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Survivors' Voices: Anger
Almost every survivor I know has wrestled with anger at some point in their journey, so I invited our Survivors’ Voices Panelists to share their thoughts on this topic.
I think you’ll find their reflections thought-provoking - and maybe helpful for dealing with whatever anger you experience in your own life as well.
For me, the word “anger” brings up visuals of volcanoes, cauldrons of fire, nuclear bombs, the anger of the Hulk – all visuals that I’ve had to face once I realized the depth of anger that I felt towards all the priests who raped me when I was a child. I stuffed that anger in order to survive, but once it found the light of day, decades later, there was no way to calm it until I hit it head on in therapy. It consumed me, for years. At first, I was ashamed and guilt ridden at how intense those feelings were, until I realized that those criminal priests had robbed me of my childhood, my faith, my sanity and any semblance of a normal life. I worked hard to address that anger, and it wasn’t easy. But it was worth it in the end, because in retrospect, I came to realize that my anger had placed me in an intense hell that harmed only me, and did nothing to my perpetrators. I had to learn to let it go. It did not happen overnight. But I was dedicated to the process, and every ounce of effort has had healing benefits that for me have been priceless, to my peace of mind, and to my health.
After I put the pieces together, I felt actively angry every day for more than a year. The kind of anger that hijacks your thoughts and won't let go. I spent a lot of time in the car or doing housework blaring the "Hurt" cover by Johnny Cash and "Zombie" by the Cranberries. For a very long time, the anger wouldn't go away and I didn't know what else to do with it. Eventually it got to the point where it wasn't at the forefront of my mind anymore. I found an outlet in writing about it, crafting articles and blog posts about the individual things I was angry about. That's been a huge part of my healing.
I was angry at my parents for not keeping me safe from their priest friend, my abuser. They didn't ask the right questions. They didn't read the "red flags" in my troublesome actions during my youth. They didn't intervene in any way. It took me years of professional counseling to understand that their wholesome trusting nature and good hearts were horribly manipulated and betrayed. Deeply feeling that, and understanding how skillful my abuser was at grooming the children he abused and the community at large, my anger turned into forgiveness of my parents. I love my parents dearly.
I was so afraid of angering my abuser. The fear of suffering spiritual and/or professional retaliation was too much for me to handle as a teenager. But as I’ve processed my abuse and learned more about the organizations and individuals who enabled him, anger makes more sense than any other emotion. I am angry because I was surrounded by adults who could have helped me and didn’t. I am angry because I know I could have been kept safe, and because I know I did not deserve to be abused. And I know that my fear of angering my abuser was because he relied on my disbelief that I deserved better.
I feel like anger isn't as big a part of my story anymore, but it might be part of my husband's. He's had a front seat to everything that's happened and has told me more than once that he refuses to drive through the town where my assailant lives. He's afraid he'll end up with an assault charge of his own if he does.
When I first reported to the diocese, my therapist told me, "When you write your letter, you can't come across as angry. It's not that you don't have a right and reason to be angry, but if you come across as angry, the diocese will simply dismiss what you're saying." A friar that I respected concurred, "Unfortunately, your therapist makes a good point. They won't deal with it." So 5 priests helped me try to write a letter that wasn't angry, by reviewing and making recommended changes to my letter. After sending it in, the diocesan chancery wrote back, saying, "Well, as angry as you are..." They blew me off. I said to the priests who helped me, "Well guys, you might want to check into some anger management classes. Because the five of you together still couldn't help me write a letter to the diocese without being called ‘angry.’”
As a child there was no where to go with my just anger, so instead, I began to loathe my own existence. Getting anger out - physically and in healthy ways - freed my body, emotions, and spirit to move. Tears flowed. Words started to come. I began to stand up for myself and for others. Sadness, shame, and hurt were hidden beneath the protection of anger. I learned to care for the hidden hurt and learned to use righteous anger for benefit beyond myself. All these discoveries led me to better understand others who struggle with anger.
Thank you for reading. More on this topic next week.
If you have experienced sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, I would be honored to include your perspective in this “Survivors’ Voices” series. You can find more information here: An Invitation for Survivors.