Entire generations of people have been taught that anger is bad. They were shamed or punished when they dared to express anger about something that happened to them, or were at risk of harm if they tried to fight back, and learned to tightly control it (fear –> freeze/shutdown). A number of people who think they do not have anger issues because they’re “never angry” are surprised when they begin having outbursts as the anger or seething resentment that was once bottled deep inside begins to surface.
The surge of physical sensations that accompany anger can feel overwhelming, uncomfortable or scary. Witnessing unrestrained violence, abuse, or even being on the receiving end of abuse or manipulative passive-aggressive behaviours, can further reinforce our desire to shut down or disown our angry emotions, out of fear that we become violent or that we be judged. As a result of not learning to express anger in a healthy, assertive way, many people assume that the only options are the extremes – to play small and be passive, or to be a violent aggressor. Either extreme is often coupled with shame.
For those whose power was taken away through a traumatic event or series of such experiences, the inability to self-protect using healthy aggression (fight response) can result in feelings of depression, helplessness and hopelessness. Expressing anger or healthy aggression may not have been safe in the past and resulted in further risk of harm, leaving them in a chronic state of defeat and passive disempowerment.
However, anger is part of a healthy self-protective response system that lets us know when our boundaries have been crossed or we have been treated unfairly, and allows us to assertively set boundaries and stand up for ourselves (agency). Building the confidence to thaw out of immobility or freeze in order to safely experience the embodied empowerment of healthy anger and assertiveness (learning to increase your energy safely – “touching the gas pedal”) is just as crucial to emotional health as is learning skills to regulate anger reactivity that feels ineffective or out of control (putting on the brakes). The Refuge can help you with both.