What Were You Taught About Anger When You Were Growing Up?
In our first article about family and the holidays, we talked about how the emotion of anger is – like all other emotions – really just energy – energy produced when we think we need to protect ourselves from some perceived insult or threat.
It’s important to note that most people are afraid of how anger energy feels because of past negative messages about anger. Parents often tell children not to be angry, so children learn to suppress it. Parental admonitions like “Don’t you raise your voice to me, young man!” and “Oh calm down! Why are you being so dramatic?” suggest that it’s bad or unacceptable to be angry.
In other households children grow up receiving the brunt of their parents’ anger, and bear the emotional and even physical scars of that experience into adulthood.
Because we carry these negative beliefs within our bodies and minds, we react to our feelings of anger in the ways we learned in order to survive in our families of origin.
Perhaps you grew up in a home where anger was explosive. Maybe your parents yelled, threw things, hit (you or each other), damaged things, etc. You had to learn to survive in that atmosphere, so you probably developed a “thick skin” whereby you pretended not to care about other people’s outbursts.
Or maybe you grew up in a home where anger was more subtle and sneaky. Love was clearly withdrawn and withheld whenever you were “bad,” or you received messages that you were disapproved of, or somehow a disappointment to your parents. Or maybe you grew up in a household where the silence when you “misbehaved” or made a mistake felt more like a shouted accusation.
Most people grew up in homes that were a combination of these two extremes, which makes for some very complicated sparring when any two people are upset with each other! Just imagine the collision of the urge to repress anger in one person coming into direct conflict with the desire in the other person to let it erupt and blame the other person for your feelings.
Now multiply that effect by two – ore more – in long-standing conflicts, where each person consults with a loyal ally, like a spouse or best friend, about what the other person is doing that’s “wrong.“ Think about when you have entire groups within a family that are invested in maintaining “sides” in such conflicts. When two (or more!) people are dancing that sped-up foxtrot, it can turn into quite a marathon performance!
What’s Your Anger Profile?
We each need to understand ourselves and our anger profiles as well as we can, and learn effective self-management skills, in order to contribute as little as possible to the craziness that family holiday rituals can produce.
It’s well worth the effort, though, in how much more we will enjoy our holiday experience, and how much more of that essential human need – authentic, intimate, personal connection – will be met as a result.
So, how do you define anger? What sets your heart pounding, your veins throbbing, your “head exploding?” What fills your body with incredible tension, or ties your stomach in knots of suppressed rage? Do any of these symptoms sound or feel familiar?
See if you can recall a recent time when you or someone around you was very angry, and do a check-in:
- Are you afraid of your own anger?
- Are you afraid of someone else’s – do you walk around on eggshells for fear of setting someone off?
- Are you prone to anger easily – are others walking around you on eggshells for fear of setting you off?
If you answered, “Yes” to any of the above, it means that anger is causing limitation or even disruption in your life, and that it is keeping you from living with the love and respect you deserve.
Want to find out what your Anger Profile is? Click HERE to take my Anger Self-Assessment.
Be sure to join us on November 13th for our complimentary teleseminar with special guest Janet Pfeiffer, award-winning author and host of the “Anger 911” radio show. She’ll be teaching us about “Family, Holidays and Mindfulness.” Click HERE to register so you can get the call-in information and access to the 48-hour replay afterwards.
And for a more in-depth, personalized experience working with us on exactly the things in your own life that you’d like to change, check out our upcoming half-day in-person workshops:
- Healing the Healer: Prevent and Overcome Compassion Fatigue (CEU credits available for professional caregivers) – Saturday, November 2nd
- From Distressed to De-Stressed: Thriving in Life in Spite of Stress – Saturday, December 7th