The well deserved anger of the abused child


I have witnessed, and been the target of, a lot of anger these past few weeks.

One woman publicly and repeatedly attacked me because she disagreed with choices I’d made in trying to protect children from harm.

I listened to a man who, with eyes wide, talked about how he grew up in a family that refused him and his siblings medical care, even for broken bones.

An attorney sent me a vitriolic email punctuated with profanity, accusing me of opportunism.

One of the most grounded human beings I know became so overwhelmed with anger, he had to stop communicating with me for a while.

All of these individuals I know to be survivors of child abuse. I also know that I’m scared by anger because of my upbringing. When I was young, my father would get intensely angry. During those times, I felt unsafe because I had no escape.

Yet I, myself, was not permitted to feel anger. When my father and I argued and my voice would rise, he would say, “Whoever gets angry is in the wrong.”

Anger is a frequent companion of survivors of child abuse, one that might disappear for days, or even weeks, only to quickly return with no warning. I know people who go to great lengths to try to nullify their anger, as if they can buy it a one-way ticket and send it somewhere far away. Others accept that anger will pay them a visit from time to time and work on observing those triggered feelings and rendering them powerless.

But however we go about trying to deal with our anger, I can say most assuredly that anger is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. And while our anger might enable us to harm ourselves or others, the mere tendency to feel anger doesn’t make anyone a bad person. If someone does get angry, it doesn’t mean he or she is wrong; rather, it usually means that the person has been wronged in the past.

Child abuse expert and author Alice Miller wrote about anger in the abused child. In The Roots of Violence are Not Unknown, Miller writes:

As beaten children are not allowed to defend themselves, they must suppress their anger and rage against their parents who have humiliated them, killed their inborn empathy, and insulted their dignity. They will take out this rage later, as adults, on scapegoats, mostly on their own children. Deprived of empathy, some of them will direct their anger against themselves.

Regardless of the immediate target of rage, the real enemy often turns out to be the disrespectful, humiliating, and careless treatment of children by those who lack an ability to empathize. So the next time I feel angry, I’m going to think about just where that anger comes from. Chances are, it comes from a place deep inside me, placed there by adults a very long time ago.


  1. It is funny how parents, military officers and NCOs, police officers, and bosses think it is their right and privilege to raise their voices and be angry while the rest of us are not allowed to raise our voices and be anger when we are misused and abused by those groups.

    • Seems many police not all or people in these fields gravitate to them because they have a need for control or have control issues and the badge gives them the right to abuse that and get away with it. I have herd and read many officers and military have abused people and they get away with it. But now many are speaking out in these areas as we can see in the news.

  2. EXCELLENT article!
    Thank you

  3. Janet,

    Thanks for this post.

    Samuel Martin

  4. It is not surprising, then, that those who have been subjected to the violence of genital alteration/mutilation as infants or children end up being defensive, over-reactive, aggressive, angry, or enraged adults. The males on the battlefield in the Middle East are Muslim, Jewish, and USA soldiers who have been subjected as infants or children to the terror, pain, and violence of circumcision. As Karl Menninger said, “What we do to children, they will do to society, and Gandhi said, “If we are ever to have real peace, we must begin with the children.”

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