After the Abuse is Over, How Do You Deal with the Anger?
Once you are free from your abuser, you might find that you are not truly emotionally free. Now you must deal with fierce ANGER toward your abuser. How can you get free from that?
First of all, anger is understandable, and normal. A person who has been abused shouldn’t feel ashamed for being angry. Shame is just one more negative emotion to deal with.
And yet, your anger keeps you from enjoying your freedom. You are, in essence, still tied to your abuser. And, that isn’t a good thing.
What are some ways abuse survivors might deal with their anger? Some of us:
- Close themselves off; they go numb.
- Act out – destroying items that remind them of their abuser.
- Hurt themselves, physically, or internally, (migraines, depression, high blood pressure, etc.)
- Seek therapy, support groups, therapy dogs, etc.
- Try working too hard, either at their jobs, or as a parent.
- Find solace in writing, or other creative pursuits.
- Cry for hours.
- Talk with friends.
- Try sleeping to block out the pain.
- Turn to God, and pray.
Some of the above are more positive responses to anger than others. Almost all have merit at times.
I know it may sound crazy, but when I was in this situation myself, I found that the only way I could truly get rid of my anger was by learning to do the hardest thing…forgive.
I know this sounds shocking. Especially when I am writing to abuse survivors. You have been treated in ways that no human should ever be treated. It is sickening to hear the stories most of you have. Nothing on the planet could ever make what you have experienced right or acceptable. I know. I’ve been there.
And yet, I still say, forgiveness is the only way to true freedom.
Forgiveness isn’t for my abuser, it is for ME. When I don’t forgive, it means I am looking for something from my abuser that he will NEVER give me. He will never apologize, or admit that what he did to me was wrong. I could wait for eternity for that to happen. Even if what I want is revenge, I am still wanting something from him that I will NEVER receive. Even if he goes to jail, nothing that happens to him there will repay ME for what HE did to ME. It will never satisfy me. NEVER.
Forgiveness opens my clenched hands. It frees my heart in a way that nothing else can. Then, my heart can open to the love of others who can really love me.
So, how does an abuse survivor do this impossible thing?
We cannot forgive horrible abuse in our own power. This really IS an impossible thing. Thank goodness, we have a God who is the God of the impossible. Luke 1:37 says:
For nothing is impossible with God.
The best thing I have ever read about forgiveness was written by Bill Elliff and Tim Grissom. It is called Forgiveness, Healing the Harbored Hurts of Your Heart. You can order it online here. I will try to summarize the six steps they outline in their pamphlet that I used to forgive my abuser. I hope you find them as helpful as I did.
1. Recognize and admit your own sin.
This is a really tough one! You might be thinking, “What? Why should I admit my sin? I’m the victim here!” You’re right. But we are talking about YOU. You are the one who needs to be free from bitterness and learn to forgive. So, ask yourself. Are you angry with your abuser? Are you hoping to get back at your abuser somehow? In Romans 12:17, Paul says:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
So, in order to be free from bitterness, you need to admit these angry, revengeful thoughts to the Lord. He already knows what is in your heart anyway.
2. Accept that God allowed this painful experience in your life for a reason that you may never understand.
In Romans 8:28, Paul writes:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Does this mean that everything that happens to a Christian will be good? Hardly. In fact, a few verses later, in Romans 8:35, Paul talks about some of the things that had happened to him:
…trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword…
We certainly wouldn’t call these things good. Yet, God can work things for your good, even in the midst of things like these, even in the midst of abuse, if you allow him to. God may allow you to see something beautiful coming from your pain, such as the ability to help others going through abuse; or you may never see anything beautiful coming from it. You may never understand why He allowed your abuse. Accepting that He may have a bigger plan for your life and your pain will help you to release your anger and bitterness over it.
3. Forgive – release the debt.
At this point, you will most likely not feel like forgiving your abuser; forgiveness will be more an act of your will. In 1 Corinthians 13:5 Paul says that love:
Keeps no record of wrongs.
The phrase “keeping a record” brings to mind a storekeeper who has a ledger-book where he keeps a list of what each customer owes him. He keeps these records because he plans to collect a payment in the future. You may have a “ledger-book” in your heart where you have listed every wrong your abuser has committed against you. If so, you may think, “S/He owes me, and I’m going to make her/him pay”. But God says in Romans 12:19:
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Bill Elliff writes, “A friend once told me, when I was tempted to seek revenge from a person who had wronged me, ‘Bill, God only allows two people at a time in the boxing ring. If you want to get into the ring and try to fight your own battles, God will let you. But He’ll get out. If you want God to fight your battles for you, then you must get out of the ring … and stay out.’”[i]
Allowing God to avenge the wrong your abuser has caused you will take an act of faith on your part. You will need to trust Him. As it says in Psalm 9:9-10:
The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.
But what if the person you can’t forgive is God Himself? After all, He is powerful, and He could have prevented all your pain. Don’t try to hide your anger from Him. He already knows about it! Be honest with him. Scream, weep, and wail. Then ask Him to help you forgive even Him.
4. Ask God to exchange His love for your hatred.
At this moment, you may be filled with hatred for your abuser. It may be hard to imagine loving him with God’s unconditional, unselfish love. Yet, in Matthew 5:38 – 48, Jesus calls us to love our enemies. This would be impossible if God were not involved. If you have a genuine relationship with God through faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit resides in you. And God can miraculously pour out His love in your heart. As it says in Romans 5:5
And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
If you ask Him, He can replace your bitterness with love and compassion for your abuser. What a great healing exchange! If you don’t know Jesus as your Lord and savior, I invite you to friend me on Facebook. I would love to talk to you about how you can come to know Him this way. It will make all the difference in your life!
5. Thank God for the experience.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Paul writes that we should:
…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
I know, this sounds like a crazy thing to say; why would anyone ask you to thank God for allowing you to be abused? How could God ask that of you? As always, He doesn’t ask you to do this on your own. He is right there with you, holding your hand. Philippians 4:4-8 is my favorite passage of the Bible because I tend to be an anxious person. It reads:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
In this passage, Paul implores me to “rejoice in the Lord always”, and to let my “gentleness be evident to all”. Gentleness is not the foremost adjective people use to describe me when I am anxious about something. But Paul tells me how I can become less anxious: “The Lord is near”. This is why I can rejoice and why I can be gentle. I don’t have to be anxious. Though God created the universe, He knows the number of hairs on my head; He knows and loves me intimately, like a lover. That God is near to me. Because of this, I can be anxious for nothing. I can present my requests to God, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, doesguard my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus. I don’t understand it, but I can have a peace that is above all my circumstances, because God is guarding my heart and my mind. The last verse gives me my part in guarding my heart and my mind:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
When I begin to train my mind to think about the good things in a person or situation that I am in, it does make me less anxious. And if I can find no good thing in the person or situation, I turn my mind to the Lord, who is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. Looking at His face takes away my anxiety and leads me to thankfulness.
6. Keep continually and instantly forgiving.
Deciding to forgive your abuser is an event. Forgiving him/her is a process that may take you a long time. You may completely forgive him/her; yet one day a memory of what s/he has done to you will return, and your anger and bitterness will come rushing back. At this point, you will have to forgive him/her again. Be patient with yourself, but don’t allow Satan to gain a foothold in your heart by catching you unaware and reviving your feelings of anger and revenge. Each time this occurs, turn again to Jesus, and ask him to help walk you through the steps listed here. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says:
“The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”