Coping With Anger As an Adult Survivor of Childhood Abuse
Childhood abuse of any kind creates trauma that can include side effects, many of which don’t magically go away, even when you grow up. However, while trauma is responsible for multiple side effects, anger is often seen in adult survivors of childhood abuse.
Anger is often a common part of a survivor’s response to trauma. It is a core human survival response that helps us cope with life’s stresses. Anger is related to a natural survival instinct when faced with an actual or perceived extreme threat. It redirects a person’s focus on the danger to help them survive by energizing them.
Anger is also a typical response to unfair events and situations in which people have been victimized. It can be a symptom of betrayal trauma, which occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate their trust or well-being, such as child abuse.
The connection between anger and trauma is significant. It’s not unusual for victims of trauma to experience severe violations of personal boundaries. Consequently, persistent anger and anger management problems are common characteristics of individuals who have experienced traumatic events.
The Manifestation of Anger
The limited amount of research on anger and adult survivors of childhood abuse points out that since abuse is shrouded in shame and secrecy, it may not manifest until later in life. An abused child may have felt powerless or feared expressing anger would result in further abuse, causing them to endure quietly.
One study examined five types of anger that emerged from the research.
- Self-castigating anger in which the victim constantly deprecates their qualities or behaviors or beats themselves up.
- Displaced anger or anger directed at inappropriate targets, such as lashing out at your children, friends, or partner for no apparent reason.
- The anger of indignation stems from people’s realization that they have worth and do not deserve to be abused.
- Self-protective anger often comes about later in life when the victim gains agency and stands up for themselves.
- Righteous anger on behalf of self or others is evoked by the realization of injustice.
The good news is that you don’t have to live the rest of your life being angry. If you recognize any of those types of anger or any anger—such as uncontrollable outbursts of anger, suppressed anger, or numbing your anger—due to childhood abuse, there are steps you can take to deal with it.
- Get Therapy
First and foremost: if you are a survivor of trauma, the most effective way you can work through it is through therapy. Specially trained trauma-informed therapists can provide support to walk you through the anger and other emotions brought about by your trauma.
- Join a Support Group
Trauma can be incredibly isolating. However, participating in a support group, such as Louder than Silence: Ending Child Abuse and Neglect Survivor Community, launched by EndCAN through Inspire, can make a tremendous difference. It’s a safe place with authentic, compassionate, non-judgemental people who have “been there” who offer reassurance, companionship, and practical support.
- Engage in Physical Activity
Often anger can feel like restlessness or pent-up energy. When it threatens to overwhelm you, channel that energy into physical activity to increase your endorphin levels and help you release your anger. It can be an organized fitness class or a simple walk.
- Identify Your Go-To Anger Response
Do you stuff your anger down, only to turn it inward on yourself? Are you someone who lashes out at others and feels angry all the time? Or do you numb out and find it difficult to experience or express anger at all? Addressing your anger responses can empower you to learn new and better ways to deal with your anger.
- Speak Out to Help Others
Channel your anger and frustration over past trauma into service for those who are experiencing similar situations. Share your story on our website or join us on our podcast if you are drawn to speaking out against child abuse and neglect. Survivors are key to driving positive change for future generations. You can also volunteer for EndCAN and join us in our work to end child abuse and neglect.
- Write an Affirmation About How You Will Deal with Your Anger
Many people constantly tell themselves negative things about themselves or the world around them, which can perpetuate feelings of anger. Once you identify the sources of your anger and your influences on how you experience or express anger, identify faulty thinking patterns that make it difficult to feel in control or safe. Finally, write a statement reminding yourself of what is true about your anger that will ground and support you during intense experiences of anger.
Life can be much better when you can deal with your anger. Although it’s difficult, negative experiences can spur positive change, including recognizing personal strength, exploring new possibilities, improved relationships, a greater appreciation for life, and spiritual growth. But it can’t be forced or rushed. When you’re ready, take the steps needed to handle your anger.
We’re always here for you. Find information and resources to help you or someone you love and take care of yourself. You are worthy!