Thanks for your prayers. I am up at my summer cabin now doing Nana Camp for a week with three of the most amazing grandchildren. We are doing lots of art projects, outdoor fun and the weather couldn’t be nicer. It’s a great place for some rejuvenation.
Today’s question a reader asks: After 47 years of marriage it has only been a few months since my eyes have been opened to realize he has been abusing and controlling me. For so long I felt crazy. But now it seems I am SO angry and bitter. I know this isn't right but can't seem to move past it. What do I need to do?
Answer: I’m so glad you don’t want to stay in that angry and bitter place too much longer. It’s a normal place to land once you see more clearly that you’ve been abused and controlled by someone for years who told you that you were making a big deal out of nothing. But I also imagine that you’re feeling a little angry towards your own self for allowing it and being blind to what was going on all these years. You may also be feeling some anger towards the typical Christian teaching that has put Christian women in a role to follow rather than helping and equipping her to be a full image bearer as a person.
That said, anger can be used in a good way and it can be used in a destructive way. The energy anger gives us motivates us to take some action. However sometimes in our anger, our action steps can be self-serving and harmful towards our self and others. That’s why the apostle Paul warns us that in our anger, do not sin. (Ephesians 4:26). But your anger can motivate you to take action in healthy and constructive ways, so I wouldn’t be too anxious to get rid of all of it.
1. Your anger can motivate you to stop being so compliant at home and start to speak up for yourself. What I mean by this is sometimes when we get angry, we speak up, but not for ourselves, but against someone else. We lose our temper, we accuse, we attack, we blame, we shame. That reinforces the abuser’s mindset that you are the problem and depending on how you do it, that you are unstable. Instead, use your anger to speak up for yourself. “I don’t like that.” Or “No, I don’t want to do that.” Or “That’s not okay with me.” This may not make a bit of difference to your husband, but when you start to stand up for yourself it will make a huge difference in you. Now you no longer allow yourself to be controlled, even as he tries to guilt trip you or bully you into giving in. You start to build an identity as a person and not just a wife who is to comply or submit. You start to have an “I” which is important towards moving towards your “who”. Who does God want me to become as I grow through this trial?
2. Your anger can help you start to do your own work. As you discover your “I”, and build a stronger sense of personhood, you will begin to set some boundaries. “This is what I will do. This is what I won’t do. This is what I’m responsible for. This is what I’m not responsible for. This is what I am to steward. This is what I’m not responsible to steward.” This is all important information for you because as you’ve been controlled for these 47 years you have not been allowed to think for yourself. Thinking for yourself is your adult responsibility. That does not mean we don’t listen to other’s feedback or advice, but ultimately, you are responsible for your own thought life. Who is to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ? (2 Corinthians 10:5) You are. Who is to guard your heart above all else, for it is the well-spring of life? (Proverbs 4:23). You are. Who is to renew your mind with God’s word so that you will be transformed? (Romans 12:2). You are. Sometimes when we live with a controlling and abusive person, we become flat-lined and apathetic. There is no energy inside of us because we aren’t even allowed to think about our own needs/wants/goals or desires. As you’ve woken up, your anger can help you remember, you do not want to slide back into passive apathy. That is toxic to you.
3. Your anger in the short term can help you stay firm in your resolve that things have to change in the dynamics with your spouse. He’s not going to like the new you, He’s used to having someone who is an easy target to bully and control. Short term your anger can help you stay firm and not back down. But long term, you don’t want to have to STAY angry in order to have good boundaries and a healthy sense of self.
So your question was how do you move past it? Remember, your anger has a purpose. It’s alerting you that something is wrong and needs to change.
You have to get safe, sane (clear thinking and feeling) and strong. Your anger can motivate you to take positive direction in stewarding your own life from this day forward. And part of that self-stewardship is letting go of the bitterness that unresolved anger and resentment has built up in your spirit, and your body.
But here is one reason why women especially find it hard to let it go. It’s because anger is the only way they know to be strong. When they’re angry, then they can stay firm on their boundaries and not cave into the pleading or whining of someone else. When they’re angry, they aren’t as easily controlled. When they’re angry other people tend to not demand things of them than when they are kind and empathetic. Therefore, your work is to build other internal muscles of strength, fortitude, wisdom, confidence, and truth that can help you stand firm without needing to hang on to your anger.
When a woman in a destructive marriage stops acting angry, sometimes her husband thinks, “Everything is fine. She’s back to normal” When in reality it isn’t fine. Nothing has changed. That’s why it’s imperative that you grow to use your words and actions not your anger to communicate, “things are not fine and our relationship is destructive towards me and that’s not okay with me.” And then be able to hold your boundaries if he starts to argue, plead or even threaten. Healthy people who are loving and kind have good boundaries so that they don’t feel walked on or taken advantage of all the time. They know how to have them, keep them, and don’t get bullied or intimidated by others to do what they don’t want to do. They don’t need their anger to communicate those things, they know how to do it with words, and take the appropriate action if the other gets disrespectful or ugly.
Anger towards your own self for allowing this for so long might also be a challenge to let go of. We get so disappointed with ourselves that we aren’t better than we are. Stronger than we are. Healthier than we are. But we’re not.
I don’t know why it took 47 years for your eyes to be opened, but instead of being angry at yourself or God that it took that long, perhaps another way of looking at it is that now you are strong enough to see it, and take healthy action to get safe, sane and strong. And just maybe as you take your own steps towards getting healthier, your husband will be curious about your newfound strength and want to move towards greater health himself. And if not, you will know what your next steps are and be strong enough to take them.
Friend, when you’re filled with anger and resentment towards something or someone, how have you learned to let it go?