Updated: Aug 18
Written Nov 2014
I had never thought of myself as an angry person but over the years a number of people have indicated that anger must lie within in me somewhere. Some have tested their belief and pushed me to show my anger, others have merely asked me why I was so angry. In response I would get angry at them!!
During my training a fellow student seemed almost and uncomfortably obsessed with bringing anger into the therapy room even when it did not seem apparent that it was there. I had always tried to encourage a clients anger when it seemed apparent it needed to be expressed, but when encouraged they would completely deny they felt angry or deny they were angry at me even when it may have been felt and appropriate. This therefore made me question why clients would not bring anger into the therapy room.
I came to realise it was because I myself was in denial of my own anger and fearful of going there. Reasons for which I have now explored in my own therapy and is not necessary to disclose here. My clients would have experienced this resistance in myself and thus the barrier that prevented it from entering into ‘our’ space. They may have felt it within themselves but had to do so in private because, whilst I would verbally invite them to express this anger my ‘felt’ self was saying to them ‘don’t you dare because I can’t face it’!
Now that I have been able to take myself on this journey which is still in process, I have noticed that more of my clients are more open in showing me their anger. I am also now able to identify something as being anger rather than trying to make it something else to protect me.
I had a recent discussion with a supervisee that asked me the same question I had been asking “what purpose does it serve to be angry?”.
What I have noticed is that many people have been brought up with negative social values towards the expression of anger. We are supposed to be polite, calm and dignified. If we look at past generations, what good what it have done for those in the midst of war to express anger about it. Their priority was to stay calm and survive. These values would have been passed down through generations of family values. In some cases there may have repressed anger in the quest to create an illusion that all is good with the world because the alternative feels unbearable. In some families a childs voice may have been repressed completely, leaving the child, and now adult, feeling angry inside but detached from the feeling they were never allowed to express. This does not mean they have not been feeling angry but this part of them is so detached they are unable to acknowledge it. But it may be the driving force to many of their problems in the denial of such a negative feeling.
Today, expression of all emotions are encouraged and deemed healthy, including anger but those values still play a part in which emotions we believe we should or are allowed to express.
So coming back to the question of “what purpose does it serve to be angry?”. Its purpose is to express unconscious feelings that are hidden so deep they drive us towards a constant quest to seek the source of our problems . But whilst we still hold values towards the expression of anger we still hold back all that we are and can never fully experience our true and felt self.
We may come to understand how our maladaptive ways of being have been created, but this still remains with the cognitive. We will also be having feelings about this creation which is the part we try to deny and where the anger may lie. It is particularly hard to do because it is likely it derives from our parent with all their good intentions, and of course we don’t want to blame them or be angry at them. Maybe it’s not them we should be angry at but at ourselves, because we have allowed ourselves to remain in this place all of our lives. They have constructed and shaped us but we have choices about maintaining this place.
Wherever it needs to be directed we have to firstly accept that inside we are angry. If we can admit that to ourselves we can then move on and create change. If we hold onto it will manifest in many other ways, particularly narcissism and projected anger that others feel but we don’t. If we don’t feel all of our true selves it can only end up in depression, and the fear of revealing that anger can lead to generalised anxiety.
So I have come to learn that anger, expressed appropriately and safely and directed in the mind towards the right person (doesn’t have to be at them in person) can create a place of peacefulness. Projecting anger onto others, particularly behind the wheel of a car where it’s safe and private to do so, is not going to help, nor is denying the anger.
And as you sit here reading this I am sure you are saying to yourself “But I’m not angry”. But like other primary emotions such as sadness and happiness, anger will be in there somewhere. Do you see yourself getting angry or irritable at things that don’t really matter? This is the projection of unspoken anger from a deeper source. This does not make us violent, aggressive psychopaths, but healthy and authentic beings that can accept all feelings we experience in a world.