How did you fare as a child when you tried to express anger to your parents? Could they validate it and enter into a dialogue with you about it, in order that you could get your point across and come to terms with you feelings? Or were you shamed, told you were bad or evil for being angry and sent to your room?
I am currently reading a very enlightening book on shame and co-dependency called Conquering Shame and Co-dependency : 8 Steps to Freeing the True You by Darlene Lancer. In it she speaks of feelings which can become bound in shame from an early age. She draws attention to the difficulties that result when as children, after being shamed or punished for anger. We come to bind the feelings of anger with a feeling of fear. We become terrified of expressing our anger, so when we feel anger we feel fear, or we feel shame which impedes our ability to address our anger and the reasons and causes for feeling it.
This issue is on my mind as I have had three separate experiences with therapists where I expressed anger at various boundary violations and was either shamed, told I was better to leave the session, or told that I wasn’t really feeling anger, rather I was feeling fear and so had acted to lash out in an attempt to protect myself. This could be true but the point was that in two the cases I was trying to express residual anger and resolve it. The way I was responded to didn’t enable me to do this. In one case I left the session feeling suicidal, in another I was traumatised and fell into deep grief, and in the other I just left feeling very confused and the therapist herself expressed confusion around the connection between fear and anger.
Today I had an incident when going for some further medical test where I started to feel anger, I removed myself and sat quietly and just connected to the anger. In time the person involved apologised without me needing to say anything. They had not really done anything badly ‘wrong’, but they had not attended to me or put me in priority position when they should have done so. The way they treated me was also a trigger for other key experiences of being neglected or ignored and I was able to connect all the dots as I sat quietly with myself.
As I shared in an earlier blog, I have now found a therapist who doesn’t shame me for anger, but congratulates me when I express it cleanly and clearly. Believe me as a recovering co-dependent this has taken some time.
Being ignored and left alone a lot as a child, not feeling there was anyone there to talk to, or express things to when I was upset I naturally learned to turn away and to turn within. I learned also to expect that people most probably won’t be there, that I am best to go it alone. In some ways this has been good for me. But in some ways it has prevented me from growing and developing close intimate relationships.
I also still struggle when I feel I am disappointing others, not by doing anything wrong but in attending to my own needs first. I find it hard to put myself first as a priority. I struggle against my Catholic ‘nice girl’ conditioning that tells me this is selfish. When that happens I do begin to feel angry and resentful inside. I stuff my anger and then it can burst out sideways. I may feel scared to set a boundary even though I know this is good for me.
I’m not entirely sure where I am going to with this blog rather than to say I am becoming much more aware of the connection between anger, fear and self protection and self assertion in my own life. Having been shamed for anger I have had a long journey with learning about how important anger is and the role it plays when I am feeling it, the messages it has for me about want is needed.
In order to recover I need to be around people as therapists who have clarity over the purpose of anger, who don’t shame me, who help to validate me when I express my anger as a legitimate tool of self assertion and self protection. I don’t need to attack myself for feeling angry, I just need to know why I do. What is the message of my anger? What is its purpose? In honouring my anger, I honour my self and my boundary when it is necessary to do so.
..once I accepted that it was okay to feel my anger,
I could let go of it, along with my guilt and resentment.