No-one should experience violence

When things built up, the anger would just explode. She’d either take it out on herself or on us. We had to call the police a couple of times – not because we thought she’d hurt us really badly but because we had to restrain her so forcefully, it felt like we might be accused or hurting her.

Nathan, A brother

Feelings of anger, frustration and other emotions associated with trauma have to go somewhere. For people surviving sexual or violent crimes, issues about trust can mean bottling things up. Eventually that anger will explode if those feelings aren’t dealt with. Whilst some survivors self-harm or self-medicate to cope with these feelings, others will express that anger through violence.

Inevitably, those closest to the survivor will bear the brunt of a verbal or physical expression of that anger. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, as a test. A survivor who is struggling to know who to trust or who is safe will display their worst selves to see if they are still accepted and loved despite their behaviour. They are looking for a place of safety and will push their carers to the limit to test this.

Secondly, they will hit out at those who offer unconditional love or care because they know that they can do so and not be rejected.

Knowing this – and living with it are two very different things. Nobody should live in fear of, or experience violence. No-one – including carers and however much guilt and shame they may feel – deserves to be hit, shouted at or become a ‘punch bag’ for someone else’s anger.

Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, is knowing how to get help to prevent injury to yourself and others without landing your loved one with a criminal record. For this reason, many people avoid calling the police or seeking help until it is too late.

Managing anger

Anger in itself is not a bad thing. Repressing anger or other big emotions doesn’t help as it stays inside and causes both physical and mental ill-health. Managing anger isn’t about suppressing it but letting it out in a safe way that doesn’t hurt or alarm others. People who have no outlet for their anger may turn to self-harm, alcohol or other forms of self-medication to deal with it. They may lash out with violent acts or words or seek to deal with their own lack of control by controlling others through fear or intimidation or threats.

Anger and frustration isn’t reserved for survivors of violent or sexual crimes. Carers, siblings and other family members also have enormous emotional challenges that can spill over into violent thoughts and acts. Everyone involved needs to find ways of dealing with it safely.

If you are providing care and think you may lose control…

  • Walk away

  • Shut the door

  • Phone someone to come and help

  • If there is ‘no-one’ phone the duty social worker at your local council

  • Failing that, phone 999 and ask for the police or an ambulance