Fearing Anger

I’ve often sat through group therapy believing the discussion didn’t apply to me. Even the days when Norris was talking too much, I would sometimes leave sessions feeling neutral.

I often feel completely disconnected. While I may not always be aware of it, I can appreciate how this might appear to the onlooker; that onlooker being Frankie, the group Psychotherapist. Mmmm…. Sometimes those therapists read too much into things.

In retrospect, I did feel a little uncomfortable when she was saying, “Sometimes we need to exert our anger by telling someone directly that they’re annoying us”

Being spontaneous can often blurt out the dreaded anger. I’m not usually shy in speaking my mind, but do tend to choose the moment very carefully.

Admittedly, in the earlier weeks, the endless chatter and general dynamics made me feel both suffocated and detached.

I’m not really aware of the detachment at the time, but Frankie evidently thinks I’m holding out on the group rather than struggling to connect with feelings. Mmm…. Don’t they just get on your nerves..

I spent years locked away in self-isolation. It removed me from some of the challenges I regularly faced in the big bad world; one of them being the inability to express anger. I actually forgot all about it; something that once had an enormous impact on day to day life.

Tonight, I’m remembering times when I would shake from head to toe with adrenalin. So terrified of expressing or being on the receiving end of anger that I would eventually lose that pathetic quivering voice.

That same inner terror followed a similar pattern whenever I witnessed or was threatened by violence. I was utterly petrified and would completely fall apart.

When we were little, having a separate opinion from our parents was seen as insolent and ungrateful and we would run the risk of being physically or verbally attacked.

“Children should be seen and not heard”

If we dared to express anger or tears, that was like the end of the world and we were either beaten for the cheek or threatened with “something to cry about”. Subsequently, we were then blamed for Mum’s depression and inability to cope.

I was full of rage as a child, maybe I still am. Could that be the root of my depression? That same anger has been simmering all these years. It’s one of the most difficult things to let go of.

When anger is met by physical attacks from such a young age, it’s easy to see why a person would fear that volatile emotion and probably associate it with the threat of more violence or rejection.

It has me wondering how other people deal with their anger… Do you retreat until you’re more in control or do you let it all hang out? And for those who let it out, how do you deal with knowing you’ve maybe hurt someone’s feelings?

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24 thoughts on “Fearing Anger

  1. corruptpsycho

    It might not be applicable to you, but I find that getting down about something is worse than anger. Being down is draining, anger is motivation, it gets your heart going and pushes you. That’s how I personally work anyways.

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    1. Cat Post author

      I would agree… that internal anger is alive whereas the depression is completely void of emotion.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment

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  2. kat

    ya i think growing up like that was abusive and neglectful, and put all the blame on you and made it impossible for you to stand up for what you needed, to get your needs met. and sometime that anger needs to be released.

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    1. Cat Post author

      It was abusive an neglectful, but they thought they were the best parents and would continually bombard us with those kind of statements. It’s so hard to release anger if we fear a negative reaction

      Thanks Kat. How are you holding up?

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  3. Ellen

    Anger is tricky. You explain very well how you have come to react as you do, with avoidance. I think too, group therapy is different from every day life, and what you do there will be different from what you might choose to do elsewhere. In group, your gift to the group is to show your real self – what you truly feel. Though how you do that is a question.

    For me, if my feelings are hurt, by someone attacking me say, then I will react, usually loudly and angrily. However, if someone is doing something not directed at me, and I just find it annoying, I often won’t say anything. That’s IRL.

    In group, we were instructed to say our real feelings, so I mostly did do that. I think looking back, it would have been better if I had been more careful expressing them – more gentle and circumspect, while still stating them. I hadn’t really taken in how hurt and offended people would be, and how they would hold on to that forever (for the rest of group).

    I do think in general, by withholding real feelings, we are manipulating. We are trying to get people to act a certain way, or to like us, or to leave us alone. If we don’t want to manipulate, we have to say our feelings. To be real, and close to others, we have to venture out and express ourselves.

    Anger is tricky because our whole society seems anger phobic, for the most part, so we don’t learn how to deal with it.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Ellen… your comment is very thought provoking. That’s a lovely way of looking at group “your gift to the group is to show your real self – what you truly feel”. That is exactly what Frankie was trying to explain yesterday.

      I remember your group experience; how your honesty was probably awakening the other member’s own demons. Unfortunately, some of them failed to grasp that their anger was coming from within rather than something you were saying.

      There is always a danger of other group members being offended. You’re so right about withholding feelings being manipulative. That’s actually another point Frankie was trying to make. She explained that, if we don’t tell Norris he’s talking too much, where does he get the opportunity to grow by looking within?

      I will take this piece of advice forward into the group, “To be real, and close to others, we have to venture out and express ourselves”.

      Many thanks, Ellen

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  4. Priceless Joy

    I avoid confrontations. My parents were much like yours. It was such a dysfunctional childhood. I have always heard that depression is anger turned inward. I think there is some truth to that. Good Post Kat!

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  5. mm172001

    I had a pretty dysfunctional childhood where both parents could flick like a switch with their anger, mostly resulting in verbal and emotional abuse. I was so scared to be like them and to get angry, my two sisters also have their own issues with anger, that I began cutting so I wouldn’t hurt others. I turned my anger inward, because I didn’t want to be like THEM. I’ve heard of depression being called anger towards inward, I know I feel safer deeply depressed than angry.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Thanks Marci. I think there’s a lot to be said for this theory about anger and depression. Our early experiences certainly shape how we express ourselves. I would say I’m also safer depressed than angry and maybe that is one of the fundamental roots to our problems with MH

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  6. mandy

    I relate so much to the way you were raised, Cat. No noise of any kind was allowed in my house (don’t want mom to need more meds for her nerves) so of course, no anger could ever be expressed. We really avoided talking. Therefore, of course, I’ve grown up terrified of anger, even feeling it inward. When I am upset and make a phone call to voice my displeasure, I get off the phone wanting to thrash myself for being mean, or rude. I’ve been told I never sound angry, even when I think I’m having an outburst. It does lead to depression, I’m positive. There must be an outlet for feelings of dissatisfaction.

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    1. Cat Post author

      I know we do relate to one another, Mandy. In our house Mum would put my sister out to school and leave me – a 3-5 yr old – alone and unsupervised while she went back to bed. It would often end in many beatings or bullying threats from dad because I was a bad boy for either being destructive or making too much noise while Mum tried to rest. I used to feel an intense anger because deep down I knew their behaviour was mean and unjust and I hated them so much for it. That anger and resentment is still there today and stops me from having much to do with them. They still see their actions as right and just, which can only add fuel to the fire.

      We live at opposite ends of the UK, so it’s easy not to see them for the time being. However, I do want to be in the position where I am comfortable in their presence. That’s not for their benefit, but for my own process of forgiveness and peace. When I WANT to spend time with them, it will be a gauge of my acceptance.

      You help me so much on that journey, Mandy… thank you

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      1. mandy

        Being comfortable in the presence of family members who see things different is another leg of my journey I haven’t wanted to face, Cat. Now that you bring it up, it triggers a little anxiety, like, “oh yeah, I forgot about THAT.” I thought all would be well and good after my parents passing, and I would be free to discuss the past. I’ve been estranged from my entire family for 30 years. In the past year my 1/2 sister, the offspring of my mother and stepfather (abusers) has been emailing me. I’ve only let her know I’m writing a memoir–remember conflict–that thing I can’t handle? When the parents died, I called and asked her if dad molested her too–she said yes. Then she cut off all contact. Now she denies she ever admitted to it. Her bro–my 1/2 brother cut off all contact with me when I told him about dad’s sexual abuse (25 years ago). Bro is a psychologist specializing in women’s abuse issues. (hmmm???) Must we ask ourselves why we’re screwed up? Anyway, I would like to know how you continue to see people who dispute/disregard you. I don’t know if I can, but I’ve said I couldn’t figure other things out, haha!
        Thanks, Cat. I’m so glad we are sharing our journeys.

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        1. Cat Post author

          That’s so strange about your sister. To admit and then deny something like this must feel both demeaning and infuriating. And as for the Psychologist brother specialising in women’s abuse… well, that is just mind blowing!
          My own contact with family only really happens by text. I do occasionally talk to my sister, but we’re not as close. That conflict of opinion between my parent’s and I has always been so very difficult.
          It’s all good and well embracing this new idea of forgiving, but I’m still swinging between forgiveness and anger. One day I feel as if I’m embracing forgiveness and moving forward, the next minute those traumatic memories reawaken and I’m stuck back in that same old internal battle.

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          1. mandy

            I really understand vacillating between forgiveness and anger, Cat. I think it’s perfectly normal. Like the stages of grief-there is no right way or right order to grieve past abuse. I think forgiveness and anger are just two of the stages of grief for an abuse survivor. Personally, I think hanging on to a bit of anger is healthy. It makes sure I won’t ever ignore abuse again.
            Actually, I know my sister’s denial of abuse now is because she’s a “born again” and believes forgiving it’s required (just as Jesus would). And it’s turned into denial. Well, Horse Bidorties to that. Oh dear, that gets a little anger going, lol . . . but, now you see why I have a problem with the word? I think I will stick with the word acceptance. And I still haven’t figured out what I’m accepting. On some days: nothing. So, I guess we both have our doubts about which way to go. But Cat, I think it’s important to understand: if we don’t choose forgiveness, it’s okay. ( We are not required to do ANYTHING.) It does NOT mean we can’t move forward. Please believe that. I’m moving forward, because it I don’t, they win. And that ain’t happening! 🙂
            I don’t worry about my brother’s refusal to acknowledge my dad’s wrongdoing. After all, he was left everything so . . .

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            1. Cat Post author

              It really does pay to share…. Those simple words “Like the stages of grief” really helped me this morning. I’ve been on a rollercoaster of emotion over the weekend and doubting “recovery”. This brings comfort and renewed strength.
              I also prefer “acceptance” rather than the ‘f’ word, although, even that feels a tall order sometimes.

              Peace Mandy!

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  7. panikikubik

    I was full of rage as a child, maybe I still am. Could that be the root of my depression? That same anger has been simmering all these years. It’s one of the most difficult things to let go of.

    This is so right on the spot Cat!!!!
    My answer? Yes of course it is, toghether with sadness and grief and a longing to be loved.
    I wished that you got the possibility to try EMDR!!! Because the wounds from growing up like you did (and I and other friends here on wordpress)..CAN’T be healed with just words. Because words doesn’t pass the barrier between our logical brain and the emotional deep primitive brain…EMDR can and helps to balance the emotionel pain..so that you actually can start to heal. And allow yourself to enjoy your grown up life with all the possibilities that STILL layus in front of you.
    Tahnk you for sharing you story!

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    1. Cat Post author

      Yes, I have been intrigued by what you’ve written on your blog about EMDR. The therapy programme I’m on for the next 18 mths is Mentalization Based Therapy, but they don’t include EMDR.

      Thank you for your kind comment.

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  8. Gel

    Hi Cat,
    This is a very potent topic.
    I have a lot to learn about anger and especially how to deal with it in a healthy way in relation to other people. That was part of my topic in my post recently too.

    The little bit I do feel I know is to put some time between the raw anger and how I interact with other people especially those who seem to be the source of the anger.

    At the same time keeping it inside and never dealing with it is also not healthy. Those of us who had twisted dysfunctional childhoods due to awful parenting will probably have a back load of stuff around anger. So even if in a current situation someone is doing something that justifies our anger, it usually brings up a ton of other past feelings.

    Writing it out first, talking about it with someone not involved but who you trust is what I’m finding helps a lot. It is a big tangle and unraveling that a bit before expressing can be wise.

    I have started to ask myself – when I want to vent at someone – what kind of out come will this produce?…..Will they really be able to hear and understand me?…..how will it affect the quality of our relationship?

    Non-Violent Communication model has helped me with this issue….. To keep the focus on what I’m feeling and not judging or assuming I know what the other person’s intentions were. But it is a difficult process.

    In a recent issue I’ve been having with someone, my husband helped me see that I AM dealing with the feelings of anger by first feeling them and talking about them. So much of my life I haven’t done this so it’s a HUGE step to just be bringing it to light.
    for me right now….Allowing some space between the feelings and taking an action is the most helpful….but it’s important to actually FEEL what comes up and breathe into it in that interum.

    Best wishes to you.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Gel… The parenting we receive (or are subjected to!) certainly does lay the foundation for our own dysfunction and it’s important we find our own way to unravel that.

      Putting time between raw anger and interaction is exactly how I deal with it. Keeping it bottled up and festering seldom has a positive outcome. I think we both attempt to find our own balance between smothering our emotions and taking action.

      In a group therapy setting, it’s slightly different and I can see why we’re encouraged to connect with those feelings in that moment. As it happens, anger conjures up too many negative emotions, so I’m guessing it’s proper to try to explore them more within group.

      I remember your recent ‘hiccup’ with a friend. For what it’s worth, I think you handled it all incredibly well

      Thank you, Gel…. Peace!

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  9. myspokenheart

    Anger, tricky emotion that one is. It is extremely unhealthy to bottle it up and hold it all inside, and yet releasing it can be terrifying and destructive.

    I too grew up hearing stupid expressions like “Knock it off or I’ll give you something to cry about” or “Stop you’re carrying on or I’ll knock you into the middle of next week”. Seriously what kind of an asshole speaks to children like that? (apparently a lot of people 😦 )

    Growing up I learned to HATE confrontation. I will do just about anything to avoid it. I don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings and I don’t want to get hurt myself. I get so overwhelmed by the idea of confrontation it is actually quite ridiculous. But and here is the big BUT, when backed into a corner and pushed to my limit the anger can come flying out at a rate I can’t control and all my thoughts and emotions jumble together and come pouring out all willy-nilly and quite honestly I come across like a crazy person… I am learning to stop and think, to speak before it gets to that point. And most importantly to keep to the topic, why am I angry at this moment? (rather than screaming out every little thing that I’ve kept inside and now wish to release all at once). I try very hard to maintain my emotional train of thought focusing only on the issue ay hand rather than flying off the handle, allowing my brain to scramble about. But alas we don’t win every war, so sometimes I still lose it.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Yes, they were AH’s. Releasing the anger is tricky. I’m trying to control it for my own sake because it is internal and can be destructive.

      Our experiences of confrontation and expressing anger are very similar and is evidently caused by AH’s in our childhood. I suppose it is about relearning how we process it….mmm….even trickier!

      Thanks, Andrea. I notice you’re not posting much. How are things with you?

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  10. RisingSong

    Hi Cat. I apologize for my absence. I needed to take some time, and all I can say is that I have missed reading you. I hope to catch up, starting here where I think I left off (it might take me a few days…or weeks). I hope you won’t mind my belated comments.

    Anger is definitely a touchy subject for us abuse survivors. Turning it inward (depression, cutting) is something I have been very familiar with but have been working through it in therapy. Through baby steps, I have recently been able to identify the exact source of my anger and use very precise words to express to that person the reason for my anger (i.e. “When you show up at my house unannounced this early in the morning, I feel robbed of my peaceful and quite time with my kids. I am SO angry”)

    This is not to say that I don’t still have violent outbursts when all my bottled up anger erupts in a messy and destructive screaming and yelling fit. I am still working on that. I don’t want to do that any more than I want to cut myself.

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