It is hardly possible to recognise and heal the hurts of our childhood without experiencing some form of anger. Anger is the force of separation that will help us to say that things hurt, that what we experienced damaged us or was not enough. It is the force which when expressed in an empowered (as opposed to a disempowered or passive aggressive way) will help us to differentiate our true feelings from those that were imposed upon us in childhood. Our anger will help us to make a separation from the behaviours of others that violate and abuse us. Without experiencing the purpose of our anger we cannot connect to deeper feelings and set boundaries, we cannot grieve what was lost or absent and we cannot find freedom.
The expression of anger is problematic in our culture, however and learning to express anger from childhood cleanly and in such a way that it becomes a freeing thing for our spirit as well as coming to differentiate who are the right people with whom we can entrust our anger and will understand and validate it are important steps of healing. We need permission to feel what can be a very big feeling and at times overpowering emotion, most especially if we were not allowed to express our anger in childhood.
I have in my own attempts at therapy experienced at least four therapists who could not contain or validate my anger, several of whom were very mixed up about the role of anger and made me even more confused.
Recovering alcoholic John Lee in his book The Anger Solution makes the point of how many therapists are actually ineffective when it comes to helping people with early childhood pain and trauma, boundary and addiction issues in that they have not yet dealt with their own anger and grief. It is my personal belief that prescribing medication alone instead of helping the depressed to understand the role repressed anger may play in their depression is extremely damaging.
In her book The Emotionally Absent Mother, Jasmin Lee Cori, addresses the critical role empowered expression of anger makes in recovering from the wounds of an emotionally absent, neglectful or damaging childhood. She speaks of how essential it is when we are uncovering our original pain that we have permission to get angry in a way that will help free us from the role of being a passive victim of our unresolved past.
Working with anger is so much about permission. Many of us have learned to swallow anger, and it generally takes a long time to unlearn this…
If you want to champion your wounded inner child, if you want to create room to feel what was too threatening to feel earlier, if you want to release the feeling (rather than stay unconsciously in it), you need to give yourself permission to feel angry.
Part of the problem with expression of anger for many of us in recovery is that expression of our anger often leads to distancing from others. Others may have their own anger issues, or not understand the true root of ours, they may shame us for being angry or give us a wide birth. These responses can trigger what happened to us in childhood when we tried to express anger and were punished, shamed or sent to our room.
Lee Cori makes the point that anger is a natural response of a child to attachment needs not being met, it is a call for the parent’s empathy to understand what the child is trying to express. What usually happens (and I saw this out this afternoon between a father and son) when anger is expressed the child is punished. Young children need parents who can respond to expressions of anger with understanding and help them find healthy ways to express or deal with anger.
Certainly for those with complex PTSD expression of valid anger marks a key point of change in moving out of chronic immobilisation towards empowerment. Where our impulse to strike out or run away from those who hurt us is numbed or dulled we can and do develop depression, a passive aggressive style, our anger can be buried into the body, we develop gastro intestinal problems and other disorders. We learn to become disempowered when we swallow bury or deny our anger which then falls into our bodies.
As we recover and uncover our original pain and trauma our emotional work becomes understanding when we are angry, being able to differentiate what it is that sparked or triggered our anger and what are the associations to anger and pain of the past? Learning of ways to express that anger (therapy and journaling are essential tools here) is important so we don’t deny or bury it again.
In this regard we need a trusted friend, or therapist, we can learn to get down with our Inner Child and have a good talk about exactly what is going with him or her and what is wanted or needed in the situation. We can learn tools to express our anger cleanly, clearly and assertively (as opposed to aggressively or passive aggressively.)
Some excellent resources that have helped me in working to understand my own anger have been therapy and journaling as well as the following books.
The Anger Solution : The Proven Method for Achieving Calm and Developing Healthy, Long Lasting Relationships by John Lee.
Honour Your Anger : How Transforming Your Anger Style Can Change Your Life : Learn to Safely and Effectively Communicate Your Anger by Beverly Engle
Complex PTSD : From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker
There is no substitute for a good therapist however when it comes to having permission to be angry. If I had known more at the outset of my own therapy I think I would have asked more questions of the therapist, such as what experience do you have in helping clients to work through anger issues? What is your opinion of the place anger plays in healing from childhood trauma.
Investment in therapy is a huge expense and it is so important that we choose our therapists wisely. We can be re-traumatised by therapy many times (at least that has been my experience). Knowing how important it is to find someone who is effectively trained is extremely important before we put our wounded hearts in another’s hands. Often the people who will help us most are those who have worked through their own anger, there is no substitute for experience.
Once we understand the roots of our anger it is a further lesson that the responsibility for our healing lies in our own hands now. We cannot undo the past and we can never have the childhood we wished for. There is a deep grief to be entered into when we get to this part of recovery in our original pain work. It involves feeling the hurts again, but this time to acknowledge and release them so we can free our energy for good things in the future, so that we do not repeat and replay over and over the wounds of the past and remained trapped in anger we have not processed nor come to terms with.