Anger reminds us that we exist. It is our friend because when we forget, it comes up to remind us that we exist, that we are real, that we are here in this room with others for with whom we wish to be seen and heard, and that we matter. We have a primal need to exist, to be real, to be here, and to matter to ourselves. That is true for all of us. For the good guy anger could literally be a salvation.
Sarah has lived the good guy identity for all of her life. She believes that she is becoming a better person the more she sacrifices for and helps others. She feels that it is selfish to think about herself, to want for herself, to say no to others, who need her. But lately she has started to think of herself as a very selfish person, because she has been getting angry at her narcissistic mother. Narcissistic parents need the child to worship them, to take care of them to put the first, above all else, to make them happy and proud, to carry their moods and respond to these mooods without any need for asking. The child of the narcissist leans how to intuit the needs and wishes of the parent, to serve and to walk on eggshells around the potential for a temper tantrum or a shut out in which the parent refuses to speak to the child, or other more covert punishments.
Sarah’s childhood fits this pattern perfectly. Her mother controls her every move. Even when her mother is not around, she feels that somehow her mother will find out about what she is doing and be ashamed of her. Deep down Sarah aches to have her mother’s approval and lives her life in a fantasy that one day she will get it.
But lately she is beginning to see that her mother blames her for things that she herself has done. She sees that other siblings were able to get help for things that she herself has done, but when Sarah was literally starving while she made sure her sibling were fed, her mother refused outright to help saying, “I raised you to be independent.” There are several other things that she has begun to see about her mother because her anger has finally allowed her to see these things. The anger has come up to say, “I AM, I am here, I am real, and I matter.”
Of course these sound like very selfish messages to Sarah, and she feels enormous guilt for having these feelings. She’s begun to feel so tremendously ashamed of herself for these feelings that she has considered killing herself. So she goes to therapy to se if the therapist can make the anger go away. The conflict between anger and guilt rages in the safety of the therapeutic alliance and the messages of each become clearer and clearer until she begins to see that guilt is saying. “I AM not, I should not really be here. I can’t allow myself to be real for that would be wrong, and I dont really matter to me or to anyone else.” She also begins to understand that the anger is saying just the opposite.
Now she knows where the problem is. The problem all along has been that she’s been taught not to exist so that only her mother exists. She has allowed her mother to be the only presence in her life. And while she finds it very difficult at first, she begins to assert herself with her mother……Sarah has found a peaceful truth inside of herself and she is not going to give up, because anger is an energy that must be heard and authenticated. Anger is saving her life. Eventually Sarah is able to set herself free from her mother’s demands so she is now able to have the partner, job and hobbies that she prefers, rather than choosing of those which she thinks her mother will approve, or which are selected because they remind her of her unresolved issues with her mother. As a result, her mother is now given responsbility for her own life. She may simply find someone else to use, or given this chance, she might make choices that allow her to awaken as well.
The force of anger cannot be forever forced underground. I see many clients who, because they can no longer hide anger from themselves, come to therapy. When they get there, of course, they want me to help them make the anger go away – because that is what we’ve all been taught to do with anger. But alas, I will not help them to get rid of it. I will, however, help them to hear it and hear it well. If they are living in the good guy identity, hearing the voice of the anger might be the thing that begins to move the out of the good guy identity and into the authentic self.
Andrea Mathews : My Friend Anger, Chapter 23, Letting Go of Good : Dispel the Myth of Goodness to Find Your Genuine Self.
Contemplating this chapter over the past 24 hours it has occured to me how the narcissists in our lives (and this is not only parents as refered to in the excerpt about but may also be siblings, teacher, friends, bosses or others) will often try to disable our fight response (or valid expression of anger). We may be told we are making their lives more difficult by being upset or sad when their refusal to allow us our right to exist or choose what we like and need for ourselves (and this included valid self assertion or self expression) expresses itself. If we have been conditioned to fawn (play dead) in response then we are like that dog in the park who roles over on his or her back and cocks her leg in submission to what he or she senses as a more powerful dominant animal. But if we keep submitting and allow ourselves to be conditioned to erase ourselves we will end up suffering not only emotionally and spiritually but physically as well.
It also occurs to me that many religions can condition us to disable our fight response. I was lying in bed a moment ago and decided I had to get up to write this post. I was thinking of how on our mobile phones we have to disable our flight mode, and of how a similar thing can happen both with fight and flight in our own lives when dealing with those who condition us to believe we dont have a right to exist or to our genuine feelings. We may be shut out by them as they try to manipulate us to ‘change back’ and toe their line and the worst thing we can do in this situation is fawn and/or play dead. The only exception would be when we play dead to get them off our back for a while. But ‘playing dead’ by allowing our guilt or need for their love and approval (which is always conditional anyway) to control us is not healthy for us.
So when we are told by any person or religion that ‘anger is one of the seven deadly sins’ or makes us an ugly person that others would prefer to avoid, what we are being told is that we are not truly being seen or heard or respected. Our anger comes out to fight for what we need, learning how to assert ourselves is so important and so is our anger. We need always to listen to our anger and what it is trying to tell us if we want to really be true to our deepest most authentic selves.
An issue that especially angers me concerns those out there who suffer from so called ‘borderline personality disorder’. They are judged in all kinds of ways and often sidelined when their anger comes out in response to certain behaviours which trigger the pain over not being seen or made real by others in their earlier formative years. They may be abandoned by therapists who dont understand where and why that anger is finally expresssing itself. Reading this chapter again made me aware about certain events lately where I tried to express my feelings and needs with certain family members and was sidelined or shut out or called names. What I now understand was that I was NOT being truely heard, understood or respected. In the end its important that we come to know we have value and have a right to express our wishes, rights, feelings and needs. Anger may be a most essential wake up call that comes to get that message through to us and it is one that we so need to hear, if we were as children conditioned to seek approval from those more wrapped up in their own needs and wishes. Denying our anger and opting instead for guilt is not healthy. If we consisently feel guilty or ashamed about our needs, wants, feelings and wishes we may have a lot of work to do to become more self championing and aware.
3 thoughts on “On the importance of anger”
I agree. Societal expectations, by and large, are conditional. This presupposes that we are templates rather than individuals. The problem with society, and many medical professionals as well (unfortunately) is that the individual must adhere to this lack of dimension or suffer the consequences. Anger doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it would be nice if more people attempted to find the underlying root rather than judge the end result.
Beautifully said. Its such a huge issue in society and in the so called ‘mental illness’ field. 🙂 Thank you.
Yes, I believe anger is an emotion that is telling me something is wrong, something has hurt me… How i react to it is the important part. I don’t want to hold onto it, but do something about it, in a peaceful way of course. May confront the person after a little time has passed…
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