|Depression and anger are flip sides of the same coin. They are the behaviors most used by survivors to cope with their damaged lives. Where you see depression, you can assume anger lies buried beneath the despair, though it may not be obvious. Anger is always a companion to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
Some survivors experience more depression and others more anger. I seesawed from one to the other. As a young woman, I felt my choices limited to anger, depression, or insanity. I mostly chose depression, because I was determined not to lose control and risk being taken alive. I had been locked up too many times, in too many places, and I was deathly afraid of ever being locked up again.
When one is depressed, all seems hopeless and nothing seems worth doing. One sees oneself as valueless, doomed to failure. "Why continue living?" one asks.
Depression is a way of "numbing out." It shuts down all systems to the minimum levels for maintenance and tunes out as much "noise" or stimulus from the world as possible. Any further shutdown would result in catatonia.
During my teenage years and young adulthood, depression became my lifestyle, or, more accurately, my style of nonliving: it kept me from normal activity and creativity.
In my interactions with others, however, it was my anger that people most often felt and that caused many problems. My anger was always so close to the surface that it scared people away. Any misunderstanding or disagreement turned into an opportunity for me to explode, like a smoking gun or a boiling volcano. In retrospect, it is clear to me that, in my twenties and thirties, I lost a lot of opportunities and damaged many relationships with my out-of-control depression and anger.
Since then, I've had to learn many, many painful lessons. One of the most enlightening was that anger could be positive if I used it expeditiously to propel myself out of the immobilization caused by my depression. I also learned that when I actually could feel grief, sadness, loss, and fear, then my anger would subside naturally. I learned that beneath my depression lay my anger and rage, and beneath my anger lay profound grief.
Both were tied up in my feelings of shame and fear. I was ashamed because I seemed not to belong anywhere, because I'd been abandoned, because I'd failed to receive nurturing and kindness, and because I was afraid that if my anger (rage) ever really took over, I would kill myself or someone else; for I was well aware of anger's negative aspects. Anger could easily exceed control to become rage, and rage could become violence. Anger could be used as a justification for aggression and suppression. Anger could be used to control others and to keep them at arm's length.
In my early thirties, a friend recommended a doctor (gynecologist) to me. He furnished me with prescriptions for diet pills, which were actually small doses of amphetamine-"uppers." I thought at last I had found a way out of the depression.
I lost weight and was not depressed for the first time in fifteen years. Even though I knew those pills had to be addicting, I took them for nearly three years. I had a hell of a time giving up the habit. There were no Betty Ford clinics then, no Care Units. Sometime later, I discovered that the doctor had been an addict himself and that my "friend" had become a cocaine dealer.
Many survivors turn to drugs, prescription or street varieties, for relief from depression and anger-"uppers" for depression and "downers" for anger. But feelings, thoughts, and experiences all work their way through the physical body. If they are not dealt with upon first appearance, they will find other avenues of expression. Depression and anger can show up in the body as high blood pressure, digestive disorders, back pain, respiratory illnesses, stroke, heart attack, cancer, headaches, insomnia, rashes, etc.
In my mid-forties, I finally began to be able to handle my anger. I had to cry almost constantly for a year before the seething volcano within me began to subside. The injustice, the pain, the loss of childhood and of the opportunity to have my own family, the mistakes in judgment I'd made over the years, the shame, the fear-I had to feel it all.
Feeling those feelings hurt. I honestly couldn't remember one single decade of my entire life that had not been really awful. My childhood and teens had been filled with every imaginable abuse; my twenties and thirties had been riddled with health problems, addictions, and the constant battle to overcome the effects of my past, all while trying to earn a living; and in my early forties I just barely survived a stroke, only to struggle for four or five years to recover the use of my body and mind so I could establish some kind of normal life and begin to earn a living again. But I realized that my life as a survivor of family violence wasn't a whole lot different from the lives of millions and millions of others, both male and female. In earlier days, that realization would have made me angry and depressed!
As children, most of us learn that if someone gets angry, someone also gets hurt. It is an equation that quickly teaches us to run away from anger. But John Lee provides a new equation: Anger, when felt and expressed appropriately, equals energy, intimacy, and serenity. Here, in Facing the Fire, John Lee shows you how to face your anger to examine what you're feeling, to figure out what type of anger has you in its grip, and to choose the best technique for expressing that anger. It is an invaluable process that can help improve your health and emotional well-being and enhance the lives of those you love.
WHAT MAKES YOU ANGRY?
Your anger is your response to the world not going as you wish. You feel anger when you hit your thumb with a hammer. Your car breaks down a week after the warranty expired. Your parents don't come through with a loan. Your son leaves shaving cream on the mirror. Your unmarried daughter gets pregnant. Someone cuts you off on the highway. The referee makes a bad call. The price of gasoline jumps ten cents. A colleague in your office gets mugged. An air-traffic controller's mistake causes a crash. Kids keep starting to smoke. No compromise is found in Northern Ireland or the Middle East. War breaks out. Children suffer. People starve. People starve other people.
The world makes you furious, it's so wrong. Unjust. Stupid. Unfair. The world is full of things to be angry at, always has been, always will be. (And one day we, and everyone we care about, will die. That strikes me as exasperating, to put it mildly.) We get angry to protest the unfairness of life and the shabby way we're treated.
Occasionally-very rarely anger produces results. As infants, we awakened at night and howled, and our fury may have brought a parent (if we had good parents) from the dark to pick us up, hold us, warm us, dry us, give us food. If no parent came, we continued to cry, but in twenty minute eternity to an infant your tears would turn from rage and anger to hurt and grief at the way the world was And then to helplessness and hopelessness. We had been exposed to the lesson life endlessly teaches: protest may do no good; the only recourse may be mourning.
Anger is caused by frustration over the fact that the world is not made to satisfy our desires. Anger is thus inescapable, with us in the cradle and with us as we face our death. If we are human, we get angry. Even Jesus and Gandhi got angry.
ISN'T ANGER UNHEALTHY?
No. And yes
Anger expressed-pushed out from the body-is as healthy as any other emotion. Anger repressed, anger suppressed, anger inhibited, anger kept in the body is toxic. Doctors are just beginning to understand how dangerous internalized anger is. Medical researchers have found that people who suppress their anger, people given to suspiciousness, fuming, and recurrent hostile rages, are putting their lives at risk as much as people who smoke and people who are grossly overweight.
Dr. Mara Julius, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, ran personality tests on a large group of women in 1971. Nineteen years later she re-interviewed those women who were still alive. She found that the women who in 1971 had showed signs of "chronic anger" and "long-term suppressed anger" were three times as likely to have died as other women their age.
The crucial difference among the women in Dr. Julius's experiment was not that some of them felt anger and the others didn't. All of them felt anger, but some expressed the anger, and others suppressed it. Many of the suppressers paid with their lives.
A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology (August, 1992) found that when people with heart disease reconstruct incidents that still make them angry, the pumping efficiency of their heart drops by five percentage points. This is a temporary, but significant, impairment and demonstrates a direct link to anger and heart function. Earlier studies have shown that people who are by nature more hostile and irritable are as much as five times more likely to die at an early age from heart disease. Dr. Gail Ironson, a psychiatrist at the University of Miami and lead researcher on the study, says that the healthiest way to handle anger is to "express it with assertiveness, telling those involved that you're upset and why, but not in an angry way."
Other medical studies, cited by psychologist James Pennebaker in his Opening Up: The Healing Power of Confiding in Others (1990), link repressed anger to elevated cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, hypertension, heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems, immune system disorders including white-blood-cell count abnormalities, breast cancer, asthma, diabetes, anorexia nervosa, and greater susceptibility to pain, as well as to everyday complaints like headaches, stomachaches, and backaches.
Suppressing our anger
Repressing it, internalizing it, turning it back on ourselves, swallowing it, storing it within us, inhibiting it, burying it, ''eating it,'' "stuffing it," can have catastrophic results for our health.
Furthermore, the very act of holding anger in itself takes energy-which is unhealthy because it leaves us less energy for everything positive in our lives. So when we hold in anger, we're tired most of the time. We fall prey to infection. We have problems performing sexually.
Finally, to numb the anger that is chained inside us, we are likely to be driven to addiction: to alcohol, drugs, food, work, TV, sex, sleep, or compulsive behavior.
Suppressed anger is harmful. Over two, ten, thirty years, it can kill.
Anger expressed appropriately, on the other hand, can actually keep us healthy. If you follow my suggestions for getting anger out of your body, I believe you will find your physical health improves. You'll sleep better. You'll have fewer stomach problems and migraines, reduced chance of heart disease, a stronger immune system and thus less likelihood of cancer and infection, more energy, and more intense sexual release because you're more in touch with your body.
Healthier yourself, you'll also have healthier relations with other people. You'll stand up for your rights and appropriate boundaries, and you'll defend yourself against other people's efforts to control you. At the same time, you won't be expecting them to fix the defects in your life. You'll give up trying to control them with rages or manipulation.
The bottom line' for me is that feeling anger and expressing it properly makes a person happier. I've seen this occur in my life and with hundreds of other people. When you begin getting the anger out of your body, your darkness and brooding start to lift. Your brow un-furrows. Your voice loses its edge of pleading and harshness. Your medical problems diminish. Your body gets looser, more supple. You laugh more often and more deeply. Your body, your personality, your whole being is lighter. Your spirit is freer.
You become, quite simply, more authentic, more actualized, more yourself. And more content being yourself.
Sounds good, eh? It is.
But it takes us a while and some work to get there.
A TEN POINT SUMMARY OF THIS BOOK'S THEMES
1. Anger is a normal feeling.
2. Anger is an energy in your body that needs to come out.
3. You will feel better-' 'Ahhh!"-when you've expressed your anger (literally, pushed it out)from your body. You do this by safely losing control.
4. Running away from your anger-burying, suppressing, drugging it-is unhealthy.
5. Directing your anger at yourself is also unhealthy.
6. Your anger is yours, and you need to find appropriate, safe, and healthy ways to get it out.
7. Some appropriate ways to express your anger by yourself and with other people are suggested in this book.
8. Other people will not always welcome your expression of your anger or other feelings, but you will often need to tell them your feelings anyhow.
9. You may be able to help people you care about, especially your children, deal with their anger
10. If you express your anger appropriately, it will increase your energy, your intimacy with those you care about, and your serenity.
|"What we live with we learn,
and what we learn
we practice, and what we
practice, we become...
and what we become
AND almost always, I have
found, who we become
has little to do with who
we were meant to be.
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|DISCLAMER: Before you start to look at the material that I have assembled for you I want to make clear that I claim very little original authorship here. Even where I don't give credit I probably should because there are very few original words of wisdom left in recovery. I want to especially thank Terry Kellogg, whom I do believe has a lot of original stuff, John Bradshaw whom I believe has the ability to synthesize others material better that anyone I know, and I guess if we wanted to be completely accurate we should not quote the serenity prayer out of content nor without giving credit to the author. I also want to give permission to anyone to use anything on this site for the benefit of recovery as long as they do not make any more money off of it. This offer only extends to what I have the right to give.|
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