Overall, I’m an angry person. To those who know me, yes, I know it’s a shock. I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself.
I’m angry about a lot of things: past traumas, deaths, my mental illnesses, the continued character assassination of Tony Stark in the comic universe, people who invalidate other people’s feelings. And I’m not alone. Anger is probably one of the most common, and sometimes the easiest, emotional responses to a lot of the world’s bullshit. When it comes to abuse survivors, I argue it’s one of the healthiest ones because it indicates that a) the person is a physical space safe enough to feel that they can express the anger, and b) that they have some level of belief, when the anger is directed at their abuser(s), in their own basic self-worth. You don’t get angry if you feel like you deserved what you got or that it ‘doesn’t matter,’ right?
But anger isn’t for everyone, and that’s a good thing! Gods know we need people who are merciful, who are understanding, to keep the rest of us from completely losing our shit. A community of warriors isn’t going to last long if it doesn’t have its healers and farmers and creators and basically everyone else. It’s everyone else that give warriors something to fight for in the first place.
I honestly believe there is no “wrong” emotion in and of itself but rather that the moral wrongness comes from the way in which those emotions are expressed. Sometimes it does depend on the source, like the fear that comes with someone buying into America’s warmongering and believing that all brown people are out destroy this sacrosanct nation blessed by God himself, but generally speaking, emotions are emotions and, for better or worse, they play a huge role in how we process the world in which we live. If you have survived terrible things but don’t blame anyone or feel anger over it, that’s okay.
So when I hear other survivors say that they feel alienated from spaces that are meant to be supportive because the others declare that you’re doing it wrong if you’re not angry…well.
- They’re wrong.
- Seriously, that’s bullshit.
It’s also a case in which survivors are inflicting on others the very abuse — judgment, control, invalidation — that they themselves are so angry about in the first place. It’s hypocritical and traumatizing. Of course it’s possible that someone is in denial or trying to repress things, but how can anyone know that that’s the case without taking the time to stop, listen, and then actually listen?
There’s also the possibility that said lack of anger is a temporary necessity. I once created a narrative for myself that rationalized my partner’s behavior (“He was in the wrong and I didn’t deserve it, but he was just fucked up and had no idea what he was doing”) and which allowed me to focus on my self-directed anger and shame. It wasn’t until recently I understood that I had indeed been in denial, but when that particular anger came back, I had already done some personal work that meant I didn’t end up totally overwhelmed.
Either way, however, you are ultimately the only one who knows best what’s going on in your mind. No one can make a judgment of any real substance when they have nothing but their own assumptions to work with. People respond to certain differently according to personality, predispositions, knowledge, beliefs, past experiences, and a shit-ton of other factors that weave together in such a complicated web that no two individuals can ever be exactly alike. If you’re ready to go on the warpath? I’ll help you hide the body. If you’ve chosen to forgive your abuser? That’s a whole other kind of strength, just as legitimate and potentially empowering.
- You have the right to be angry.
- You have the right to not be angry.
- You have the right to feel however the hell you want to about the trauma you’ve survived.
(But damn that anger can be satisfying.)