I do voluntary admin work on a Domestic Violence Facebook group. Every day women post their unedited rage at what has happened to them. Some of what has happened to them makes very difficult reading: extreme cruelty described in livid technicolour. It got me wondering why these women don’t show this same level of rage during their relationships – a time when it probably would have served as the motivation to exit what were at best relationships of comfortable suffering and at worst life-threatening servitude.
Ask any bereavement counsellor about the stages of grief and they will trot out a staged process which a person must pass through to finally find some level of healthy foundation to move forward. The stages are (more or less): shock (paralysis in thought, emotion, and reality); denial (trying to avoid dealing with the reality of the situation); anger (of more later); bargaining (trying to find a way out from accepting what has happened); depression (realization of the inevitable); testing (looking for realistic solutions to move forward), and finally, acceptance (a type of negotiated peace with the change in circumstances).
This staged model I find clinically useful for any major disruption in our life; those times when our personality is fundamentally broken up to become something different: a re-birth to a new reality. Of course, it is only a simple snapshot of what is happening in real time for a person, but it helps locate where they are on their healing journey.
But I want to return to consider the anger stage because I suspect anger as a term doesn’t really do justice to what is being experienced. The more accurate word is rage.
When my son was 2 and a half, I took away his dummies. I remember watching him stand beside the rubbish bin literally shaking with rage, with his little mind screaming ‘HOW COULD THIS *&^$%£ING HAPPEN TO ME!‘ (he didn’t swear at the time, but if he could…uff….). I remember thinking, ‘wow that is some wave of raw emotion‘ but I let it drift into the mists of time and memory.
What has this got to do with recovering from a destructive relationship?
Well, I remember a period during my personal journey of recovery when I was like my son screaming ‘HOW THE *&^% COULD THIS HAPPEN TO ME???’ (I could swear). This rage was deeper, more visceral, and more primitive than any passing wave of anger. It was filled with thwarted righteous indignation, a feeling of complete and utter disbelief at what was happening, a sense of total wrong in the universe.
I totally get it then when I read these women’s testimonies. They are walking up from denial, their delusion, they are beginning to see clearly for the first time in often, years. They are desperately trying to communicate the sense of betrayal that is racing through their bodies and minds. They are beginning to recognise what they have allowed to happen to them for years. They are transitioning to the other side, where they have to take their own personal responsibility for healing. They are being made to re-visit and change everything they knew to be true. They want the world to feel and hear their moral rage. It is hard, it is painful, it is overwhelming.
And it would be a totally understatement to say they are pissed.
However, like all the stages of grief, rage should be temporary. It’s not a healthy place to stay. It eats you up inside.
But, and it’s a big but, rage is a vital step on the road of recovery so shouldn’t be minimised, dismissed, or experienced with shame – bad things have happened, and rage is our means of howling at the universe, releasing all our pain and suffering. It is intrinsic and essential to our human ability to connect and care. Rage is our soul screaming our capacity to love. It is powerful, almost frightening, yet is a necessary emotional response to the loss of something valuable.