Release destructive emotions

 

The Dynamics of Anger

Lynne Namka, Ed.D. - © 2001 


Some people erroneously believe that self righteous expression of anger is always healthy. A few years ago this was a common belief in the psychology field. Now the research shows that mere expression of hostility without problem solving only creates more hostility for the person. Habitual, hostile expression of anger perpetuates an environment that is unhealthy for all involved. Raging, name calling, blaming and showing disrespect for others are never acceptable behavior as these behaviors only make negative situations worse. The angry person may feel better for a short time but underneath often feels worse for losing his cool. Or he may hold on to his anger justifying it to himself and others in an attempt to maintain his right to behave in violent ways.

Other angry people are not comfortable in letting others know how angry they are. These silent ragers rarely talk about or express their anger directly to others. Their belief is “I must be the nice guy and can’t let you know how angry I really am.” But they pout and give dirty looks to show what they do not express directly. Whether the anger is directed outwardly or inwardly, the person is caught in belief systems that perpetuate his negative emotions and behavior that alienates him from others.

Habitually angry people have not learned to put themselves in others’ shoes and see things from other people’s perspective. They do not know how to break into the rigid thinking and cannot stop making judgments about others. They have strong “shoulds” for others and get upset when others do not follow their wishes. They blame others for their problems and do not take responsibility from their own actions. They cannot allow themselves to see that they are at fault for some of their problems. They go into tirades and rages and use abusive behavior and intimidation to get others to do what they want. Often, however, it drives others away. If this way of thinking and acting is left unchecked, in their later years they end up lonely and bitter.

Individuals who get upset daily over many small things have a one-response perspective on life. Their belief is that “I want what I want when I want it and can do whatever it takes to get it! I have the right to get angry over every little thing. It is right for me to be angry and express it any way that I want. I have a right to have it my way.” They have destructive entitlement beliefs that keep them convinced that others must conform to their wishes. They believe that the world “owes them” because they are “special”. Since the world rarely goes the way they want, they are continually disappointed and become more angry. Their negative self talk starts convincing them that it is horrible when things do not happen the way that they want it to be.

Generally, the person who has continual anger over small events experienced a childhood where his dependency needs were not met. The child felt wounded because he was not given what he needed; he felt cheated but could not put his loss into words. Parenting styles that often correspond with children’s excessive anger are “giving too much” or “giving too little.”

Anger and Child Raising
The “giving too much” parent tries to meet the child’s every need. This results in the child believing that the world revolves around them. Children who are spoiled by their parents often grow up believing that they should get everything they want and they have the right to be angry if they do not get it. This parenting style results in a high demand child who has a sense of entitlement from others. They never learn to deal with inner frustration and delay gratification. At a deep level, what the spoiled child really wants is parents who consistently set limits, say no in a loving manner and give him attention when he acts appropriately.

The “giving too little” parent is self involved and does not nurture the child. The parent may be cold and rejecting, due to being involved with addictions or be an angry person himself. The child grows up feeling unwanted and abandoned. The child who has been heavily criticized by a parent often grows up believing “damned if I do and damned if I don’t.” This type of child feels that he is not worthy of getting his needs met. His anger is an unconscious attempt to make his parents give him what he wants but since he can’t change his parents, he plays out this scenario with others. If aggression and violence are modeled in the home, the child learns these behaviors as he identifies with the angry parent.

The child whose early dependency needs are not met is needy. He feels “owed” on an unconscious level. He focuses on issues of “It’s not fair.” because at some level he felt what happened to him was not fair. And, in a sense, he was “owed” because he missed out on basic nurturing and love. In later years the angry child goes through life trying to get others to make up for what his parents did not provide. But he has limited skills and tools to interact with people due to his deep hurt. He goes about it in the wrong way using his one trick which rarely brings him happiness. Since he cannot gain love, he substitutes irrational anger, addictive substances and material objects to fill his neediness. The habitually angry person reacts over and over to perceived small injustices in daily life when in effect, he is saying to other people, “You owe me. Pay up!” Symbolically, continual anger can be a way of saying to his parents, “It is not fair. Hold me, give me my basic needs. Pay attention to me. Love me!”

Anger can become harmful when carried for long periods of time. In holding on to grudges, the resentful person can end up with medical problems. People who are revengeful generally have a belief of entitlement of “I have a right to be angry and get back at the person.” Grudges seem to run in families with the individuals feeling pride about staying angry. The word anger comes from the Latin word "angere," which means to choke. In the heat of anger you can literally be all choked up, affecting your physical and mental health. As Kahil Gibran said, "If your heart is a volcano, how do you expect flowers to bloom?"

What the angry person really wants is to be loved. But he does not know how to ask for love. He only knows that his anger responses have an effect on others. His explosive outbursts gain him attention and a sense of power. He wants to be loved, but is afraid of it. He has the mistaken belief that intimacy represents being controlled by others. It is paradoxical that anger keeps intimacy away yet denies that one thing which the person desires the most--to be loved.

Blame keeps people stuck in negative energy. As long as you focus on who is to blame, you are remaining stuck in the past. As the events and patterns in your life become clearer you will see that neither you nor the other person has to be blamed or charged. Events and situations happened; both people in the relationship have contributed to the negativity that has been expressed.

The arduous journey of exploring the unmet needs and unresolved childhood issues must be taken for people who want a different way of living. Unresolved life expectancies, often those centering around not achieving the “American Dream,” must be explored and transformed. Blind spots, rationalizations and erroneous beliefs must be opened up and brought to light. During the exploration of the negative patterns of coping, brutal honesty is necessary. But it must done in a gentle, non-confrontive way. Getting angry at oneself while trying to work through the anger does not result in change. Self scrutiny should be done in ways that help discover negative beliefs, attitudes and behavior. Negative thinking can be challenged though observation and interrupting beliefs that repeat patterns that cause unhappiness.

Self accusation accompanied by self blame only perpetuates the problem. Underneath anger is a layer of shame of not being a better person. This shame must be explored along with childhood shame and old messages about anger. The built-up anger must be expressed and the darker sides of the personality explored. With careful observation of daily actions and a conscious choice to change the habitual patterns built up over a life time, the individual can learn to take responsibility for his own behavior. With practice, he can learn to react to stress with actions that are more respectful to himself and others. With considerable work in therapy, self observation and correction, the angry person can learn new tricks to cope with stress. He can learn some new tricks which allow him to live a much more enjoyable life. The work is hard and it may take some time. But as one person said, “I’d rather do it (the therapy and anger work) than be in it (the anger) for the rest of my life.

It’s More Than Just Beating Pillows:
Working Through the Anger By Self Observation and Understanding
At some point you may decide to stop carrying your anger around. You may decide to learn some new ways of expressing anger that do not make yourself miserable. Inner Child Work may need to be done to help with the healing of the wounds of the child who wasn’t loved the way he wanted. Anger work is generally done with someone trained to bring out the negative emotions in ways that are safe. But it is not enough to just express the feelings through anger work. Different therapists have varying abilities in their expertise in getting the person back to the point of their childhood pain so that anger can be released and transformed.

Learning to observe the nonproductive emotions instead of becoming a slave to them is a technique you can use to free yourself from out-of-control feelings. As human beings, it is necessary for us to experience the feelings directly and voice them to let them go. If we try to repress uncomfortable feelings and shut them down through denying them, we give them power over us. What we resist, persists. The clear, direct expression of feelings is necessary in clearing up unproductive thoughts and behaviors.

Monitoring and gently correcting your negative thoughts, feelings, sensations and reactions will contribute to your mental health. You can learn to identify your feelings without needing to judge them and give them moralistic labels of "good and bad." You can learn to see them for what they are: merely a body state of emotion with an accompanying thought. Simply accept the negative feelings as they come forward and observe them. Your thoughts may define you, but you are not your thoughts and feelings. See them as a habit that you have learned or as a way of coping with stress and threat. As you become more of an observer of your internal thoughts and beliefs, you will be less bound to them, freeing yourself up for authenticity and integrity.

Staying centered in the present during other people's outbursts of anger is a skill that can be learned. Deep breathing will allow more clarity and logical problem solving. Use the breath and tell yourself to stay present instead of automatically going into confusion and disassociation. The emotion of anger is an important signal from the body. Feel the anger that comes up. Do not push it down or deny it. Suppression of strong emotion will result in it building up until you explode over something insignificant. Learn to use your words to express what you feel. Mastery of the emotion of anger by expressing it in a socially appropriate way is necessary for independence and self-reliance.

Instead of projecting your anger on someone else in a threatening situation, see your part in what took place. Take responsibility for the choices that you made in the situation and learn from them. Pay tribute to the other person’s role for helping you learn more about yourself. With practice, you can learn to stop blaming the other person or yourself and go directly to problem solving as the most efficient way to dealing with stress and threat.

The Course in Miracles tells us "Forgive, forgive, and then forgive some more." Forgiveness is the final step in anger release. Yet forgiveness can never be a “should” imposed on you by yourself or someone else. The anger work generally has to be done before forgiveness comes forth. When the anger is fully expressed and the deep longing to touch into love is tapped, then forgiveness can happen.

When you forgive someone else you are cleaning out your own shadow--the part that is disliked and disowned. You may have to experience forgiveness for a person more than once, depending upon the number of betrayals that have been perceived. You may experience an overall forgiveness, releasing the bonds of negative energy between you and the other person.

All experiences hold opportunities for learning for you. Attachment to strong feelings is but an invitation to see the situation differently. There is always a deeper message behind the surface feelings. "I am never upset for the reason I think." The Course in Miracles reminds us. This search for deeper understanding of your anger is about your search for wholeness and love.

Virginia Satir, well known family theorist, said the emotions are the parts of the self that are related to the soul/spirit that carry energy. Satir described negative feelings as gems and pearls. Your feelings are your teachers. They hold valuable lessons for you about letting go of emotional baggage. Anger holds wonderful gifts if you are willing to process the negative feelings to understand the meaning behind them.

In the long run, we are the only ones who can fulfill our unmet childhood dependency needs. We can learn to give to ourselves what our parents did not give. We can choose new families and surround ourselves with people who are supportive, caring and nurturing. New ways of self soothing and comforting can be learned and practiced. Stress management techniques and other positive ways to deal with stress and threat can be learned to stretch the repertoire of tricks from which to choose.

The art of being gentle with oneself and others is a helpful skill to develop when you are changing lifelong behaviors. Acceptance of who we are with all our warts and scars will help in the process of anger release. There will be less need to feel anger when you learn to release judgments about yourself and others, allowing things to be just as they are. The dark side within must be faced and accepted before you can really learn to love yourself.

Lynne Namka, Ed. D. is a happy psychologist, mom, grandmother, author of anger release books and founder of Talk, Trust & Feel Therapeutics. Her is mission is to promote peace in the world by teaching people positive communication skills. Helpful information and techniques can be found at www.AngriesOut.com and www.TimeToLoveYourself.com. Copyright © 2001 Lynne Namka, Ed.D. All rights reserved. Permission granted to reprint this article on your website without altercation if you include this entire copyright statement and leave the hyperlinks live and in place.

 

 
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