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
The 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 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.
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