Anger, possibly even rage is pretty much inevitable on this journey. I devote many pages of Beyond Betrayal to examples of survey respondents’ (and my own) anger, and our reactions to it (usually guilt). And while our anger is very frequently pathologized—by therapists, "him," the church, family—is it possible for it to be a healthy part of this journey? I've come to think it is.
This light-bulb moment came for me when reading Shattered Soul: Five Pathways to Healing the Spirit after Abuse and Trauma by Patrick Fleming. Fleming encourages us to see what has been done to us as akin to the desecrating of the temple in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. By joining himself with prostitutes (either physically or mentally/emotionally), our husband has desecrated the sacredness of our temple.
Remember Jesus’ response (Gospel of Mark) to seeing his Father’s house desecrated? Can we wrap our heads around the fact that He is angry at seeing our temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) desecrated as well? The covenant made with us broken and treated as worthless?
If God is angry about it, then we can join with His anger. When we do, this is just anger. And as Fleming writes:
“Anger has a voice which needs to be spoken and heard. If it is just anger – and eventually, anger tempered with mercy and love – anger’s voice can be the voice of God crying out against injustice and the profaning of the temple. If you join with God’s anger at the abuse, if you allow your anger to come forth, you begin to reclaim the sacredness of your personal temple: body mind, and soul. When you tap into your anger about the abuse and focus it on the abuser, you align your anger with God’s and with God’s anger you shout to the heavens:
‘I am God’s precious child and a magnificent person of value. I am not bad, wrong, dirty or defective. Rather what you… did to me was wrong and sick… You took advantage of my vulnerability, my innocence and my trust... you made me feel worthless, desecrated, of no value.’”
When we tap into this kind of anger it can heal and strengthen us. As one 2014/2015 survey respondent wrote: "I have used the anger... to move me to action... I have hope for my future."
But how do we know for sure that our anger is just? One clue is to look at where it’s directed.
Appropriately directed anger is originally focused on the one who abused their relationship with us. As we heal, it will be directed at his behavior.
Common, but inappropriate, directions our anger may take include the children, other family members, those speaking up about the behaviors, ourselves, etc.. There may be some small space for anger at the “prostitute(s)” (especially in those cases where she was in relationship with us), but generally speaking, our anger would be better focused on the system (e.g., porn industry, sex trafficking industry) that created them. God’s just anger, I have no doubt, smolders against these systems continually.
Another clue that we have joined God in just anger is that its fruits in our lives are helpful: not destructive. Does our anger move us toward ongoing vengeful thoughts? If so, Fleming points out we are creating a poisonous tie between the one who hurt us and ourselves.
He adds, “Anger often comes with the desire for revenge or that your offender would suffer some evil or pain. However, … [in time it should be] focused on the life-giving satisfaction of knowing that [you] have overcome the evil…”
What to do with Anger
Anger tends to seek a physical release. As suggested above, many of us have found a release that wasn't in line with our values... only to regret it. Here are some suggestions for more appropriate way to release that anger (many thanks to colleagues and clients who have helped me develop this list from their own experiences):
- Take the phone book, open to a random page, start ripping in large sections
- Grab a tennis ball, find a blank outdoor wall, start throwing as hard as possible
- Take some unloved dishes/crockery out to the garage, don safety gear (goggles, gloves, boots, long sleeves/pants), smash on the concrete floor
- Take that 17-year-old bottle of aftershave he's never used out to the garage, put on the safety gear, find a hammer (sledge works well)... fire away.
What often follows a physical release of anger is movement towards the tears that have deep power to heal.
At first our anger will be directed at our husbands. Next it will move to his behavior. As further healing takes place, it becomes easier to perceive that our husband (or ex-husband) is not the enemy. The Enemy is the enemy.
The Enemy is worth being angry at. To be angry at him is to join in God’s righteous anger. And from there?
Well, we’ll have to be on the lookout for any tables He might like us to overturn.
Sometimes angry music (that also speaks truth) can help in our release of anger. Feel free to share your favourites below.