Working With Anger - Getting To What’s Underneath
Updated: May 23
While anger is a natural human reaction that can serve useful purpose, generally it isn’t a desirable emotion. Those on the receiving end aren’t fond of it, unless of course it is someone who derives pleasure in punching the buttons of others. And what about those who freely or continually express anger? What they feel after an outburst varies greatly, but typically involves a myriad of emotions. Frequently it is impossible for them to understand or convey what they are feeling or even why. The pain that lies beneath and its causes are sometimes walled off by the subconscious to prevent the feelings of pain. The anger works as a defense system. When approached by a “growling bear”, our first response may be to defend ourselves, but more than likely we’ll be focused on our escape.
Because anger is customarily viewed as a secondary emotion, it gets set aside and the search begins for the underlying causes. This is a good strategy. However, sometimes it is impossible to get to what’s underneath until at least some of the anger is addressed. You will also find that many either believe their past has nothing to do with their anger, or make light of past events with comments like “I got over that long ago”, “it wasn’t that bad” or “That’s not something I dwell on”. These are things to listen to carefully since most often this too is a defense mechanism they may not even be aware of, controlled by their subconscious minds. It may be the need to defend/protect/honor those involved, the fear of the pain they may face by revisiting the past, or both.
Here’s an example where the client firmly believed anger was absolutely the only issue that required attention:
The anger issue had reached such a fever pitch that chaos on the home front had become the norm, children and adults constantly in an uproar, with the marriage was barely hanging by a thread.
I’ll never forget the exploratory discussion that proceeded the first session. You could clearly hear and feel an abruptness in their voice that was downright startling and almost intimidating.
As we began to work on the anger, it was clear that “fury” or “rage” might have been more appropriate terms, which incidentally were frequently used as we tapped. This was also someone who casually mentioned an inability and/or unwillingness to cry. Obviously both were clear signs of conditioning and a history that required attention.
In this particular situation, anger seem to be the only emotion accessible, clearly pointing to the idea of
constantly feeling the need to be on the defensive, and deeply hurt.
It took more than a single session, but the fury softened to anger, the overt anger began to diminish
and a remarkable softening in voice and body language were taking place. The intimidating persona was fading.
One day out of the blue, the painful emotions and events began to arise, and resistance and denial began to melt away. Time and patience were required, but client and family began to enjoy peace and harmony, perhaps for the first time ever.
Fortunately, I had the honor of working with other family members in the case cited. In circumstances such as this, loved ones can be deeply affected. While they are relieved when the anger issue is resolved, it doesn’t alleviate the resultant pain or beliefs that may have developed. Whenever possible, seize the opportunity to assist them.
Yes, getting to the pain underneath the anger is critical. However when defenses are firmly in place, accessing the pain may not come early in the process.
Because anger is commonly a key component in the defense system, altering that defense system can be met with resistance and fears. Many times it leads to an identity crisis. Keeping this in mind is essential to success.
If you’d like to share an experience, have questions or comments, we’d love to hear them.