Experiencing negative emotions after abuse
Coming to terms with the effects of abuse is a process that takes copious amounts of time and energy. Like many others who have been in my situation, I’ve personally spent a long time living in denial, making excuses for my abusers’ behaviour or blaming myself, if not repressing the memories entirely. After a trauma, we’re constantly encouraged to feel, told that processing all of our emotions is vital. However, after the psychological turmoil of experiencing abuse- removing yourself from a volatile situation, acknowledging what has happened and the damage it has left behind- it can be hard to know exactly what it is you’re supposed to be feeling.
When abuse depicted in the media, we’re often presented with images of quiet, solemn women, or stories of those who have gone on to forgive their abusers. We’re rarely shown the more ‘unattractive’ side- the spite, the rage, grief that’s uncensored. Very seldom is a survivor’s capacity for anger acknowledged, and when it is, it’s discouraged. This makes it incredibly difficult to justify these negative feelings if they arise (and it’s likely that they will.)
Personally, I’ve never considered myself a particularly angry person, yet when reliving my encounters with abuse I’m surprised by the amount of bitterness I’m able to hold onto. I’ve spent a lot of time condemning myself for this even though I know resentment is a normal and common response to mistreatment. I often want to censor myself, worried that if I’m too indignant it might make people more liable to dismiss me, or that if I’m too vocal people might think I’m overreacting if not fabricating the story completely. Inevitably, forcing myself to withhold my feelings has just added to the emotional toll and made it even more difficult for me to move on.
While survivors are often depicted in a specific way, if not silenced completely, it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to be polite and forgiving in response to abuse. For me, the most important part of the recovery process has been embracing all of my responses unabashedly, especially the unattractive ones. I’ve probably felt every undesirable emotion under the sun ten times over, but it’s not something I’m ashamed of. It can be challenging to come to terms with ‘uglier’ emotions given their lack of representation and normalisation, but they’re very normal. I’d go as far as arguing it’s healthy to feel this way upon realising you’ve been maltreated.
It’s important that once you’ve let yourself feel this anger, you’re able to move on from it. This is obviously a lot easier said than done. It’s often more comforting to fall into perpetual resentfulness, which is something that I know from experience. It would be hypocritical of me to pretend I’m not still indignant about my encounters with abuse, that writing about them doesn’t still bring up negative emotions (sometimes so many that it’s overwhelming.) However, once these feelings have passed, I’m able to find peace in the fact they aren’t permanent. It’s still only after letting myself go through this resentment and this anger, though, that I feel able to move on from it.
So, if you’re wondering how it is you’re supposed to feel- there is no right way to feel when coming to terms with abuse. As a survivor it’s very easy to start believing there are certain ways you should feel and act in response to your experience, whether it be due to external pressures or media representation. Regardless, it’s okay to feel negative things, to be everything you’re encouraged not to be. As long as you’re processing your trauma in a way that works for you, without shame, you’re taking steps in the right direction.