One of the most important steps in recovering from childhood sexual abuse is acknowledging our stories and the effects they have had on our lives. This is a difficult and often painful step to take, because in doing so all the former feelings of shame and guilt are brought to the surface of our minds. Soon, there comes a point where it becomes necessary to confront those feelings and certain negative emotions that have built over time.
A common emotion among survivors of sexual abuse is anger.
Now let me clarify that anger in itself is not the issue. It is a natural emotion we all have at different points in our lives. Even God gets angry at times. There are several instances in the Bible where God is described as “burning” with anger (Exod. 15:7, Deut. 9:8, Isa. 5:25). His frustrations often stem from sin and rebellion, but he is also angered by injustice.
The truth is, it’s not the emotion of anger that is the problem. Rather, it’s how we express it that can either bring healing or hurt into our lives, and the lives of those we love. It is what we do with our anger that makes it either constructive or destructive.
Perhaps you struggle with this emotion today. Maybe you are harboring resentment and bitterness towards someone who was involved in your story of abuse. It could be that this person is not even the actual abuser, but rather one who knew about the abuse and did nothing to help you.
The truth is, God did not design us to carry around the weight of repressed anger for very long. Depression, overeating, addictions, self-abuse, illness, and disease are just some of the effects of harboring that emotion over time. The longer we hang on to resentment, the more it festers in our souls and wreaks havoc on our lives. If we don’t deal with it in a healthy way, we will only hurt ourselves and eventually those we love.
Jesus taught in Ephesians 4:26, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Basically, don’t let your anger build to a point where you hurt yourself or others and for goodness sakes, don’t hold it in. While the anger you feel may be justified, it doesn’t have to negatively impact your life and last forever. In fact, as you express it in constructive ways, it will eventually dissipate over time.
So, how do we overcome feelings of anger and resentment that stem from our stories of childhood sexual abuse? We start by giving these emotions over to God in prayer, and asking him to help us work through them step by step. One of the first steps I took in that process was to acknowledge my emotions and identify their source.
I have kept a journal over the years, and it has been a great help to me in working through many painful situations in my life, particularly my story of abuse. In particular, I journaled about my feelings of anger towards my mother over the betrayal and abandonment I felt from her after telling her about the abuse. I found it very helpful to write down what I was feeling and why, and it was through that process I found the courage to eventually confront her with those feelings in a constructive way.
Whether you currently journal or not, consider writing down your feelings of anger or resentment, and try to identify the source(s) involved. Ask God to help you work through these strong emotions and to show you how to release them in a healthy way.
I also recommend writing what I call an “Anger Letter.” This letter is not one that you necessarily send, but rather a means to process your emotions towards a specific person. It is written to those people you have identified as being the source of the bitterness and resentment you feel inside.
In this letter there are three things you want to share. The first is to share what the person did that hurt you the most. Then share the effects that hurt has had on your life. Finally, tell what you are doing to actively heal and that you are working to reach a place of forgiveness. The letter is not about seeking apologies or restitution. In fact, it’s important to go into the process knowing that neither of these may ever happen.
Let me qualify that this letter doesn’t have to be shared in order to be an effective release in your journey of healing. It is simply a means to voice what you would say if you had the right opportunity, and to process the negative emotions you’ve harbored for so long.
Overcoming feelings of anger and resentment stemming from past sexual abuse is not easy, but it is possible with God’s help. It was through the process of writing down my feelings anger and bitterness that God helped me work these powerful emotions and ultimately reach a place of peace in my heart where I could finally forgive the people involved.
What about you, dear friend?
Are you struggling to let go of feelings of anger and resentment over situations of past sexual abuse? Isn’t it time to work through those emotions for your sake, and the sake of those you love?