Anger and the Inner Child

Anger is a very natural part of the healing process. Looking from the outside, what could be healthier than getting angry at the unbearable hurts we suffered as children? But often anger feels huge, outsized, or monstrous. My therapist explained to me that this is child-logic. The child who cannot express her normal anger starts to feel that anger must be extremely powerful. Anger that’s been stuffed down for years can feel volcanic.

It’s probably different for some people, but it took my inner child a long time before she felt safe enough to get angry. And then the anger seemed enormous and endless. I wanted to smash and break “everything in the whole wide world,” my inner child said.

How to deal with such anger? First, it’s important to recognize that your anger is really not as dangerous as it feels. You can find ways to express it that don’t hurt anyone. You can hit a sofa with an old tennis racket. I like to lift up a fat pillow and whack it on the floor. You can yell (into a pillow if you’re worried about sound). You can make drawings, you can write repetitive strings of anger-words.

This is how it felt one day: “In the evening I sit with my inner child. Rage, undifferentiated rage. I need this. I want to break things and throw things. Then quiet and I want comfort. Then more rage. I make Xeroxed copies of photographs of my father and mother. I paste them into my sketchbook and draw zigzags of purple and orange and yellow and black. Over my mother’s picture I write whiner, weakling. I mark all over the photos of my father and write, I hate you! Smug face molester. This man is not to be trusted. Smash it, break it!”

Second, some of the anger may spill over onto people who don’t deserve it. Therapists are great for that, as I slowly learned. It was extremely scary to get mad at my therapist, but she knew better than to take it personally. She knew I needed practice at being angry and having it be safe. So I ranted, “Why did you have to be late? It feels like you don’t care! It hurts my feelings!” Other people close to you may catch some of it, too, but they can be very understanding if you tell them it’s your old anger, not really about them.

My therapist said that expressing my anger would make me feel stronger. It didn’t feel that way at first, but over time, it was true. It makes me feel more anchored in myself.

This entry is also a new addition to my booklet "Caring for the Child Within--A Manual for Grownups."

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Inner Child grieves over incest

Lately I’ve been remembering how much I loved my father, the same man who sexually abused me. In ten years of healing, I have gone through many phases of anger and grief, beginning with grieving my image of a happy childhood in a normal family. I have worked hard to listen to my inner child, believe her body-memories, and learn how to take care of her.

It was important to build my own world based on my knowledge and apart from my family’s myths. Just now in writing my memoir of recovery, I’m writing about exactly that turning point where I learned to distance myself psychically from family and create my own reality. It was wrenchingly difficult.

So now I’m going around the spiral again, closer to being able to hold both feelings—the pain and anger in response to abuse and the love I felt both before and after. My father was a fascinating man—smart, interested in all kinds of people, a wonderful teacher, boyish and curious (and of course, irresponsible and self-centered). What a terrible loss that he made me withdraw my wholehearted love from him.

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In Recovery, Slow is Fast

I feel I’m getting towards the end in writing my memoir about healing from sexual abuse. I am excited and scared about ending. It’s been eleven years since I realized I’d been abused, and over four years I’ve been writing this memoir. The writing has been obsessive and wonderful, frightening, sad, and joyous.

Then I started telling people “I’m getting close to the end.” Soon I felt I had to believe it and hurry up and finish. Bad move. Today I am feeling as slow as mud and just about that inspired.

How many times do I need to relearn that slow is fast? I have an Eager Girl inner child who is always running to the next thing, always wants to be out there experiencing something new. She needs to take a nap. I need to remember how tender and sacred the writing is and let it unfold on its own time.

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Free Play

One of my favorite books, Free Play is about creativity and improvisation in art and life. Stephen Nachmanovich is a violinist. He writes vividly and compassionately about fear, inner critics, patience, and the necessity of practice—but don’t think of it as the Western “practice makes perfect”—think of practice as the meditative kind, the repetition of an inner discipline of concentration and of dedicated play with your chosen materials, be they melody, tone, clay, words, or colors. My inner child loves the idea of this serious play.

Yes, it’s a manual on creativity, on how to keep the juices flowing through dry spells, doubt and the different stages of creation. The stories and metaphors have comforted and sustained me through many stages both wet and dry.

It’s also a praise-song that joins improvisation with spirituality. Nachmanovich asserts lyrically and persuasively that the kind of absorption that comes in the process of creation, the freedom from the nagging voices within (or at least their being placed at a distance), the loss of self-consciousness that happens almost paradoxically when one gives over to the creative state—these all are very close kin to, or are, the Samadhi of the meditative practice, the loss of self into a greater whole. The process of creation unites us with something much larger than the small-s self, while being exactly an expression of Self.

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Forgiveness for abuse?

I am working now on the final section of my memoir about recovery from childhood sexual abuse. The book will end in 2001 at the time when I decided to begin writing this memoir—six years after I had first recalled the abuse.

It’s time to begin the layers of ending, bringing closure to a topic that never closes completely. I need to say how I regard my father now. Need to show the compassion I feel for my mother’s limitations, which were given to her by a life cut off at every pass—the dying father encased in the household as she grew up, no money for college, of course, in the Depression, and then the depression and anxiety.

How do I regard my father? I need to speak to him, dead though he is, and see how the relationship has changed. How does one regard a molester who acts like a little boy not grown up?

Boyishness was attractive on him. He had the enthusiasm and wonder, the love of frogs and boats and gadgets, the dreamy impracticality that made him both a wonderful father and a terrible—what? a terrible provider and protector, because he was involved in “his own little world” as my mother sourly put it. A good playmate but a poor father. But then, a fabulous teacher, setting out little problems to be solved. The back of his shop was littered with cigar boxes built into gadgets of flashing lights, taking up space just because he loved to teach any stray young person.

Part of my task is to recognize and write about the love that was there between us and still is. But forgiveness? It doesn’t feel right. I don’t absolve him; he has to bear the burden of responsibility.

What do you think, reader?

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