I recently read an article about something called gunnysacking. Turns out, that is the term for having a disproportionate reaction to someone due to having held in anger for too long.
I’ve experienced this many times, & I believe it’s a common abuse tactic of narcissists. They push your buttons & somehow let you know that you aren’t allowed to confront them on their bad behavior. Eventually they say something that is far from the worst thing they’ve ever said yet you lose your temper. They enjoy this because it proves to them how irrational, crazy, etc. you are. It also leaves you wondering if the narcissist may just be right about you being irrational or crazy.
The best example I can give of gunnysacking in my life happened in 2016. At the time, I wanted to go no contact with my parents, but the timing felt wrong somehow. I maintained the relationship only because I trust my instincts. When my mother in-law died that April, a few days later, I saw my parents’ number on my caller ID. They just saw her obituary in the local paper & were angry I hadn’t told them she died. They were worried what my in-laws would think of them for not being at the funeral. My parents knew I hadn’t spoken to any of my in-laws in 14 years at this time. They also only spoke to them maybe 3 times in the 22 years my husband & I had been together. I felt betrayed that my parents showed such loyalty to people who they knew mistreated me. They couldn’t understand why I felt that way., & I was furious. That was the last time I spoke to my mother, & one of the last times I spoke to my father.
This was hardly the first time my parents showed they cared more for someone else than me. It also wasn’t the worst thing they had done. Years of stifling my anger just reached a boiling point in that conversation. The anger just gushed out even though it wasn’t proportionate to the situation.
I believe there is another variation on gunnysacking, too. When you have a relationship with a narcissist, yet rather than blow up at the narcissist, you blow up to your spouse, friend, sibling, etc. This is a bonus for a narcissist because it proves that they have control over you & also causes you problems in another relationship.
Unfortunately I have done this too. I would speak to my parents, then after the visit, when I’d see my husband, I’d snap at him over nothing. I was angry with my parents, & unable to hold it in any longer by the time I saw him. (Yes, I apologized when this happened since it wasn’t fair to him.)
Gunnysacking may feel good at the moment since you’re finally getting those emotions out, but it isn’t healthy. When you are overwhelmed with emotions, you can’t think clearly. Negative emotions that overwhelm can trigger survival instincts to kick in & that means rational thought is put aside. Stress levels are raised & that is certainly unhealthy for your body. Not to mention, attacking someone disproportionately can damage your relationship. No one wants to be treated badly but in particular when they haven’t done anything wrong. Also, in a relationship with a narcissist, as I mentioned earlier, they’ll use gunnysacking to prove how awful you are to yourself & others. They love to say things like, “She just started yelling at me out of the blue.” “I don’t know what set him off. We were talking then suddenly he was screaming.”
To avoid gunnysacking, it’s best to deal with your anger as it comes up. Since confronting narcissists rarely helps, find other ways to process your anger. Write in a journal, talk to a friend, draw or even pray. God can handle your anger & help you get through it.
And lastly, never forget, there is nothing wrong with feeling anger, especially when you’re abused by a narcissist. Everyone does sometimes, & even Jesus got angry. It’s perfectly normal. It’s when others are hurt by your anger that it becomes a problem.
Many survivors of childhood narcissistic abuse grow up showing virtually no anger. Even when they have valid reasons for being angry, they don’t show anger, in particular anger at their abusers.
Rather than get in touch with their anger, they often stuff it deep down inside & make excuses for their abusers. “If only I hadn’t done…” “It’s not his fault, he had a bad childhood.” “She was right, & I’m oversensitive. I always have been.”
Sometimes, abused children grow up depressed. They aren’t necessarily depressed though. They may be incredibly angry about the traumas they endured. Repressed anger can manifest as depression.
Anger really is a scary thing when you’ve never been allowed to express it, & even more when you were shamed for feeling anger by your parent. The only anger that was allowed in the home where I grew up was my mother’s. If I showed even a bit of frustration let alone anger, she shamed me for having “that Bailey temper.” It took me until well into my 30’s before I could express any anger at all, & into my 40’s before I got comfortable with it.
Anger really isn’t a bad thing at all, Dear Reader. I know so many people say it is, Christians in particular, but it truly isn’t. Anger is simply an emotion & emotions are from God. Would He give a bad gift?! Matthew 7:11 “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (NIV)
What is bad about anger is when you do bad things with it. You shouldn’t let your anger motivate you to get revenge, for example. Romans 12:19 “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” (NIV)
What is good about anger is it can let you know when you’re being mistreated. If someone treats you well, you won’t feel anger, but let that person steal from you for example, & you WILL feel anger!
Anger also can motivate you to make positive changes. No one ever started a diet who was happy with the state of their body. They started it because they were fed up with not wearing a smaller size, getting winded walking up the steps or because they were having health problems.
So how can you learn to feel & express your anger in a healthy way?
You need to accept that you have the right to be angry sometimes. Every single living being has the right to feel anger about some things, & that includes you. Hiding it as a child was no doubt a very useful survival skill, but you’re not that child anymore. You are an adult who has every right to feel it & express it in healthy ways. Remind yourself of that & do so often.
You also need to gain a good understanding of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It helps in so many ways, but one way that helps you is because you understand projection. A narcissist who shames you for being angry or having a bad temper is simply projecting their bad temper or anger issues onto you. Their cruel comments are absolutely no reflection on you.
You need to recognize that you have the right to be angry at your abuser(s). During the abuse, you obviously couldn’t show your anger. Now that the abuse is done, get angry! Let out all that old anger you stuffed inside you for so long! It’s hurting you physically & emotionally to hold it in so let it out. It’s long overdue! It’ll help to free you of shame, guilt & feeling worthless to do so.
**I’m not saying that by getting angry at your abusive parents you need to confront them. That is entirely your decision. All I am saying is you need to feel & express that anger.**
Everyone has ways to deal with anger that work for them, & you need to do the same. You can journal, get a punching bag, punch pillows, yell when home alone… there are all kinds of different ways you can cope.
Don’t think that if you decide to forgive your abusive parents, the anger will vanish. I made that mistake early in my healing, & thought there was something really wrong with me for still feeling angry with my parents after deciding to forgive them. I didn’t realize that deciding to forgive them wouldn’t make all the anger I felt magically disappear. I believe forgiving & getting rid of anger are two separate things. At least they have been for me. I make the decision to forgive those who have done me wrong immediately, but even so, it takes time to work through & release the anger.
Recently I wrote this post about the time my mother tried to kill me, & the tough time I’m having regarding this incident. I wondered something. Why now? Why this year? Every other November 28 since 1990 when it happened hasn’t been this hard. Difficult sometimes, sure but not like this. So what is going on?!
A thought crossed my mind that answered that question.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband & I went to dinner at this little local bar/restaurant we like. As we ate, someone started playing the juke box. The song “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” by the Kentucky Headhunters came on. It immediately made me think of a story I told in this post last year. The abridged version is this…
The day of my father’s funeral, I asked my Amazon Echo Dot to play music by Wham! since I wanted something light & fun, but instead it mysteriously played Waylon Jennings’ song, “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line”. I just knew in my heart that God & my father wanted me to know that song is kinda how my father felt – trapped & unable to protect me from my mother. I thought about my father’s notes I’d found documenting some of the abuse my mother inflicted on me & terrible things she said about me as I listened to the song. I read them that day & it was pretty overwhelming to say the least.
Anyway… when the song played at the restaurant, immediately I felt transported back to that experience. It triggered a ton of intrusive memories of abuse & naturally a big C-PTSD flare up.
Later, I prayed about it all & asked God what was that about?! He clearly spoke to my heart & said, “This was a gift from your father. He knows you have a lot of anger inside, & rightfully so. He wants you to face it & heal. He knows you’re strong enough to do that. I agree.”
Since then, I’ve been getting very angry about things as they come to mind, & my mother’s attack on me is no exception. I never realized before that I hadn’t been overly angry about it. Why? Because I felt I had to be more concerned with how others were affected.
My father complained about my mother locking him out of the house when he left the night she attacked me. His keys were in his pocket! He could’ve let himself back in at any time!!! But that was what was wrong with the situation, not my mother trying to kill me. Years later, my father complained to me about having to fix the wall my mother threw me into. He expected me to apologize. That did NOT happen & I told him it never would. Not my fault she broke the wall with my back.
When it happened, my ex husband was upset about it, but not because I’d been hurt. It was more because it upset him that she did this, rather than her actions causing me harm, if that makes sense.
Both my father & my ex wanted me to comfort them. As a result, I did (I was only 19 & knew nothing of NPD obviously), & ignored my own anger. That anger is now at the surface after 28 years & it’s time to face it.
I’m seeing more & more how valuable anger can be. Yes, we should forgive, not be full of anger or try to get revenge on people, but at the same time, anger has its place! It is an excellent motivator for change. It is also a big part of the healing process, & should NEVER be ignored! The only way to heal from anger that I know of is to get angry. Feel it. Yell, cry, write hateful letters you never send, or whatever works for you, but feel that anger & get it out of you. Then you can release it fully.
Forgiving too easily or early is an issue, like it was with me. Once I became a Christian in 1996, I heard a lot about forgiveness. I thought I forgave my mother for her attack, but what I really did was just ignore the anger that I felt. I think many victims of narcissistic abuse do the same thing.
I believe one of the best things you can do for yourself when trying to heal from narcissistic abuse is to decide early on that you will forgive your abuser, then face your anger head on. It’s miserable to do, I know, & scary when you’ve never really felt anger before, but you have to do it. Remember that anger is from God like all of our emotions, so that alone proves it is valuable. Feeling it helps you to cope with injustices done to you & motivates you to make appropriate changes. It also helps your self esteem when you get angry about what was done to you because it’s like it shows you that you are valuable! You deserve to be treated right!
I just got myself a little ice cream. Rocky road, my favorite 🙂 Hubby brought it home probably close to a month ago by now. I’ve been the only one eating it & it’s maybe 1/4 gone. Realizing that I haven’t been over indulging triggered a flashback.
When I was growing up, my mother would get candy bars at the grocery store, & often when we came home, she’d give one to my father, one to me then take one for herself. Often, she forced me to take another one, then when I finally did, she’d call me a hog & give me a very creepy, maniacal smile. It was so scary looking! If I confronted her, she’d say “But it’s cute when I do it” & continue the scary smile. I also had to eat the stupid candy bar or she’d have treated me even worse, more shaming. I still flippin’ HATE Fifth Avenue candy bars because of her. Not sure if they even make them- I’m not a big candy bar fan. Gee, I wonder why??
It was kinda funny though.. for once, I realized how angry I am about what my mother did to me. I also realized it wasn’t a bad thing. I certainly have a right to be angry about this! Not only did this awful behavior of my mother’s trigger a flashback (I sincerely hate them!), it’s things like this which are directly responsible for me having eating disorders in my younger days. I wasn’t overweight growing up, but my mother consistently commented on my weight or my body. She also very harshly criticized whatever I ate or didn’t eat. Everything about me, my body, my looks & what I ate was wrong.
God’s been working with me on getting OK with my anger for quite a while. I’m never angry all that long, I forgive easily & I don’t get vengeful or cruel. I’m not consumed with anger. Also for quite a while now, I’ve envied those who say they don’t let things bother or anger them & felt guilty for not being so “good”, being a bad Christian or even worse, proving my mother right when she said I have a terrible temper. The Bailey temper, as she’s always called it. According to her, the Bailey temper is the worst plague in all humanity, past or present. So not being ashamed of my anger or feeling like it was misplaced or over the top was a breakthrough!
If you struggle with anger too, Dear Reader, please know you are not alone! Many of us raised by narcissistic parents go through this. Also, please know that feeling anger is human! God gave people emotions so we are aware of things. Joy means what you’re doing is a good thing- have fun with it! Sadness helps us grieve when we lose someone we love. Anger is a sign someone is mistreating us. Emotions are God-given & there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of them, including anger! It’s what you do with emotions that can be a bad thing. Simply feeling anger isn’t bad at all. Hurting someone in the heat of anger, however, that is bad.
So the next time you feel angry, feel it! Don’t ignore your anger! Ignoring or burying your anger only leads to problems. Feel your anger. Tell God what you’re feeling. Journal about it. Talk to a safe friend or relative. Beat up some pillows if that helps. Write angry letters you never send. Find a safe way to get your anger out, & rest easy that your anger is not only normal, but God ordained. There is nothing wrong with you for feeling angry for being mistreated!
Also once you get the anger out, know you’re going to be tired. Emotional work can be very draining. Take care of yourself. Rest & relax. Lay around & watch movies if that helps. Do things that comfort you & make you feel nurtured. It’s good self-care to take it easy after any emotional work.
Good afternoon, Dear Readers!
It’s come to my attention recently that not a lot of people really understand true, Godly forgiveness, so I thought I’d write about my thoughts on the topic.
Unforgiveness prevents you from spending your life happy. Unforgiveness is not only detrimental to your emotional/mental health but your physical health too. Things like high blood pressure, diabetes, ulcers, kidney & heart problems can stem from carrying around that negativity. Forgiveness, however, gives you no health problems & gives you peace & joy. It’s no wonder God wants us to forgive! (see Ephesians 4:32)
Unfortunately, I think people often believe forgiving others means you should pretend what hurt you didn’t even happen. Forgive & forget, as the old saying goes. While a lot of times, you should forgive & forget, there are other times that simply isn’t wise! Forget the small infractions, like that person in line behind you bumping your heel with the grocery cart. But if someone repeatedly hurts you, don’t forget that! If you do, basically you’re setting yourself up to be hurt again. For example, if someone is verbally abusive, & you forgive & forget every time, you’re going to be hurt many times. Instead, you need to be aware of what this person is capable of, & protect yourself from her verbal attacks however you feel is right.
Forgiveness also has nothing to do with the person who abused or hurt you- it is about you & you alone. You deserve better than being angry & bitter! Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. It doesn’t discredit what was done to you, or a sign of weakness. It means you want to obey God, & be good to yourself at the same time.
Some people think that cutting people out of your life is a sign you hate them, still harbor anger or aren’t a good Christian. This is simply NOT the case! I have ended quite a few relationships in my life, & not once was that done in anger. I did it after careful consideration & prayer, never during a fit of anger. To this day, I harbor no ill-will or unforgiveness towards those people I have eliminated from my life, either. I simply don’t want to tolerate their mistreatment of me- I know I deserve better.
I know there are times it’s hard to forgive. When someone hurts you deeply or repeatedly, forgiveness seems impossible. The good news is that it isn’t. It may take some time for you to forgive someone, but that is fine! God understands that, & He can help you to forgive, too. All you’ll need is a desire to forgive.
-Your first step in forgiving others is a decision that you want to forgive. It sounds simple, but sometimes this is a hard step when you’re very angry or hurt. If you lack that desire, then by all means, ask God to help you!
-Also, try to see things from the offender’s perspective. That person could be in a bad mood because of going through something stressful, & unfairly took out her frustrations on you.
-And, some people are naturally selfish, insensitive, oblivious to the feelings of others. There are still other people simply never learned to treat others with respect & consideration.
-Ask God to help you release your anger. Sometimes it helps to imagine you are holding a bag containing your anger, then you place it at the foot of Jesus. I’ve done that a few times, & it can be helpful. Get your feelings out. Write a letter to the person that you never show her. Get it all out- why what she did hurt you. You can keep the letter if it helps you somehow, but I’ve found burning it to be oddly therapeutic.
-Lastly, this is the hardest part- pray for that person. (see Matthew 5:44). I have prayed through clenched teeth a few times-literally! But, I’ve learned that once you pray for that person, it releases some anger. The more you pray for her, the more anger is released.
Remember, forgiveness is good for truly good for you, & it doesn’t discount any pain you have experienced! Also, it can take time sometimes, & there is nothing wrong with that. Just because you can’t forgive someone immediately doesn’t make you a bad person! And, remember too that although there is a time to forgive & forget, there is also a time to forgive but remember! ❤