Anger is not a pleasurable feeling, so no wonder we try to avoid it. How often do we try to push it aside, brush it under the carpet or simply ignore it and “move on”? Perhaps we do not even let ourselves fully feel anger or even let the feeling develop, becasue we are not sure what to do with it, and we are not sure what benefits of feeling angry are there anyway.
People often give and take on the message that Anger is bad and destructive and you must focus on positives and forgive and forget…
In my private practice I often see people who survived abuse or neglect in their childhoods. Over the years I became convinced that in order to recover from trauma, one should explore her/his childhood history thoroughly. It involves remembering many details and it also involves achieving as much clarity of the picture as possible. Where clarity is involved it is also necessary to experience anger and whatever other appropriate feelings arise when you remember some painful episodes.
People resist that by saying something like…
“Well, what’s the point? My parents are dead and there’s no point of getting angry with them anyway”
“I know my mother was not ideal, but I can understand why…She couldn’t do otherwise… and I am not angry with her”
Statements like that really indicate the absence of judgement towards one’s parents. It also indicates absence of anger, feelings of unfairness, bitterness, sadness, or whichever feelings may arise from traumatic childhood memories. Is this wrong? I’d say yes, it is. Why? Because neglecting and obliterating your feelings pose a massive barrier to healing from trauma. How? Here is what really happens:
You Are Minimizing The Damage Done By Your Parents.
Sometimes it is difficult to look trauma in the face and see clearly, and talk about it. People prefer to turn away and not remember. Often my clients minimize the damage by saying to themselves that whatever happened was not such a big deal. Those “not big deals” range from an occasional smack on the bottom to full blown physical abuse. But if a person does minimize these, when he/she talks about childhood, there is a high chance that this pattern repeats itself in his/her other relationships. Minimizing the damage from a toxic marital relationship, for example. Or trusting and relying on “friends” that let down all too often. By finding excuses, and shutting down your feelings just like you do when you talk about your upbringing you tend to overlook and turn away from many other issues in your life.
Failing To Communicate Your Feelings To Others.
A client comes in for her session and tells me that she was a little upset with her friend the other day. They agreed to go for a dinner together but the friend cancelled the meeting last minute, offering some excuse. Although the client did not believe the excuse was genuine, she could not get angry in the situation and tell her friend she did not like to be treated that way. I asked her what she would do instead and the client said “oh, well next time I will just do the same to her!” This is a good example how avoiding anger (for not knowing what to do with it) breeds passive-aggressive behaviours. Passive-aggressive behavior doesn’t save us from discomfort and mistrust. It rather becomes a never ending loop of frustration and guilt posing a barrier to closer and stronger relationships. Should we be able to recognise what we don’t like, we would then be able to tell a friend “you can’t do that!” or “I don’t like that a bit” and begin an honest dialogue.
Thinking That You Are Just…..The Way You Are.
“That’s just so I am, can’t help it”
”I guess I’ve always been sort of [insert here: shy, quiet, short tempered, sensitive, etc.] person”
I hear that a lot. People explaining who they are and what they do, by simply saying they always been “like this”. However if we look at their history, we almost always discover that their personalities were born and shaped with their childhood experiences. The picture begins to change when, for example, we discover that maybe you are not a shy person as such, but rather someone who was never given a voice, a child whoseopinion was never respected. Knowing that those were the factors that contributed to your character empower us to make changes and discover new qualities as you mature and develop further.
Surely, the way trauma and our childhood (traumatic or not) shape us will leave traces and remain in us as a strong foundation. I do not suggest that we can radically change a personality just by exploring how it’s formed, nor do we need that. Exploring and openly questioning, discovering memories and allowing yourself to feel those again broads our psyche and opens our eyes. And gives a choice for further development. Shall we continue to be same old self or shall we try to be more [insert here: confident, softer, cheerful, vulnerable]? Shall we go on with excuses and disappointments or shall we try to be more honest with our family and friends? Unlike when we were small children and had little control, now the choices are in our hands, and it’s never too late.