“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.”

“Finding what?”

“Your anger.”

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.




9 responses to “Angry

  • Attachment Girl

    Thank you for this, I think so many people trying to heal from abuse need to hear this truth. My father’s anger was so often expressed violently, that I had a difficult time distinguishing between anger and violence and became terrified of my own anger. I was afraid that allowing myself to feel my anger would lead to violence. While working through the effects of sexual abuse, I discovered some of my own revenge scenarios that absolutely horrified me. I am very grateful that I had a therapist who also understood this and very gently explained to me that I was feeling anger, and reasonably so considering what happened to me. And that I was safe expressing that anger in his office (turned out to be a fair amount of it. 🙂 ) Finding my anger has been a very difficult but rewarding part of my work.

    I continue to be amazed at how succinctly and clearly you present such difficult concepts. ~ AG

  • Jennifer Tibbitts


    Thank you for your response to my note. I try to comment on your posts but I don’t have a blog. But I wanted to respond to this one….

    This certainly puts things in perspective. I too have gone through the process of externalizing and displacement (I didn’t know that was what it was called until reading your post)

    I used to be fascinated with grizzly bear attacks. I would feverishly read story after story of people surviving bear maulings. I would go camping in grizzly country and bring along bear books to read these mauling stories by flashlight. I was still repressed when I was wishing to be attacked by a bear. A few years ago I remembered an incident when I was 11 that matches up with this unusual fascination. A traumatic violent attack by a group of boys I was out in the neighborhood “playing” with one late summer night. To complete my healing of this, I had to imagine decapitating and castrating the boy that started the attack. It seemed the only way to get him out of my head.

    Thanks again for monkey traps, Jennifer

    Jennifer Tibbitts, LMT


    • Steve Hauptman

      Strange, sometimes, what we have to do to regain our emotional balance. I’ve suggested to some abuse victims that they write the name of their abuser on the soles of their shoes and grind it into the pavement with each step they take down the sidewalk. Or that they write the name on a piece of paper, drop it in the toilet, pee on it and flush it away. Breaking stuff (like old plates) can be helpful too. To people who’ve never had to free themselves from the burden of unwanted anger these tricks sound bizarre. Who cares. Whatever works. Hang in there. 🙂

  • Angie H.

    Thanks for this. My short story, which brings me to this point in my emotional life, is in the past 14 years my husband and i have lost our home, lost our country in violent circumstances. Violence and threats that went on for 3 years before we moved to this foreign land. I moved my mother into a home because she had alzheimer’s and she passed away 11 months later. What kept me going, besides my husband, was a dog by the name of blue. I attached every insecure emotion, every fear, my grief, every loss into blue….he was my saviour, i could cry with him, i felt safe with him. My whole idea of a ‘safe world’ was completely shattered, i had absolutely no control over what happened to me or my family and i felt completely helpless and hopeless – i could do nothing to save our home, my mother and eventually blue. My grieving for my mother was complicated because we had a complicated relationship when she was alive. My childhood was chaotic to say the least. Angry parents, divorced parents and much older and very angry brother and being the youngest, the target for everyone’s anger. I was worn out, physically and emotionally. When blue died my world, as bad as it was before his death, now, completely fell apart and i had no option, no choices in any form of control – i broke down in every possible sense. There has been a complete shift inside of me – a loss of my own self, who i am and who i was. I will never feel the same about anything. I went into therapy, into the most awful therapy. A therapist who broke her own boundaries, went the extra mile for me and the whole therapeutic relationship broke down and ended in a terrible way. For me, this was another terrible loss. Finally i have found a therapist who understands PTSD, grief and loss and who keeps the boundaries in therapy for me safe and secure. I seem, for the past couple of months going through the ‘anger phase’, i am so angry at the world at everyone in this world at everything, myself, my husband, neighbors, friends, you name it, i am angry and bitter towards it. I still feel that terrible sense of lonliness sometimes and sad, so very sad at times, but the dominant feeling at the moment is anger….and for me is the worst stage of getting over or through. The anger is powerful, scary, damaging and hurtful to those around me. I know that i am laying my anger at doors that don’t deserve it, but i am having a problem in diverting it in the right way, because like the tears having to be shed, my anger needs to be shed too. My anger feels bigger sometimes than anything i could do to be rid of it….(if that makes sense). I love reading and have a great many books…in our bedroom my books pile up all over the place and it annoys my husband, quite rightly, but a few weeks ago, he had a go at me about them and when he left for work, i exploded in tears and i threw my books from one end of the bedroom to the other……did this make me feel better, yes, but it was termporary, once i calmed down and thought about my actions, i felt scared, guilty, and as if i was loosing it too. I have had 2 angry outbursts in this way and they are not nice, or good or helpful, they are in essence toxic. BUT I CAN’T seem to express this anger in any other way. I can’t scream and shout at the people that caused all the violence, i can’t scream and shout at alzheimers, i cant scream and shout at what took blue away…..i can’t get even with any of the things that have created me so much pain. And for the moment i can’t forgive, move forward or forget. ANGER is the hardest of emotions to get through i think, for me anyway. It has been a long and hard emotional journey that i feel i have not dealt with particularly well. I do feel though that for me to feel the sunshine on my face again,,,,it will be a matter of choice…..i choose to be well again, i choose to be happy, i choose to move forward, i choose to forgive myself. No matter how much therapy i have,,,,, i have to choose for myself in the end. At the moment, i need to go through this, i need to feel these things, i need to strip it all back and then rebuild it from there. But anger is a bitch. I am going to make 2 notes and stick them in the bathroom the one you wrote is WE ARE NOT PUNISHED FOR OUR ANGER BUT BY OUR ANGER. and the other you wrote is YOU’RE NOT LOSING IT – YOUR FINDING IT….that is exactly what i am doing – not just finding my anger, but ultimately finding myself again.

    • Steve Hauptman

      Angie, thanks for sharing all that. Hard to reply to a story like yours without feeling feeble in whatever I say. But my job’s taught me to trust that most healing is self-healing, and that what people in pain need most is company while they heal. I hope writing this left you feeling less alone. Love, Steve.

  • Angie H.

    Hi Steve. Thanks for your reply. I have to say that when i first read your anger story, it just tied in with my outburst in the bathroom. The timing was perfect and it was good to read your post. At first all i wanted to write was a simple thankyou…..but i had just had a therapy session with my therapist and although a good session, was feeling as though i needed to talk more…not always that easy for me…..i realise that your blog is not really about telling one’s whole experiences and life story etc….sooo my point being that although it all came together for me and was good for me….i apologise for writing all of this to you…..but i do so appreciate that you read and reply and that i am not expecting any kind of miracle cure by being able to just write what i feel at the time of writing….i hope that makes sense. I do feel less alone by being able to say just what i want to and sending out into cyber space. thanks again. angie

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