The experience of anger when you feel manipulated, used or taken advantage of is a good clue that you need to take care of yourself. When your heart starts pounding and your breathing rate increases, your body is getting ready to fight for survival. You may be used to these bodily signals but read the signs as fear and panic. If you are scared you are most likely going to deflect the anger until danger has past. You may turn it inward and feel that you are to blame as often happens in abusive relationships. By accepting the role of the ‘bad’ one, you survive the experience, but damage your sense of self-worth. You begin to think of yourself as helpless and powerless in the service of maintaining a relationship that is important to you. Yet if you witnessed someone else do the same, you would be able to advise them differently. That is because you are not crippled by the emotions and can think rationally.
There are several ways you can use the bodily signs of anger to cue your need to stand up for yourself and create a more equal relationship. The first part is to examine what the anger is triggering in you. Some questions you may wish to ask yourself include:
* What does this experience remind me of in my past?
* What was the power differential in that relationship?
* If I showed my anger then, what did I imagine the consequences to be?
* Was I right about those consequences?
The second step is to note the resemblances between the situation in the past and the present one. Often when you are in a highly charged emotional state, your system is too stressed to tell the difference, and you operate as if the past was coming alive as in the following case. Fiona was furious whenever she realized that she allowed her ex-husband to demean her and put her down. She hated herself for agreeing to what he said just to keep the peace with regard to their child. At the time of the encounters she was so overwhelmed with fear that she couldn’t distinguish between her ex-husband and her mother whose fury would make Fiona shake and obey when she was a child. Now as an adult she couldn’t access the more developed parts of her that could be extremely useful when dealing with her ex-husband. The emotions were so similar that at the crucial moment, Fiona fused them as one and the same. If you find yourself doing the same you could make the following determinations:
* The person making me angry is not the same one who terrified and silenced me as in my past
* If I stand up for myself I will not be punished in the ways I was scared of before
* I am not dependent on this person in the same way I was on who ever made me angry previously
* When I stand up for myself I am showing that I am a substantial person in my own right
* The relationship will survive, grow and become stronger when I feel and exert my strength
The first two steps are momentous and will take a great deal of energy and courage to enact. Be patient with yourself and give yourself credit for moving through these stages even if you cannot do it perfectly the first few times. It is enormously difficult and scary to give up an automatic way of reacting and practice new more efficient ways. Practice by role playing situations with those you trust and feel safe with.
The third step is to work on why you are so willing to give up your self-respect in order to keep the relationship. Starting on the path towards knowing that you can survive without a particular type of relationship can enable you to reconfigure it so that both parties honor each others feelings.
Copyright Jeanette Raymond, Ph. D.