ANGRY! That’s how I feel! A-N-G-R-Y!!!!!
Wow! I remember that feeling of utter RAGE I experienced on finding out about the lies, the deceptions, the deliberate attempts to cover up the truth! If your partner is an adulterer, sex or porn addict or engaged in any secretive sexual behaviour, I know you know what I mean!
Anger is a totally normal and valid response to the betrayal you have been subjected to and you have every right to be angry, right? Right. But staying angry comes at a cost. I have heard too many women talk about the feeling of not recognising themselves in the midst of the anger, of turning into someone that they do not like and of feeling unable to maintain control in their fits of rage. This can be a great source of pain and shame for women who are usually very controlled and stable.
So, let’s have a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of anger and what you can begin to do to respond to it and direct it in a more controlled and healthy way….
Firstly, let me say again that anger is a NORMAL and VALID response to the discovery that you have been betrayed. It is NORMAL and VALID! Who wouldn’t be angry after finding out that their husband or partner was a liar, that their marriage vows were broken and that everything they thought they knew has now been brought into question.
GOOD: What is anger good for?
Protection – Anger is a protective emotion, designed to come to the front of the queue when other emotions are so deep that they could overwhelm. Scientifically speaking it causes a chemical reaction in the brain that distracts us from the other emotional responses we are having, acting almost as an anaesthetic by actually lowering our sensitivity to pain and grief. What those emotions are will be deeply individual to each of us but the usual suspects are confusion, bewilderment, rejection and the big hitters are usually the crippling HURT and FEAR! So anger, acting as the gatekeeper, offers some short term protection from the rollercoaster of emotion and the barrage of questions (to which there are most likely no answers in this moment) beneath.
Motivation – Have you ever had that moment of anger that spurs you into action? That feeling of injustice that causes you to write that snotty email to the company that let you down or to make the phone call you’ve been putting off? Anger can provide us with sufficient motivation to TAKE ACTION and stand up for ourselves when enough is enough. We all know the stories of the child who suddenly snaps and stands up to the school bully after weeks of just taking it? That’s anger, doing its job and responding to injustice, reminding us that we don’t have to put up with bad behaviour. How you express that anger is a matter for discussion and covered further in this article.
For us, as the wives and partners of sex/porn addicts or women recovering from any betrayal, anger can often be linked to a violation of our boundaries or expectations. It can act as a marker that we would be wise to pay attention to. There will be great value in your healing journey in getting familiar with your anger markers and finding healthy ways to reflect on and learn from them.
BAD – So what’s so bad about it then?
Anger is a very powerful emotion which has a very direct impact on your physicality. If you have ever experienced extreme anger (which if you have been betrayed is pretty likely) you will be familiar with that physical feeling of anger or rage which could show up as shaking, sweating, tightening of the chest etc. Understanding the risks to you of continuing to experience anger is important so that you get to make an informed choice about whether you stay there.
Increase your heart rate – thus increasing the risk of heart attack and other heart problems
Increase your blood pressure – putting extra pressure on the heart. When this is coupled with the tension mentioned below this can be further complicated due to the narrowing of the blood vessels!
Cause muscle tension leading to headaches and other symptoms – Are you a shoulder huncher or a jaw clencher? Watch out for those signs!
Weaken the immune system and lead to depression when unresolved for a prolonged period – unexpressed anger can cause some pretty serious problems for anyone. Depression is just one of the potential long term effects of unexpressed anger.
Impair your judgement – ever made a decision in the midst of anger that you wish you could take back?
UGLY – The ugly side of anger
It would seem obvious at this stage to talk about physical violence. Violence is certainly one of the more ugly expressions of anger and one you would be wise to seek help with if it is present in your relationship, but there is another, more silently soul destroying effect I want to highlight.
Resentment and Bitterness – The dictionary definition of resentment is “bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly”, hands up if you know that feeling?! It is closely linked with rumination which is the replaying and re-experiencing of a situation or scenario over and over and over.…anyone?!
Let me tell you, I KNOW this feeling! I also know that intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and replaying of painful scenarios is a symptom for TRAUMA and Post Traumatic Stress, so I know that you are likely to experience some of this in the days, weeks and months post discovery or disclosure of his sexual acting out. This is NORMAL and necessary in the process of adjusting to and integrating the new reality of your relationship.
What is not necessary is to stay in that place forever or for that response to become your primary response to anger. Many people I have met, when asked to really think about the anger that they carry, can identify things that still cause an angry response in them, years and years after the event (often DECADES!). Some fully grown adults carry resentments from back in the days of pre-school without realising the effect that it has on their outlook on life and relationships! Sounds crazy but I promise it’s true!
You can avoid your trauma response of anger and re-experiencing traumatic events turning into long term bitterness and resentment by getting help from a trained trauma coach or counsellor, seeking peer support in groups or individually and practising exercises to process anger. I encourage you to do so.
So what can I do about anger?
You could scream and shout and let it all out and let me reassure you that this is an option I have chosen to take at some points in this journey and it felt really good in the moment. Your expression of anger can be a reality check for the person on the other end of it. Let me also reassure you that this would be an entirely understandable and legitimate response to the rage that someone else perpetrated. But, and it’s a big but, if you use this as a long term response and expression of anger, there will be a cost as we have already seen.
I could write a whole article on expressing anger (and maybe I will) but for now I will offer a few ‘quick fixes’ for short term relief from anger and would encourage you to explore options with your support team or contact me for more personal support in overcoming anger.
Write it out! – Externalising your anger is a great way to take some of the power out of it. Getting it out of your head and onto the page can be a very useful starting point. This is a first point of call for many people looking to break the destructive cycle of anger. If you decide to begin journaling or writing out your anger, I would encourage you to write it out exactly as you hear it in your head, expletives and all! There is often some shame associated with anger which leads to repression, give yourself permission to be authentic in your expression!
Share it – Another way to externalise anger is to talk it out with somebody else, preferably someone who is not angry! Did you know that the parts of your brain responsible for anger are entirely separate from the thinking and reasoning parts of your brain? Therefore your ability to think clearly and respond thoughtfully to anger are impaired significantly whilst you are feeling it. Talking things through with a fully functioning brain (your friend, coach or counsellor etc) can allow you to gain some perspective on things that your brain was not able to gain alone.
Breathe – I know, I know, it’s a cliché! “Count to 10 and take deep breaths”! But you know, things become cliché’s for a reason and that’s usually because so many people recognise them. Deep, rhythmical breathing counteracts the chemical reaction in your brain and reduces your heart rate, causing calming chemicals to be released and therefore restoring the thinking function of the brain. This allows for us to see situations more clearly and respond to them more thoughtfully.
There is so much more I could write on this topic but this should cover enough ground to begin your dance with anger and your growth in responding to it.
Learn the lesson anger is trying to teach you, see the thing its drawing your attention to and make an empowered choice to deal with it and then you choose not to live in anger.
To learn more about how Full Circle Coaching can help you to overcome anger and other problematic emotions linked to betrayal contact us to discuss your options.
Catherine Etherington September 2016 ©