I am about 6-7 years of age. My dad and mum are fighting and in a rage. My Dad is swearing at my mum and throwing her out of the house. She is crying while packing a bag with her clothes. My aunt is watching. I don’t see my brother and sister… I don’t know where they are. I look around me. No one is worried about me. I am feeling really scared. I have seen my mother’s anger outbursts before and I am afraid of what she may do if she gets into that mode.
I start feeling her pain. I start feeling as helpless as I see she is. I want to take away her tears but I am only a child. I don’t know what to do.
I start crying but no one comes to my rescue. There is no one who can love me right now and who can hug me and make me feel OK again. The adults around me are too absorbed in their own pain and suffering. They don’t have time to focus on what’s going on for me…
In this moment of extreme fear, anger and anxiety, I make a huge decision: I will take responsibility for my parents because obviously, they can’t handle their own emotions. I will not bother them with my emotions and my troubles because they already have a lot going on…
They can’t protect me.
I didn’t tell my family about the childhood sexual abuse until I was about 35 years old. I had only one ambition throughout my childhood – keep my parents from getting angry and emotionally overwhelmed.
I suppressed my emotions. I suppressed everything that could make me weak and emotional. I had to be strong for my parents and I had to make sure that they were happy.
I was the youngest child so it was much easier for me to act in a silly way and do silly things that would make other people laugh.
And this became my life motto
Rescue my parents
Rescue adults who cannot regulate their emotions
Rescue adults by being the example for zest, enthusiasm, passion, adventure and liveliness…
Some of my friends didn’t even believe that I could cry. I was the one everyone came to. I carried all of their pain in my heart. I carried mine too but it was locked away in a box for many many years…
I literally became two people – there was this inner child who never got to be a child and there was this adult, who was adventurous, full of energy and life and others wanted to be like her…
These two people within me became so separate from each other that I couldn’t reconcile the two. For me, it became the choice between an emotional wreck and a headstrong woman of control. I started fearing my own emotions more and more and became increasingly stuck in my “headstrong aggressive” version of self.
When I found love in my life, I started to let go a little but the men who had connected with me because I was this strong woman, couldn’t really accept my ‘diagonally opposite emotional’ side – that’s not what they signed up for… I became even more estranged. Shutting down my emotions was the only way to survive.
In some ways, I was doing exactly what my parents did – suck it up and keep going!
And just like them, it didn’t work for me as well. Just like they used to have these anger outbursts, I had my own version of these anger outbursts… I lost my rationality and yelled whatever I could to tell them how they had made me this way.
I told my dad that I hated him. I told my brother that he didn’t exist for me. And I told my mum that she ruined my life.
It wasn’t pretty.
Why do Anger Outbursts occur?
I really thought that I was doing my parents a big service by keeping my emotions locked away. I thought that I was a very giving person by putting their needs ahead of mine. I thought that I was protecting them by not asking them when I needed their help.
In hindsight, my parents were doing the same thing. They were putting our needs ahead of theirs (when they were not caught up in their outbursts).
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), emotions just don’t stay locked in – that’s not what they are designed for. They are designed to be felt; to be immersed into and to be let go.
When they say “suck it up” or “just get over it” – they are very very wrong.
I didn’t let go. I didn’t experience my emotions. and they didn’t go away. These unexpressed emotions started to accumulate inside of me and started to transform. What was initially a sadness perhaps, started to turn into something a lot more explosive. For me, it was anger; for some others, it is anxiety or extreme fear. The point is that suppression makes our emotions a lot harder, a lot stronger and a lot more intense to deal with. It is actually in our interest to express them in the moment.
My anger outbursts showed me that there was something that I hadn’t handled and hadn’t allowed myself to feel. And the only way I could handle it is to feel – to really experience the emotion.
Anger only emerges when a primary emotion is being suppressed. For me, it was the pain of helplessness that I didn’t want to feel and instead, I became angry. the helplessness was the primary emotion and by suppressing this primary emotion, I created space for anger (which I suppressed too).
Other times, I was really scared and afraid when I saw other people being angry or overwhelmed with their own emotions. Instead of acknowledging my own fear and allowing it to be there, I suppressed it, giving rise to the secondary emotion that is anger…
No matter what it is – when we can’t cope with our feelings, we resist them and we become angry.
We say things like: “Why did it occur?” “Why didn’t anyone protect me?” “Why was I abused?”
Dealing with Anger Outbursts
Do you find it strange that we are “okay” in feeling “positive” emotions but we avoid anything that makes us feel sad or any of the so-called “negative” emotions?
It’s no wonder that we try to avoid/suppress these emotions when they surface.
But how does one let go and allow themselves to feel all these scary things?
The answer is “bit by bit” and by knowing that just like we experience and live through extreme positive emotions, negative emotions are just the same… We can experience them and live through.
During the course of writing this blog, I have cried several times. My stomach hurts. My body has been extremely uncomfortable. I am nauseous. I feel like I am out of breath (though rationally I know that this is not true) and my heart aches and it feels like that it is covering my whole chest…
What am I doing about it? Just allowing myself to feel and keep breathing through it.
And I am reminding myself of this (I have pasted it on my wall, in front of my bedroom so that I never forget about it):
I OPEN MY HEART AND ALLOW THIS EXPERIENCE TO FLOW THROUGH ME.
I LET GO AND SURRENDER
In my next blogs, we will further delve into anger and together, we will find our way through it (not by suppressing and avoiding but by going through it)
If you are starting out on your healing journey, you may find this blog First Steps towards the Healing Journey helpful.
Till then, be safe