, and understand its purpose, I remained in emotional turmoil.

I was victimized and terrorized by my dad’s uncontrolled anger. I wanted no part of it but I grew up also, not being able to control my anger. I and those who love me and I love, were the victims of my bottled up anger that found expression in drug and alcohol abuse and rages triggered by reminders of past abuse. I was lost in this behavior and had no insight as to why I abused myself and raged or where it came from. Insight began with my husband telling me, during an argument, that he didn’t know who did those things to me but it wasn’t him. That was the beginning of my re-attaching my anger to hurtful actions by my dad. The process of untangling my emotions and learning the proper function of each response and the appropriate expression of those responses was long and arduous. Most of my work was done on my own and it began with redirecting my anger away from myself and away from those who hadn’t harmed me to those who had hurt me. I didn’t connect my drug and alcohol abuse with misdirected anger; but the last time I thought about drinking, I instead, poured all of the beer down the drain. This was a pivotal moment for me as before, when my husband brought alcohol home, I felt the need to get rid of it by drinking it all. As a child, my parents blamed me for their drinking problem and it was empowering to pour that beer down the drain, getting rid of the substance that I hated with a passion, rather than using myself as the disposal. It was the moment that enabled me to quit all substance abuse. It was the moment when my anger began to flow outward. I began seeing myself for who I am and not as my enemy and source of my emotional pain and confusion.

It was also important for me to learn the differing aspects of anger. Irritation is a common and mild form of anger and the extreme at the other end of the anger spectrum is wrath or rage. Somewhere in the middle is righteous anger and it is the anger that abused persons must find and utilize in order to heal. Righteous anger is anger in response to a moral affront and there is nothing more morally offensive than child abuse, in all of its varying forms. I think of my body as a temple and my temple was desecrated by those who abused me as a child and as a teenager. I was helpless to further abuse because I was disabled, through psychological and other subsequent abuse, of my righteous anger, when it applied to myself. Just as Jesus employed righteous anger to clear the temple of the money-changers and their desecration of that temple, I had to find and become righteously angry at my abusers in order to clear my temple and find my way toward emotional healing. It wasn’t enough to only stop seeing myself as my enemy and the source of my emotional confusion. I also had to direct my anger to its true source. I had to examine each trauma that initially triggered an angry response that was immediately stuffed, and place my anger on the appropriate door step of the one who had caused me harm. I had to allow myself to feel that anger, remove any inappropriate blame from myself and give it back to those who rightfully owned blame. I began to set personal boundaries and stand up for myself. It led to my confrontation of my parents with the final outcome of their ending the relationship rather than taking responsibility for their mistreatment of me. They prefer to be without me rather than meet my requirement of treating me with respect. I am happier being divorced from my family of origin, with blame being placed where it belongs, than I was carrying blame that didn’t belong to me and being emotionally confused by it. My righteous anger is the force that freed me from inappropriate guilt and inappropriate emotional response. I no longer carry rage within me and I no longer hate myself. Any angry response that I feel now is only about a current threat and less likely to come out of that deep well of stuffed, misdirected anger that I carried within me for so long. My life is no longer governed by bottled up anger and inappropriate guilt. I am no longer my own enemy and I love myself as God loves me. I am also, better able to love others. My temple is clear and clean and my life is changed. I am no longer living as a person desecrated by others and I owe it all to righteous anger.

Pam Witzemann

Pam Witzemann was born in Santa Fe, NM and is now 54 years old. She has been married for 33 years, raised two boys and has two grandsons. Pam and her husband have had their own business for about twenty years. Pam is a painter and a writer and hopes to make these pursuits more than a hobby in her later years. Pam authors the blog Boomer Back Beat; a place where baby boomers find inspiration in the process of aging.

Related Posts by Pam ~ The black hole of Emotional Neglect

Forgive the Abusers ~ A bit of a Rant

 

147 response to "The Healing Power of Righteous Anger by Pam Witzemann"

  1. By: Pam Posted: 9th April 2013

    Hi Connie, The Bible is where I gained my understanding of the purpose of anger and how it should be used and shouldn’t be used. I was taught that all human anger is bad but I now believe that all human emotions have a purpose, even those that we view as negative. I looked closely at how God expresses His emotions and used that as my pattern. Righteous anger is anger toward anything that makes God angry. When I discovered that, I also, discovered there were many things my parents and my family of origin did to me that are worthy of righteous anger. By using my anger that way instead of trying to stuff it down and then have it explode at inapropriate times, I was able to use my anger to stand up for myself, remain true to myself,set and maintain boundaries, and help myself heal emotionally. Having grown up in an alcoholic home with parents who also, have emotional problems, I had problems with all of my emotions being expressed in inapropriate ways. Finding their intended purposes, helped me sort things out. I hope that helps. Darlene may be able to help you out with other books to read on the subject.

    Love,
    Pam

  2. By: Connie Posted: 8th April 2013

    Pam,
    I could have written this article, except for the last paragraph, because I’m not that far along in my recovery yet. I am from a large family and have 11 adult siblings who are riddled with rage issues. Our childhood was filled with Chaos, severe neglect and emotional abuse. Any other articles or reading materials you might have on rage? Thanks Pam.

  3. By: Pam Posted: 28th October 2012

    Hi Celene, I’m sorry for not getting back to you sooner. I can relate to everything you’ve written because I’ve been there. What so many people don’t realize is that there are things in life that are so difficult to carry that death seems like a resonable alternative to our current suffering. When we grow up abused by others, we don’t only carry responsibility for our own wrong doing but we wrongly, carry responsibility for the things our abusers did to us. A lot of therapists reinforce that view. I don’t think they do it on purpose. I do think they are trying to help but they don’t know what they are doing and most don’t seem to hear us any more than anyone else. You aren’t a defect and you aren’t responsible for the things done to you. Righteous anger helped me to unload myself of the misappropriated guilt that I carried for decades. My right to defend myself was taken away from me when I was very young. Though I’m not responsible for the things that happened to me, I did take responsibility for my healing and I tapped into the same anger that God feels towards those who abuse a child. I found my right to self-defense, the very purpose of human anger. It helped me not only get rid of the guilt I carried but rid of the people who insisted I keep carrying their guilt. I’m not going to tell you that it was a painless process. It was very painful but not like the pain of new injury. It was the pain of healing from a deadly injury that was destroying my life and injuring my husband and children. The most astounding thing to me was the response of my children when I confronted my family and set a simple boundary that had to be respected if they were to continue in relationship with me. They cheered me on because my allowing my family to treat me as a secondary human being, their scape-goat, my children were enduring the same treatment. I was allowing my own children to be abused by putting up with treatment that no one would ask me to put up with if my abusers weren’t my parents or related to me by blood. The best thing I did for my kids was to allow myself to be angry at my abusers and speak out about what had happened to me as a child and stop the abuse from continuing in the present. Healing myself is bringing healing about in the family I created and none of us are scape-goats for anyone. We are a family of inherently, valubable individuals. We live according to our own purposes and not for the purposes of any other. It is so important to recognize the anger that we as abuse victims are taught to swallow and channel that anger through truth. Truth is the key that helped me to begin to trust myself enough to know that I had the right answers inside myself and that I needed to listen to myself in regard to the truth of my life and not to the interpretations of my life by others. My perception is my reality and it is the reality that I must deal with, no matter how someone else may preceive the facts that created my perception. No one else lived my childhood and no one else holds the truth of what happened to me to the same degree that I do.

    EFB helped me connect to the facts of my childhood abuse, label them, understand better how they affected me psychologically, and lay the blame for those events on the appropriate door-steps and leave them there. I found the validation I needed in what Darlene shares about her life and in the stories of others who contribute and comment here. Now, I validate myself. It’s a powerful place and I hope you will avail yourself of it’s power. Welcome!:0)

    Pam

  4. By: Celine Posted: 27th October 2012

    Darlene you’re wonderful. Thank you so much for being there and listen. I can’t help but to feel bad when I start talking about stuff. I feel like a cry baby. There are so many people in the world in worst situations than mine. I don’t know anymore what the truth is. Are my perceptions so warped that reality is not what it is? When I feel on the edge of the cliff and nothing else matters but my desire to die, what shall i do to prevent my urge to overdose? When i hear my therapist tell me to think about my kids instead of taking the pills then tells me to change my behavior, is she trying to help me? If she is why do i feel angry at her for saying so? Am i missing something? I constantly fear shes going to leave me because after all people always end up leaving me. I’m awkward at receiving love or kindness. Growing up I learned that if someone was nice to me I owed them something back. Or they showed kindness but actually meant something else. I live day after day on high alert as if my life was constantly in danger. They tell me to be strong. What the HELL??? Haven’t I have been strong enough so far?

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 28th October 2012

      Hi Celine
      One of the first things I had to do was stop thinking the rest of the world had more ‘right’ that I did to be hurt over the abuse/neglect etc. that happened to me. You have every right and kinds/amounts/frequency of abuse doesn’t change anything about the damage done to YOU. Tell your therapist your fears (all of them) and perhaps she can help you get to the roots of them. Having the thoughts you are having are really serious and need to be dealt with in person with a professional. I understand “high alert” and it takes time to overcome that. There is a valid reason you feel that way. No one has the right to discount that.
      Hugs, Darlene

  5. By: Celine Posted: 27th October 2012

    Darlene, how in the world do I do that? I don’t know if they’re right and I’m wrong. I don’t know if in fact I’m “comfortable” being a victim. I just DON’T KNOW. I wanna scream. I’ve been trying to communicate my pain since I was a child. I’m 43 and I’m STILL struggling. My communication style takes different forms. Suicide attempts, cutting, binging, withdrawing. Nothing is working and I still feel powerless. He cheated on me, yet the lawyer I saw the other day told me that I’M the one who has to move out because he’s gonna get costudy of our kids. No judge will give me custody after looking at my mental history. I lose everything when i’m not the one who ended the relationship. The lawyer looked at me and had the nerve to tell me that I need to be in the hospital for several weeks instead of a few days. I felt a panic attack brewing. Why do I feel like I’m never HEARD? My words never had any weight. It’s like being stuck in a telephone booth screaming and crying to get out with everybody around ignoring me. Will I always struggle in my life? Will I always lose?

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 27th October 2012

      Celine
      I totally hear you and I felt exactly that way myself. (I like your telephone booth analogy) I had to hear me. I thought the answer was in getting validation from the same people who put me in that box and I had to realize that it was most important for ME to hear me! I hear that you are in a very terrible and crappy situation. I hear the fear in your voice. I encourage you to read more of the article that I have written in this site ~ you might be able to get a glimpse of hope at least. I could not get over being a victim until I KNEW that I had really been one. Everyone told me I was wrong but I wasn’t wrong. I felt like I was never heard because I was never heard! When I began to hear me, something changed.
      I am leaving for the day and won’t be online (if you respond and I don’t answer it is because I am not online)
      Hang in there.
      Hugs, Darlene

  6. By: Celine Posted: 27th October 2012

    Pam, I cried reading your post. Anger is still very difficult for me to channel. I aim it towards myself and as a result had many suicide attempts. The last one was 2 weeks ago. It was bad. I had taken pills at work, then drove home and fell asleep on the couch. My kids came back from school and found me unconscious. I’m hurting so bad I can’t take it anymore. My husband if 20 years cheated on me in July and ended our marriage. We live in VA, he was making trips on weekends to be with her (he met her there during his HS reunion) then would come back home on Sunday. My anger grew so out of proportion it became larger than me. I’ve been in therapy for 3 years. My therapist gives me choices. Either I choose to continue to torture myself with the past or choose to focus on myself and what’s gonna happen next. Which one would be more helpful to you. To me, hearing this makes me feel like once again it’s my fault that I’m not moving forward. She also says that anger is my safe emotion to go to. Reframe your thinking. What does that mean? Forget about what’s been done to me as a child and move on? Stuff my anger somehow once again by thinking positive? What????? You bet I’m angry and you bet I have good reasons for feeling this way. I was pushed to the side by my mother at the age of 2. My father didn’t love us. I was bullied by teachers. Molested by doctors, assaulted by my uncle. My self esteem is non existant. All I need right now is VALIDATION. Why can’t people/therapist get that??? I don’t need to re-write the past now that I’m an adult. I want to understand.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 27th October 2012

      Hi Celine
      You will find plenty of validation here! All of the things you are sharing are horrific and one of the most popular subjcts in this site is overcoming those messages that it is somehow our fault and that we are defective because we are not “over it” ~ what a bunch of bull! It was when I got some help validating the damage and listened to myself that I began to heal! That was the beginning for me!
      Hugs, Darlene

  7. By: Pam Posted: 26th October 2012

    Hi Andrea, You’re welcome!It’s amazing what can happen when we get our feeling sorted out and learn to put our emotional responses to work for us instead, of against us! Thank you for taking the time to encourage me with your comment.:0)

    Pam

  8. By: Andrea Posted: 25th October 2012

    My brain was screaming “YES!” the entire time I read your post. Thank you!

  9. By: Pam Posted: 4th April 2012

    Thank you, Pat. You summed it up perfectly.

    Pam

  10. By: Pat Posted: 3rd April 2012

    I haven’t had a chance to catch up much on the comments, but I love these statements. “I had to relearn my emotional responses, as well as set personal boundaries. All of it had been stolen from me as a child. With God’s help, I rebuilt what was taken from me and I am still learning how to utilize it properly.”
    I always had a sense that something was “stolen” from me but couldn’t ever wrap my brain around it. It felt like pieces of my soul/spirit had been destroyed.
    In effect, to be healed, we must be re-parented God’s way. It’s a long and arduaous process, but if we rely on God to reveal truth to us, it is well worth the journey because anything that God reveals or brings to us has the ultimate result of learning to love ourselves the way that He does.
    Still working on my stuff…
    Thanks, Pam
    Thanks for this blog site.
    Pat

  11. By: Pam Posted: 3rd April 2012

    Aurele, I want to add a little on my personal struggle with anger. I had problems with inappropriate anger response. My parents were drunk a good deal of the time and they also, have emotional problems. My dad had huge temper tantrums that were violent and very dramatic. They seemed to come from nowhere and be unrelated to what was happening to him. I’m afraid that I spent some years behaving in much the same way. People would do things to me and I would have no angry response but inside, I did have an angry response that I buried and denied. It would build and come out explosively, our of porportion to what triggered it. Onece my husband said to me, “I don’t know who did that to you but I didn’t.” It made me see that I was mad at what my dad and other men had done to me that I swallowed. It was a long haul because I had endured so much abuse that I didn’t understand as abuse. I accepted it as my wrong-doing and my family of origin supported that view. I lived in fear of it being discovered. Facing the truth about my past, helped me understand how my anger responses had been twisted and how that crippled me and made me a target for further abuse. I had to relearn my emotional responses, as well as set personal boundaries. All of it had been stolen from me as a child. With God’s help, I rebuilt what was taken from me and I am still learning how to utilize it properly.

    I hope that makes sense. By sharing, I hope others have a shorter process to recovery than I’ve had but all of it takes time. Wanting to get better is the key.

    Pam

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