A person who is angry does not give the impression that they are vulnerable. Rather, they give them impression that they are exerting strength and power, even if they seem out of control of their anger. And a great many people fear anger, along with the many reactions and actions that can accompany anger. Because of this, people fail to see the pain that anger covers up. Even the people who are angry themselves fail to see the pain (such as hurt, fear, powerlessness and vulnerability) beneath their own anger. Because of this, we fail to do the right thing with people who are angry. And we fail to do the right thing with ourselves when we are angry. Today, it’s time to look at anger from a totally different angle, recognize the link between anger and vulnerability, so that you can never again un-see it. And learn what to do with anger, should it arise.
But first, like usual, we need to go back to the beginning. When we are very young (really no matter our age), we need to feel as though we live in a social environment where our pain matters. We need to feel like the people around us are ‘moved’ by our pain and are intrinsically motivated by virtue of their connectedness with us, to alleviate that pain; especially if they themselves are contributing to it. But this is not the reality for anyone who grew up in a dysfunctional family dynamic. This need goes un-met because in a dysfunctional family situation, all members of the family are simply employing strategies to meet their own needs, regardless of the negative impacts on each other. It is by definition an anti-trust building environment. The lesson the children in this environment learn is: “No one is moved by my pain.” “No one will caretake my vulnerability”. In this social environment, vulnerability is a liability. And each person needs to find a strategy to keep themselves safe in an environment that is either emotionally, mentally or physically unsafe, or all of the above. And in an environment where they are on their own, even if they are technically in the vicinity of others all day long. There are all kinds of strategies one might employ to keep themselves safe in this kind of situation. For example, a child might begin to establish safety by becoming a people pleaser, covering over their vulnerability with placation behaviors. Or a child might begin to establish safety by becoming avoidant, covering over their vulnerability by checking out relative to other family members and inserting their existence into something else they can control, such as becoming obsessed with something like video games or live action role play or a sport.
One of these strategies that a child may employ that we are discussing today, is anger. This is often a strategy employed when a child learns that the people around them are not moved by their pain, which is the ultimate unworkability. The child who employs the strategy of anger can find no predictable way to endear themselves to the others in their environment, so as to manipulatively ensure their own safety and wellbeing. Often on a subconscious level, they have learned that either one or some or all of the people in their environment are adversaries. This child cannot run away. They cannot find an effective way to fawn. And no one can stay frozen all day, every day. And so, they learn they have one option for self-preservation… to fight.
Anger is a cover emotion, which is also called a secondary emotion. It occurs in order to protect ourselves from vulnerable feelings and vulnerable experiences. To look at this from a different angle, anger is a strategy employed by a specific protector part within you. If you want to learn more about this, you can watch my videos titled: Fragmentation, The Worldwide Disease and Parts work, What Is Parts Work and How To Do It.
In an environment where you have already learned that your pain, fear and vulnerability will not be lovingly responded to, it makes no sense to show it to others… Or even to allow yourself to be aware of it. So, all that vulnerability (all that fear, all that perceived powerlessness, all that pain) is hidden behind the anger, which comes in as a protector of that vulnerability.
When someone is locked into this dynamic internally, their anger happens so fast and the part of them that protects them with anger takes over so fast, they don’t usually even perceive the fear or pain or other vulnerable feelings, which is the thing that happens before the anger. They only perceive the anger. And for most people who are locked into this dynamic, the idea of not getting angry and not using that anger as a fuel to fight back, feels like self-betrayal. This can make anger persist, even when it is clear that the anger is ruining their life. It’s one of those situations where a protector part within a person’s personality spectrum perceives itself to be in a lose-lose situation where it has to choose the consequences of fighting to avoid something worse.
What all this boils down to is that anger covers and protects vulnerability. And all the strategies in the world that address a person’s “anger issues” at the level of their anger will fail. What must happen is that the pain underneath the anger (such as the fear, powerlessness, hurt and vulnerability) must be recognized, seen, heard, felt and attended to.
By far the most important thing if you struggle with anger is for YOU to do this. When you notice anger kick in, and it kicks in really fast, you must slow way down and attend to the vulnerability, the pain and the fear and the perceived powerlessness underneath it. This is in fact a much more self-loyal thing to do than fighting back when you are caused pain, because it doesn’t come with the terrible consequences to yourself that your anger usually does. What if attending to your pain that is underneath your fear was your new way of being loyal to yourself? What if it wasn’t self-betrayal to not get angry and to not fight?
When someone else is angry, don’t be fooled by the cover or smokescreen that you are being presented with. The cover/smokescreen being the furious body language, the wave of energy and power you are being hit with, the intense eye contact, the yelling and the threats. You must recognize, see, hear, feel and attend to the vulnerability, pain and fear and perceived powerlessness underneath it. If you do this, there is no reason for the anger to exist, and so, it wont.
So that you understand this better, here is an example. Tonia is known to fly into a rage sometimes. The people in her life are afraid of her anger because when she gets angry, they can expect to get blasted by a wave of intensely hot energy, screamed at, insulted and for her to throw things at them. Tonia knows that her anger is an issue that people have with her and that it has negatively impacted her relationships and her career. But she feels totally powerless to controlling it. And also furious that her anger keeps being considered the problem, rather than the totally messed up things other people are doing to cause her to get angry. It’s a familiar feeling, as Tonia was the scapegoat in her family growing up. She is in a lose-lose. Her anger causes her problems, but the idea of not getting angry and not insulting and not fighting back, and not aggressively setting boundaries and not giving ultimatums, feels like she is betraying herself, and is acting as a bystander to other people hurting her. Her anger kicks in so fast, Tonia is out of touch with the extreme levels of pain and fear and powerlessness and vulnerability underneath that anger.
On one particular day, she sat down on the couch with her boyfriend and started expressing her worries to him. And instead of be there for her, he proceeded to fall asleep. Tonia immediately swelled up with rage. And yelled at him. He woke up and re-engaged for a few minutes, only to fall asleep again. This time, Tonia ran to her bedroom and slammed it behind her, burning up with rage. It startled him awake and he ran to the room to try to re-engage in a discussion. Tonia started screaming at him and insulting him and when he told her to calm down, she started throwing everything within reach at him.
If Tonia had slowed way, way down to notice the vulnerability underneath her anger, she would have seen that she was already feeling vulnerable and was looking to her boyfriend to soothe her. When he did not respond to her vulnerabilities by soothing her, and instead, proceeded to disengage and fall asleep, she felt not cared about and abandoned. In her chest, the empty, desperate feeling of emotional starvation came up and outside of that, a static buzz of fear. She did not notice that. She did not take any time to feel it and be attentive to it. When he fell asleep again, after she expressed the boundary of that not being an ok way to treat her, these feelings became unbearably strong. And on top of that, it was an even deeper confirmation that she is on her own. And she started to see him, the very person who she needs, as the threat. What she learned was that he is not motivated enough by her pain to decide to stop doing what is hurting her. That he will continue a behavior that hurt her, for his own sake. And this, put her over into full blown powerless terror. She did not notice that. She did not take any time to feel it and be attentive to it. Instead, she got lost in the dizzy flood of anger and fury. Her protector took over and began viciously fighting him like an enemy, in the name of self-preservation and self-loyalty.
If she had slowed way down, so as to attend to the pain and fear and vulnerability that is underneath her anger, she would have shown herself that she is there with and for herself by attending to it. This would have actually increased her sense of self trust and decreased her sense of aloneness. It is a step towards regulating herself. She would have been able to identify her truth and her needs. That she felt afraid during the day and really needed reassurance and coregulation from her boyfriend when he came home from work. Had she noticed this, she could have directly expressed to him that she needed reassurance and was afraid. If he fell asleep after she expressed that, and she had attended to the vulnerability underneath her anger, she wouldn’t have escalated to slamming doors or throwing things etc. She would have found herself in a choice point, where she decides the right way to caretake her vulnerability. This might look like several different things. For example, it might look like waking him up and telling him that he has created a rupture in the relationship on top of failing to provide reassurance and that that he needs to create repair. This might look like getting up and leaving the house to go to a friend’s house and waiting for him to realize he created a rupture and initiate repair. It might look like going into her room and doing a shadow work process on her childhood abandonment trauma, because it is showing up again in her adult life. And then coming to him with a very clear boundary about the behavior that she wants and needs from a partner. It might look like grabbing her computer and writing him an e-mail about the painful and scary vulnerability that she feels, and his contribution to it. It might look like calling someone else on the phone for reassurance and co-regulation and warning her boyfriend when he wakes up of the danger that their relationship is in, if he demonstrates that she must look to other people for what she needs from him.
All of these options would be more effective for both her and him than anger because they address the actual thing that is going on… the vulnerabilities. Also, anger tends to put other people in their own protector personalities, so they are less able to caretake the vulnerabilities and are less receptive. Anger also tends to make it so that people make the person who has been hurt the problem rather than the person who actually did the hurting, which is a scapegoat dynamic. To understand more about this, watch my video titled: The Sickest Game You Can Play. These options don’t allow her boyfriend to fall into this scapegoat pattern with her, which is healing for her childhood dynamic in her family. Instead, they force him to look at his own dysfunctional behavior in relationships. Not getting angry is NOT letting the other person off the hook!
Again, when you notice anger kick in, you must slow way down and attend to the vulnerability (the pain and the fear and the perceived powerlessness) underneath it. Caretake it. Find a direct way to resolve the fear, pain, powerlessness and vulnerability.
And when someone else is angry, don’t be fooled by the cover or smokescreen that you are being presented with. You must recognize, see, hear, feel and attend to the vulnerability, (the pain and fear and perceived powerlessness) underneath it. Caretake it. Give the person a way to resolve the fear, pain, powerlessness and vulnerability.