When Our Past Abuse Becomes Our Current Anger

Woman Screaming
People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining. ~Stephen Hawking

There is something I have wanted to talk to you about for a long time, but it is difficult to write. Many times, I talk to teens and adults who have suffered through the long-term effects of bullying and tell me they are angry. In fact more than one time, a few of these people say that, if they saw their bully again, they would kill them.

I don’t take this lightly. One of the main reasons why is because I understand them.

Yes, it is scary to find that the bullied can deal with anger as a mental health issue. It has a name. When I was growing up, I came up with my own name. The perceived threat syndrome. I named it such because I started to see everything as a threat. It is not uncommon for an abuse victim, whether bullying or a different abuse, to have their fears and anxieties manifest as anger. That anger becomes a weapon they use and unfortunately in some cases against loved ones. Why loved ones? Because they are all that these victims have left that they trust.

Mental health defines this issue as Displaced Aggression. The definition is displaced aggression can is when someone cannot aggress towards the source of incitement or provocation, so instead takes it out on something else and behaves aggressively towards another individual that had nothing to do with the initial conflict.

Sounds like a very dangerous problem. Yes, it is. It is corrosive to relationships, friendships, family, and any children that are in an aggressor way. Unfortunately, it even includes animals, where a pet could be the abused target. Yes, this is a very real problem for a long-term bullying survivor. If you ask me how I know, even with all the studies out there. My answer at this point is “you know why”. What more needs to be said, other than I have had to see it almost every day. I have had to control it almost every day. For over 30 years.

Now it needs to stop. And yes, it can be stopped as a reactive means of coping for a bullying/abuse survivor. Here are a few ways.

Relaxing through Anger – Sounds counterproductive, but this is important. This is the old count to ten rule. When anger comes up, try to stop reacting at that moment. Start deep breathing and using mindful techniques such as meditation. Displaced aggression is always bubbling under the surface. If you learn to quell that issue, that you are on your way to controlling it.

Stop Ruminating – Oh boy. Here’s the tough one. In many cases, our displaced aggression is due to the reliving of the abuse or bullying over and over in our head. This is rumination. It must stop to move forward. You must find forgiveness in yourself. You will need help here, so seek it out. Rumination, where we play out the abuse over and over in our heads must end in order to move toward peace and away from aggression.

Stopping the “Always” and “Never” Game – This is also called cognitive restructuring. When anger rises up, we tend to completely fall apart. One of the common things we do is start believing that things are ALWAYS bad or this and that we can NEVER get it to stop. These words just aren’t true. Your mind is telling you that only at that moment. But life is not always and never and each day has some good and bad. You need to restructure your thinking to get out of this habit. It can be done with self and guided help. Try not to use those words. Start at one day and work yourself from there. Eventually, the anger can subside, once you stop your reactive mind.

Look, the truth is we get angry. It is a part of life. But how we get angry and the choices we make when angry are the differentiators. We are talking about big differentiators here. For example, displaced anger, when left uncontrolled can lead to:

  • Road Rage
  • Abuse of a loved one
  • Divorce or even no relationship
  • Loss of self-worth
  • Jail or minor criminal issues
  • Self-harm

Not a fun list and one I hope we all want to control. Unfortunately, the abuse and bullying might have led to this issue, but now it’s on us. We must work to rid ourselves of the lont-term effects of bullying and abuse, so that we can both move on in life and be happier. It is possible. It can get better.

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About bullyingrecovery

Alan Eisenberg is a Certified Life Coach with a niche in bullying and abuse recovery, Bullying Recovery activist, and author of “A Ladder In The Dark: My journey from bullying to self-acceptance”. and “Crossing the Line”. He has been writing and speaking to various audiences about the issue of C-PTSD and Bullying Recovery. Mr. Eisenberg has been featured on several print, radio shows and podcasts on this issue, including NPR and in the Boston Globe

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