Do you feel comfortable with expressing anger? Do you have any kind of fear around it? When you start to feel angry about something, do you also start to feel fear or shame? I am asking this because of a blog I recently read and because that is how I realise I feel when I feel angry. I am also aware that when I start to feel angry I can enter into a rational negating dialogue with myself, I want to be sure that what I am feeling is in proportion to the action and not over the top.
I am aware that this is due the way my anger was or was not handled by my parents. Often when I was angry I got in trouble or I was sent to my room. When my parents were angry with each other they didn’t handle it in a rational way, either and undercurrents of anger often ended with my mother giving my father the silent treatment or erupting into a storm.
In the past few years on the four or so occasions I have tried to express valid feelings of anger with my Mum, she immediately gets fearful and scared and says to me “I wish you didn’t have to get angry.” Often my feelings of anger are justified and I haven’t even been expressing them in a damaging way, I have just been expressing very intense old feelings I haven’t shared before. In this situation I have discussed them with an outside person to get a reality check as due to my conditioning I can never be entirely sure if I am being reasonable or unreasonable. Often in the past I was being told I didn’t have a right to be angry, was made to feel like the bad guy for being real and expressing myself passionately.
I now know after many years of therapy that I learned over many years to swallow down my anger with other painful feelings much of the time. When anger has come up I have often tried to share with people who could not or would not hear it, or with people who were invested in me keeping it under wraps. It has taken me about five therapy attempts to find a therapist who helps me and is comfortable with me expressing anger. She validates when she feels my anger is righteous.
Today I was at the dog park and a mother shut down her son for talking too loudly. I must admit it triggered me. I think that when we have had to shut down or repress anger for many years when it finally does emerge, at first it comes out like a tournado. It has taken me some time to learn of the term historical anger. Historical anger may be years of anger that never found expression before and got blocked or buried or barricaded away. When it finally emerges it can be immense and very, very big and can piggy back onto new hurts.
I have shared in another blog :
that the Anger Detour process as outlined by John Lee has helped me to work through old angers and work to find how they may be triggered or re-awakened by current incidents. Unpacking and releasing old anger is very important for if we suppress our true feelings, in time we tend to develop all kinds of body problems, digestive upsets, headaches, stiff muscles and auto immune problems.
The truth is that as a baby or a child we have very intense feelings that require the mediation, soothing and mirroring of a caregiver. I read a very powerful book many years ago by the psychotherapist Donald Kalsched called, The Inner World of Trauma. In it he shows how when such intense bodily centred feelings find no way of being expressed, understood, held, mirroring and reflected by outside caregivers they build up within the baby or young child and can actually become powerful inner demonic figures or inner voices. In some cases the inner voices become so all powerful and self protective they will encourage the person to isolate totally or even take their lives.
Kalsched came to his understanding through the experience of having people in therapy that were unable to be helped, they may abort the therapy or erect all kinds of powerful defences against being helped. Due to the trauma of having been hurt in the past or neglected by those from whom they sought attachment, there was no way these clients could ever risk being cared for or loved again. And the prospect of feeling this old pain (which is so necessary to the healing and maturing process) was too much for them.
Its is easy to see how borderline rage is a natural outcome of such treatment. Borderlines are one of the most demonised of so called character disorders. Many therapists abandon borderlines all over again if they are not able to handle the natural rage and anger of the borderline and help them to come to some kind of understanding of it. Of course the most essential healing of borderline rage must come from within the person themselves in understanding the hurt and pain of their abandoned or neglected inner child that they may transfer onto the therapist. Only self compassion and a true understanding of our trauma history and our erected defences can help us to understand and meditate the anger, learning to express it in ways which no longer alienate others.
That said, there are times when we have to express our anger and we need to have that anger heard. Anger is our legitimate protest that serves the protection and expression of the self. When it comes out of a justified hurt anger is a protest that needs to be heard and understood by the parent in an empathetic and loving way when we are a child. If it is not, if justified anger is shut down or misunderstood we can loose a very important psychological defence that helps us to maintain healthy interpersonal boundaries. In this situation we take flight in defensive patterns perhaps of disempowerment and collapse associated with co-dependent coping strategies.
Certainly feeling the power of old anger is not very comfortable. We have to be very careful in this process that we don’t dump old anger on new situations. We need ways to understand when we are age regressing to an earlier inner child injury or undergoing a triggering flashback (for help with this look to Pete Walker’s book on Complex PTSD). Once we have done this we need to find assertive ways to express our truth and experience with someone safe.
Like or not anger is something we need to make friends with. A natural understanding of what hurts us or makes us angry (justifiably) is necessary for us to find happiness and live with healthy boundaries. It also will have a powerful affect on our immune system, so in the end may literally make the difference between living well or dying of an autoimmune related disease. My own cancer journey has shown me this fact. I know that I ignore anger at my own peril. And that those who deny it or negate it are just not psychologically healthy individuals for me to be around much.