“I’m scared I’m going crazy,” she says.
“Why?” I ask.
“I can’t stop thinking about killing someone.”
She describes a string of homicidal fantasies and nightmares involving the violent demise of her older sister, who abused her when they were kids.
“How do they make you feel?” I ask.
“Like an awful person,” she says. “And scared I’m losing it.”
“You’re not losing it,” I say. “You’re finding it.”
I remind her how depressed she was when she began therapy. “You were internalizing all that anger, turning it against yourself. Now it’s pointed in the right direction. That’s growth.”
“Oh.” She looks relieved. “So what should I do now?”
“What you’re doing. Externalize. Express it here, talk about it to others.”
”Others? I couldn’t. I’d be too ashamed.”
So I tell her this story:
A man came into therapy obsessed with Hitler and the Nazis. Read about them, dreamt about them, couldn’t stop, didn’t know why. Turned out he’d been abused by his alcoholic father. I suggested he was obsessed with Nazis because that’s what Dad seemed like to him. “It’s called displacement,” I said. “A way of redirecting your anger.” “That actually makes sense,” he said. Then I suggested he tell his Al-Anon group about our conversation. He did, with much fear and trembling. And looked up to find a circle of twenty people all nodding at him.
Anger’s no sin, no sign of insanity. It’s just a natural response to being hurt. A sort of emotional leftover or sewage.
Our problems come not from feeling anger, but from not knowing how to flush it out of our system.
Or as Buddha said, we’re not punished for our anger, we’re punished by it.