men's mental health

anger: it's better out, than in!

The etymological root of the word anger means “to constrict”. We might say that when we have been constricted in our natural spontaneity as children, we experience anger, anxiety or some kind of somatic issue. However, for many anger wasn’t tolerated in their family of origin. As such, when the child felt the wounding effects of this “psychic constriction”, they had no other option but to channel their unacceptable emotional response into acting out, or repression, which in turn became its own form of depression, and in the process widened the split between what was considered acceptable and unacceptable within.

Many of us have an underlying experience of anger in our lives. Since the honest expression of anger was unacceptable within our families, we carry these split off parts of ourselves unconsciously. These parts of us can remain repressed, and be experienced as a sense of underlying depression, which we are often unable to clearly name; sometimes these parts can remain less hidden, closer to the surface and erupt in aggressive outbursts or violence, resulting in damaging effects on oneself and others. Sometimes the wounding experienced in our developmental years has been so painful, that our lives have become dominated by anger, as this seems like the only adequate means of protecting ourselves.

As a result of this wounding, we often misread messages from the world around us; sometimes believing we are under attack from others, when maybe there is no clear threat, or through the fear of being rejected, not having clear boundaries in our interactions and subsequently finding ourselves feeling mistreated. These responses are often attempts to manage intolerable anxiety or fear. Although these “coping strategies” maybe the only means we learnt in order to survive, they also had the effect of constricting our natural spontaneous selves. This constriction can often be traced to the child’s unwitting collusion in their own self-estrangement; where they learnt to mistrust voicing their own inherent sense of self-worth. As such, many are left feeling anger from this dynamic, which is often unacknowledged, remaining hidden within the unconscious.

This unacknowledged anger can then be turned inward. In this sense, we often attack the only person we feel we have permission to attack, which is ourselves. Many of us create a persona, which is deemed as being inoffensive to the world. We become the “good boy” or the “nice girl”; often taking this into our adult lives and seeing this as our real selves. The split off anger then has no other means of communicating with us, except through somatic difficulties, such as migraines and ulcers.

Within psychotherapy, a safe space is created, whereby what has become lost within this internal split is given a voice. Where our anger is understood as often having been a legitimate response to our wounding and the environment we grew up in. I am not condoning anger which is unconsciously acted out as a form of aggression or violence, as this is just another reactive response to the child’s wounding. I am however, making a case that maybe our anger can be the source of energy required to make the necessary changes needed to change our lives and begin healing ourselves. Anger, in this sense can be seen as the means by which we can begin to reclaim our true selves.