Hello Anger, My Old Friend (and Sadness too)

Hello Anger, My Old Friend (and Sadness too)

MO-Survivor

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“Hello anger, my old friend​
I've come to talk with you again​
Because a vision softly creeping​
Left its seeds while I was sleeping​
And the vision that was planted in my brain​
Still remains​
Within the sound of silence” – adapted from “The Sound of Silence,” by Disturbed​

(I have hesitated posting this thread because it is so long; but when has that stopped me before?)
(Perhaps I should give this a "Very Long Warning" 😊)​

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Anger and Sadness, my old friends, how are you doing inside me?

Sadness – I know you so well. You and I have lived together my whole life. You have kept me company through the good times and the bad. At large, family, holiday gatherings, you sought me out, keeping me company while I felt all alone in a crowd of people who I should have felt familiar and close to. Sadness, you were there to introduce me to grief – when I lost my grandmas in my 20’s and then my older sister in my 30’s. You helped me to feel… something… all these years when the rest of me was numb as I suppressed my pain and anger and buried it deep inside. I have needed you – more than you know. I’m so glad that my parents let you come to visit me and keep me company. It probably helped that our mothers were such good friends.

But Anger – who are you? Do I even know you? I know you have lived with me my whole life, but I honestly don’t understand you. You were the kid who always wanted to be my friend, but who I was never allowed to get to know or be around. Because my parents said you were bad news. You grew up in a bad home, your older siblings would beat the shit out of you, and your response to those beatings was always the same: destroy, destroy, destroy. My parents said you were destructive, and nothing good could ever come from knowing you. There were times I wanted to ignore them because I knew you could be such a good friend to me. But… they called your parents and said in no uncertain terms that you were never to call me, you could never come to our house, and you could not spend time with me. And yet… you were always there – just down the street from me. I still have your phone number and tried calling you many times. Why didn’t you answer? Was I dialing the wrong number? Because every time I tried calling you in the past, I was call-forwarded to Sadness’s phone. It’s been so weird… and confusing.

Lately, however, I think I might actually be connecting with you when I call? My call hasn’t been forwarding to Sadness like before. But it’s still very hard to hear you. And usually, my voice echoes every time I say something to you. All I hear is myself. Won’t you please talk to me?

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Anger and Sadness – What I Learned Growing Up​

Anger and sadness seem like the two most common and dominant emotions for survivors of CSA. For some people - likely due to specific circumstances, personality, relationships, etc. – anger is their most accessible emotion. For others, sadness seems to be the easiest emotion to access.

Like most things in response to Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA), there is no right or wrong or in how we responded and respond now in terms of our emotions and emotional expression. For me, however, one of the keys to finding freedom* has been uncovering, experiencing, expressing, and talking about my emotions especially as they relate to:
  1. My memories of abuse – in the past
  2. My memories of others’ response (or lack of response) to the abuse – in the past
  3. Others’ response to abuse (or lack of response) – especially within my family (since the abuse occurred there) – in the present
* I define freedom as 1) a decrease in strong emotions hitting me from seemingly nowhere during the course of daily life, and 2) the ability to truly choose how I respond to needs and emotions vs. being driven to think and act using old – mostly unhealthy - coping strategies

Many of us learned from our families and maybe our culture that outwardly expressing anger was not okay. I heard the following messages about anger when I was a boy. And I internalized them over a lifetime:
  • Anger is not allowed– especially for boys
    • My younger sister was allowed to express her anger while I was repeatedly chastised by my mother for my “tone of voice”
  • “Respecting your elders” (“Honor your father and mother”) is of higher importance than questioning adults who are speaking or doing wrong. And expressing anger towards them and questioning them is… a show of disrespect and the opposite of “honoring your father and mother”
    • When I was a teen, my father once followed me back to my bedroom and got in my face because I questioned my grandma – who had a habit of talking bad about my uncles and cousins every time she visited. I had said to her, “Wow grandma… when you talk like that, it makes me wonder what you say about us when we’re not around?” My younger sister shook her head in agreement with me. My father asked me (angrily), “What did you hope to accomplish by doing that?” Of course, I had wanted to get her to stop talking bad about people in my family. And guess what, dad? It worked 😊
    • The implied message was also this: it is okay for elders / adults to be angry and express it, but it is not okay for children – in the spirit of “do as I say, not as I do” (I hate that statement with a passion, and vowed to never use it with my children)
  • Anger can only be destructive
    • There is nothing positive that ever comes with anger. I think this belief came mostly from my mother who was a master at suppressing her emotions
    • With respect to my CSA, I knew that if I expressed my anger about what my father had done and told someone else, it (I) would blow up the family
    • I was told by my father once that he could go to jail if anyone found out what he had done. That would have destroyed his life, and our lives as a family. So yeah… I believed anger was only destructive
  • There is no resolution to anger and there is no point in talking about it
    • When my mom would get upset, she would mostly keep herself together in a very tight, controlled manner. We knew she was very angry, but we could never talk with her because she would just get madder and more emotional. So, we just waited until it blew over and she started acting “normal”
  • People don’t know how to respond to anger – and they usually want to get away from it. In other words, anger is isolating
    • The therapist I had in my mid-20’s was clearly uncomfortable with anger. The very few times I did express it, he didn’t empathize or help me process it. Instead, I always felt he wanted nothing more than to escape from it
    • During the very short therapy I had when I was 17, my therapist was fine with anger, but my parents weren’t. They both ganged up on me one night after a session, questioning what it was that this therapist and had talked about. My mom’s statement that night still bothers me. She said “…you come home angry after every session.” And implied strongly in that statement was, “… and that is not okay!”
    • Even in church, anger is not okay. When you are sad and grieving at a gathering, people will put their arm around you, pray with you, and comfort you. But if you show up angry… someone will likely escort you to the lobby. If you are making a really loud scene, they might even escort you completely out of the building

Where Then, Can Our Anger Go?​

Emotions as strong and energetic as anger and rage have to go somewhere. My therapist noted this week that, “Anger is a high-energy emotion. There is energy that comes from it, and it can make us feel energized” (paraphrased). The question is, though, if we couldn’t externalize our anger and rage about what happened to us, where could / did all that anger go? For many of us as little boys and teens it could only go where it was “safe” and / or “allowed.” Our anger was usually directed:
  1. At our peers / siblings
  2. At ourselves
Due to my personality, my upbringing (where there was little to no externalized rage or violence), my empathy for others (as a survivor), and my choices as a boy and a teenager, #1 was not really an option for me. That left #2. So… all of my anger… even my righteously justified rage at the things that were done to me by my father… became self-directed. And I have carried that anger and rage, locked up inside me, ever since.

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Anger – or the Lack of It – the Last Three Years​

For 3+ years, my therapist has periodically asked me the question: “Where is your anger?” She has searched for it in our sessions together. Sometimes we both get a glimpse of it, but not in what she says would be a normal measure – given my past. She has searched for it in my past as I talked about how I responded to the abuse as a boy and as a teenager. But it hasn’t showed up. There were a few things I said or did in session that showed glimpses of the anger inside me, but my expressions were very tightly controlled – just like I my mom’s.

By and large, my answer to my T’s question of, “Where is your anger?” has been silence. I have had no answer. Or, when I have responded, my responses were usually, “I don’t know,” or, “Maybe I’ve already dealt with it?” or, “Maybe, because of my personality, I’ve channeled it into the overwhelming sadness I do feel?”

Finally, though… the anger and rage that has been locked away since I was a boy has been starting to show itself. I believe the work I did with my father last Summer primed my recent expressions of anger. And the terrifying dream / memory I had over Christmas of the abuse that happened when I was 3 or 4 years old was a game-changing event. I’ve told people, “That memory… was a game-changer for me. I saw, and continue to see, the 3-4 year old boy that I was – as my boy; he’s more like my son than he is a part of me.” And within that context, I can’t help but experience anger and rage about what my father did.

My Twisted Expressions of Anger – When I Had No Way to Express It “Normally”​

My recent expressions of anger have come out in two different ways:
  1. The same twisted ways I expressed it my whole life: directing it all at myself
  2. By (finally) externalizing my anger where it belongs: directing it at my father
#1 is and always has been disturbing and is something I have never understood until recently. Because I was not allowed to express my anger about the abuse outwardly, I unknowingly transferred my anger upon myself and upon made-up men (in fantasies). Sadly, in order to transfer this anger to myself, I had to “become my father” in fantasies I played out in my mind.

Additionally, I projected my needs for rescue and help upon my friends (when I was a boy / teen) and upon other children. My fantasies would always have an element about rescuing kids being abused. And I have learned that in reality these fantasies were actually about wanting to “rescue” myself.

My therapist recently told me the following:
  • “I think it has been easier for you to do the following than it is to direct your anger at your dad:
    • You engage in acting-out behaviors (fantasy, porn, masturbation) – to comfort you but also to give you an outlet for your anger by transferring your anger at your father upon yourself. Hating yourself for doing these things has been one outlet for your anger that is “safe”
    • You have sometimes had fantasies where: a child is abducted and trafficked, you have been asked to get involved, you have infiltrated the traffickers, and you have rescued the child – all so you can direct your anger and rage at someone besides your father. This plays out with great sacrifice on your part - sometimes you end up dying in the fantasy. Here, you are transferring your anger for your father upon some unknown trafficker because it’s also “safe”
    • You have sometimes fantasized about yourself as your father so you can then direct all your anger at the “perpetrator” in a “safe” way. In these fantasies, you take on the identity of your father – so you can express your anger at rage at yourself. You are transferring your anger at your father to yourself in this scenario, again
      • These are all terribly self-destructive ways of expressing your anger that come at great cost to yourself.”
These fantasies almost always include an element of projection as well. Because in the fantasies, the abused child gets rescued and helped. I project and identify myself with these children because it’s of my own needs for rescue and help - even if (as mentioned above) I die or end up in jail.

The feelings and thoughts I have when these fantasies play out in my mind further illustrate the true emotions going on inside of me:
  • I will do the right thing… regardless the cost to myself!” (because no one ever did the right thing for me)
  • I will help someone else… because no one ever helped me
    • When I let myself sit with these thoughts and feelings long enough, the veil of transference and projection are removed. In these moments, I get completely lost in my true anger, pain, grief and tears: “Why? Why didn’t anyone ever help me? Why????”

Finally… Expressing Anger Where it Belongs​

After processing through this complicated and confusing dynamic of self-directed anger with my therapist, I have finally been learning to direct my anger where it belongs. Sometimes I hear statements inside my head: “You are horrible,” or “You belong in jail.” Lately, I’ve been making myself rephrase those statements, because I realize I'm transferring thoughts and feelings upon myself again. What I really mean is:
  • Your father was horrible. What he did was horrible.”
  • Your father belongs in jail.”
I think I surprised my wife and my therapist recently in a text I sent my father. And honestly, I was surprised they were surprised. Because I have thoughts like what I texted him all the time. I have learned to at least give expression to my anger internally – in my head. But I have still been very hesitant say or write these things to my father. Until recently.

The following is a text message I sent to him in response to a question he asked me. My T said this is the most concise, pointed thing she’s seen me say to him. And my wife said she loved this text when I read it to her after sending it. She’s been wanting me to express my anger more directly for a long time. Because she has been angry about all of this for a long time too:

My father texted this: “I am sort of stuck in my search for material which will help me understand my role in your healing process…. Can you point me to a better resource?” Reluctantly, I sent him links to the Gartner books that are listed in our MS Bookstore, and also shared a couple things with him from my OneDrive account (symptoms of CSA and the consequences of premature sexuality).​
Later in the day, however, I realized I had mis-read his question the first time I read it. I have been very emotionally dysregulated lately. I thought he had asked this: “I am stuck in my search for material which will help me understand the consequences of CSA for you and other survivors…. Can you point me to a better resource?” I think this is what I wanted his question to be. The young boy and teen in me have a big need for him to understand the damage he has done.​
So, once I re-read what he sent, my anger at myself (for the misinterpretation) and at him came out in my response:​
“… I re-read your question. I’m not sure I know of sources that reference the role the father / abuse perpetrator can play while trying to repair things. The books I mentioned may have some of that – but I’m not sure.​
I think this is why my therapist figured it would take someone helping you to figure out your role and actions as a part of healing.​
I can tell you that your role isn’t to be an advice-giving, hand around my shoulder, father. That communicates to me a complete absence of acknowledgement that you were the one who did it – if that makes sense?​
Example: I was literally, quietly seething when we last talked and I shared my feelings about why I was hurt – and you started giving me advice (??). It’s why I then asked if you felt you had any role in the hurt.​
I’ve been rolling around in the muck and dirt for a long time. You can’t have a role without jumping into the muck. It doesn’t always have to be muck and dirt… but it probably starts there.”​

I am still working on all of this, and I need to see where it all goes. What I do know is this: when I am able to feel, think, and direct my anger where it belongs – all of the crazy thoughts and fantasies and behaviors that I hate so much go away. I have no desire for them. Which makes sense, doesn’t it?

Because instead of my anger being a big, tangled up ball of yarn with one end connected to my heart and the other end hidden (but also connected to my heart), my anger is more like a long, straight, untangled piece of yarn with one end connected to my heart, and the other end connected to my father. I’ve lived far too long with this big, tangled yarn-ball inside of me. It’s time to get out the scissors 😊
 
I can't find any anger at my abusers. I only feel pity for them since they were failures who led such pathetic lives.
 
@MO-Survivor Thanks once again for your carefully thought-out and courageously shared insights into healing. I hope that we can all agree that Freedom is what we are working towards, not merely the freedom from what we did to ourselves to cope with what was done to us, but also the freedom to be the men we want to be with all that entails.

I just want share a little about the role anger played in my life, which is a bit different from your story, although there is much in common as well. It is something I still struggle with, but like you it is now coming out in a healthier and more connected way.

For me anger was prohibited as well when I was young, but for different reasons:

1. My family was violent and my father and older brothers were often out of control or coldly cruel. I don't know which was worse. I HATED that. I swore that I would never be like them. I saw giving into my anger as repeating what they did. I HATED the part of me that seemed to be like them.

2. I was living "behind enemy lines" so I could not afford to lose control or show them that they could affect me in any way. Anger was the second most dangerous emotion I had because it was focused on them. It demanded a kind of connection. I refused any connection. The most dangerous emotion was, of course, love for the same reason, but love was so sweet and tempting while anger was not.

3. I believed or feared that I was actually just like my father and brothers, that inside I had a monster waiting to be released. I panicked at any sign that I was not 100% in control of my "monster". In this context, anger was a sin, a terrible weakness foreshadowing disaster. I could only express it without moral panic if I directed it towards myself.

Although I can clearly write about this now and accept that I was just a boy and am now just an imperfect and struggling man just like everyone else, I am still afraid of anger. I am better now, but it still threatens any sense of self-worth when it surprises me.

I wanted to add those just in case they resonate with others. This is a very important topic.
 
I can't find any anger at my abusers. I only feel pity for them since they were failures who led such pathetic lives.
It’s in there, more likely than not. And will make its way out when it’s time.

@MO-Survivor Thanks once again for your carefully thought-out and courageously shared insights into healing. I hope that we can all agree that Freedom is what we are working towards, not merely the freedom from what we did to ourselves to cope with what was done to us, but also the freedom to be the men we want to be with all that entails
I love this statement about freedom. And you nailed it - this is what we are all working for!

1. My family was violent and my father and older brothers were often out of control or coldly cruel. I don't know which was worse. I HATED that. I swore that I would never be like them. I saw giving into my anger as repeating what they did. I HATED the part of me that seemed to be like them
I said this too, and know other men who had this same conviction as boys. There was a lot of anger directed at this goal, which made it even more distressing to be reenacting my abuse in a seemingly compulsive way.

I just want share a little about the role anger played in my life, which is a bit different from your story, although there is much in common as well. It is something I still struggle with, but like you it is now coming out in a healthier and more connected way
We truly have followed a “same but different” healing path, @Induna. Thank you for always responding and for finding both the commonalities and also things that were different and make me think.


2. I was living "behind enemy lines" so I could not afford to lose control or show them that they could affect me in any way. Anger was the second most dangerous emotion I had because it was focused on them. It demanded a kind of connection. I refused any connection. The most dangerous emotion was, of course, love for the same reason, but love was so sweet and tempting while anger was not
I relate a lot to this. I expanded my refusal of connecting to almost all emotions, and definitely when my father would try to connect in non-sexual intimate moments. I was not giving my soul (thoughts, emotions, heart) to him ever as a boy - which was one very passive aggressive way I did have to externalize some of my anger.

3. I believed or feared that I was actually just like my father and brothers, that inside I had a monster waiting to be released.
Again - this is so very relatable to me. Same, but different. For me this was focused more on the sexual aspects of being like him than any controlling, violent or physically abusive behavior.

My father once spoke what felt like a curse over me. Here is what I wrote in my memoir:
“The last distinct memory I have - was probably the worst of them all. Worse than the camping trip and him sucking me twice and trying to get me to touch him back. I don't recall all the circumstances, but I remember we were in our living room. It must have been just him and I that night, or maybe mom was gone, and my sister was downstairs closed in her room. No - it had to just be us because I can't imagine he would have been as bold and aggressive as he was if anyone else had been in the house. We had started wrestling in the living room, which wasn't an altogether dangerous activity as far as I was concerned. I knew by then to look and see if he was aroused or not, and on this night he was. And sexually, what he did after the wrestling stopped wasn't altogether different than other times. What made it different was my desperation.​
I can remember being there with his hands down my pants, and me pleading with him, ‘Dad... why are you doing this?!’ I was heartbroken... we couldn't even wrestle without things turning sexual. He answered me that night in a cold way. And this wasn't the only time he said something or did something that really didn't sound like the man I knew as my dad. Because I remember feeling the same way the night I slept in his bed while mom was gone. He answered in response to my plea: ‘You'll understand someday.’ OMG - I was pissed at him saying that. I had already told myself as a boy, repeatedly, ‘I will never be like my dad.’ That was where all my anger about the abuse was directed - in a determination to NEVER be like him. He essentially spoke a curse over me. And that night, my resolve was solidified. I hated what he was doing to me.”​

Although I can clearly write about this now and accept that I was just a boy and am now just an imperfect and struggling man just like everyone else, I am still afraid of anger.
Me too. My T and I have spent the last couple weeks talking about this fear. Again, my fear wasn’t because of the same things yours was / is. But the result is the same.

I wanted to add those just in case they resonate with others. This is a very important topic.
Thank you for sharing. I’m sure this will resonate with others.

And yes… this is a hugely important topic. It doesn’t seem like it. But any mis-directed, un-acknowledged, un-expressed emotions are the engine driving the most hated inward thoughts and outward behaviors in ourselves.

My T made this statement today: “We grow up thinking it’s the expression of strong emotions - like anger - that are destructive. When, in fact, it is our emotions that get suppressed and buried that cause way more destruction.”
 
Thank you, MO and others. This is a great discussion about one of the most serious consequences of being abused as a child: the tremendous rage it can provoke in us, which can then be redirected inwardly. I’ve lived with self-hate for many years. For most of my life, I woke up every morning filled with self-hate . But after years of therapy and effort, that has faded a bit. More recently, I’ve begun to express anger externally more often. Unfortunately, I don’t always express it fairly or appropriately - I just blow up and make a scene. On the plus side, this has helped me to develop my skill in making sincere apologies : ) I make many mistakes; it takes me a long time to learn new things in order to progress.
 
The past few days, the rubber band of my emotions has done some serious retracting. I’ve gotten up each morning and thought, “Well, I guess I’m done. There is nothing else left to do or explore. There is nothing to bring me joy or happiness. Not even my kids.”

Talking this out with my wife, it became obvious that I was in full suppression mode with my emotions. I have been giving room and space for anger, and quite frankly - it’s all new to me. All of the same false beliefs that are in me were causing fear and a belief that if I go much farther with it, it will blow up and destroy everything.

Since my therapist has drilled it into my head that we don’t get to pick the emotions we feel - it’s pretty much an all or nothing gambit. We open the door to them all, or we close them all off. So, as I’ve done for years and years, I shut the door to joy and happiness for fear if I let myself feel them I would swing that door wide open to full expressions of my anger and rage.

Having my therapy session today was great timing, as a result. Talking through it all with her I told her I feel like a confused little boy with this emotion I’m so unfamiliar with (in an externalized expression). We were able to address many of the false beliefs I’ve had - since I was a concrete, black and white, all or nothing thinking boy.

I have been dealing with a stomach bug today, but did make my T session and some of work. I gave up about 2:00 and came home to nap. I made my dog stay in the room and nap too - so he wasn’t barking and keeping me from sleep. And I had the strangest thing happen (strange for me)…. I felt myself being comforted by the fact I wasn’t alone, because my dog was there. When I opened the door of my heart to emotion today, I opened the possibility some of the “good” ones might show up too 😀
 
Thank you, MO and others. This is a great discussion about one of the most serious consequences of being abused as a child: the tremendous rage it can provoke in us, which can then be redirected inwardly. I’ve lived with self-hate for many years. For most of my life, I woke up every morning filled with self-hate . But after years of therapy and effort, that has faded a bit. More recently, I’ve begun to express anger externally more often. Unfortunately, I don’t always express it fairly or appropriately - I just blow up and make a scene. On the plus side, this has helped me to develop my skill in making sincere apologies : ) I make many mistakes; it takes me a long time to learn new things in order to progress.
Sounds like progress, Steve! It is so very hard to change the internal coping mechanisms, isn’t it? While I attempt to change, I feel so much of me fighting things - wanting to stay with the “normal” that has been for years.

But hey… we learned all these things once - even if what we learned wasn’t the best way to deal with things. Therefore, it is possible to learn new ways… but it’s really hard to replace what is so firmly entrenched. One key element that also came up today: we didn’t learn how to deal with emotions as children in isolation. There were many people involved. So, we cannot re-learn or learn new ways in isolation either. It takes others to suppor and interact and forgive us along he way.
 
@MO-Survivor No, we really don't get to choose the emotions we have. We can TRY to only let specific ones out, but that doesn't work and often causes us to damage ourselves. I know that many of us wish it weren't that way but it is.

It is difficult to change the way we relate to what we feel. For so many decades I tried to run myself like a machine and I would castigate myself without mercy when I let anything slip out.

Now, honestly, I don't really know how to control my emotions. I no longer have the will or the masochism to punish myself for feeling. It is odd and surprising. I live alone and have a lot of privacy so I have lots of time to process and I can retreat if I freak out, but the truth is none of it is as bad as I told myself it would be as a boy/young man. I'm not a monster. It just isn't in me. I don't have to be like anyone else. Anger is hard though. I always want to hide that, but then some things piss me off for good reason 🤣 . One really important thing that helps ground me is that now I really pay attention to other people, and not just as potential enemies. I see them and listen to them. They are important to me. I think it's very important that when we start down the rabbit-hole of self-doubt we lift our heads and open our eyes to what is around us.

I guess I just want to say to myself and everyone else that it's ok to be confused and not know. It's unavoidable. Emotions are like that. Life is just like that.
 
In the past as a young adult I would get very angry at the abuse I was forced to live through. But as I got older and especially as I started sharing more and more of the abuse here, on my blog, and in person I did not feel anger, but sadness it happened. When triggered or having the nightmares I felt the pain, fear, humiliations, all the range of emotions including anger that a helpless child feels being used that way as I relived the abuse. But when just talking about or remembering without the triggers, I just feel sad that those people were like that and that I had to live it then and for the rest of my life along with all the ways it affected me. They were damaged dysfunctional bitter hateful people, and I refused to be like them ever. Scottie
 
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