I have learned, from working with hundreds of people all over the world, that they are angry and often they don’t know they are angry.  This is because the anger has been disowned as a child, or at any age, possibly as a result of trauma, maybe you were not allowed to display anger growing up, not encouraged to feel your own feelings as a general rule of thumb or maybe you just felt too scared to feel anger due to the extent of the feeling (dissociation).

Sometimes people I work with are raging.  Sometimes they are depressed and sometimes really unable to face themselves.  Some people can not bear to be alone with themselves, even for a second.  Let’s look at why…

Understanding anger

I wrote this article with a view to understanding anger and why we will go to any lengths not to feel it.  We are often taught not to express “negative” emotions and that they are bad; or worse, that we are bad people for feeling angry.  Melanie Klein studied babies and it helped her to understand what anger actually is and in fact she deduced that the purpose of emotions is to tell us what we need.  In addition we can not communicate what we need, other than to scream with rage.  

Birth is an extremely traumatic event.  You are all safe and snug in the dark, (although gross, disgusting yet still probably comforting) fluid for nine months.  You are then thrust out of there into a contrastingly huge space of intense light, your eyes not equipt yet to experience.  You are undoubtedly the most fragile and the most vulnerable you will ever be.  Unable to communicate in any way and reliant on your caregivers to keep you safe, all you can do is scream with rage to let your mother know you are hungry, soiled and terrified that she might not give you what you need to survive.   Access my short article on how it all started with emotions here.  

Anger blocks your healing.  It takes many forms.  Anger is sneaky and it is secretive.  It forces you to be out of touch with your natural peaceful mind and your happiness.

Buddhists have described it as an angry mind, which helps you see that it is not you, not who you are, but instead a state of mind.  This is helpful, Buddhists say, because it gives you the opportunity to recover and heal, but what Buddhists miss out, is the reason the amygdala holds on to anger.  In my experience, you have to first understand what its purpose is, why you are feeling it.  What I love though is the analogy that anger is clouds in the sky and you will have a beautiful, peaceful clear sky (mind) when you deal with your anger.

As a counsellor, I encourage you to allow your feelings, not repress them and in doing this, you validate you.

Anger is a trauma response

When you are left feeling helpless (at any point in your life), such as experiencing injustice or loss of what is right, or if we have been abused and no one takes responsibility; when it feels like no one can help us, we can be left feeling very angry.  The anger may be a raging anger that we can not understand.

If the feeling is a lot more intense than what seems rational for the situation, it is a trigger to an earlier experience when you felt vulnerable and scared for your safety.

When you were a newborn, you could not be any more vulnerable.  Again, you can not communicate the enormity of the feeling as it is an enhanced experience of the emotion as is any trauma response. .

Then depending on how confident and calm your mother was, at helping you cope with your intense rage, making you feel safe, you may have internalised that anger so that you never ever forget just how unsafe you are.

This handling of your rage is how you develop your attachment style, ranging from having secure attachments to having an intense fear of abandonment.  The belief you might be abandoned can lead to unhealthy relationships due to feeling needy and seeking out someone to take care of you as an adult, providing conditions for manipulation and abuse.

Not learning about your anger, how to understand it and manage it can result in the development of anxiety related conditions and disorders such as PTSD and statistically increasing the chances of unhealthy ways of coping such as alcohol or drugs, self harm or even taking your own life.

There are many ways that you can be angry (and sometimes not even recognise it as anger) such as depression.  Some people I work with say things like, “I’m not angry, I just hate myself.” Here you are internalising a feeling and repressing it.  (I am angry which is bad and I should not be feeling this so I am bad).  The helplessness of that situation, that created your feeling has left you not only feeling depressed but with very low self esteem, a common symptom of trauma.  

Counselling can help

Case study: Client attended a session and doesn’t know what to talk about. I will call her Rebecca. Things are going OK this week and she is thinking about ending. Apart from a wasp she remembers that came into the window and try as she might, the wasp would not get out of the open window, but that was nothing. I asked her how she felt about that wasp. It was really annoying actually. Rebecca was very very angry about that wasp. When we explored the feeling about the wasp she explained how she started screaming in despair that she couldn’t get it out of the window. No one was in but her and she had to work from home all day in the house with that wasp.

Rebecca had a good childhood, her parents worked and she got passed around a bit with family. At first she kept cancelling and it took her a while but she attended counselling eventually. She was all smiles and telling me life was great and she didn’t know why she booked the sessions but she was here now. She said she was feeling a bit irritated, yet her life seemed to be going quite well and other people would be worse off than her. It was as if she was putting me out using up my time.

Then after talking about the wasp and her feeling of anger, Rebecca remembered that uncle that was always round their house and no one talked about emotions in their house ever. She wanted them to say something about it. She told her mother at the time and he stopped coming round and that was the end of it. No one ever discussed it. He was at family weddings, christenings and funerals but no one ever talked about what he did back then. Rebecca felt angry about the injustice of it all, how no one took any action and she wanted to say or do something but was silenced straight away if she tried.

So you might feel irritated and not know why, you might avoid your sessions or cancel counselling, convincing yourself the counsellor is hopeless or counselling is a waste of time and money. Then when you do attend and we look at the feeling together, really explore it, you are extremely angry indeed and this tends to cover up an intrinsic feeling of despair and a belief that, “No one is going to take care of me, I will not survive.”  In other words, I can never feel angry and I can certainly never talk about that and anyway, it’s over now and I am doing OK in my life. But try as you might, you just never feel happy.

Just like Rebecca, you could be glad you attended because counselling can help you recover and heal from abuse by dealing with the anger you are left with, or the depression or anxiety such as PTSD from the trauma of abuse.  You can access my short article about trauma here.

IMPORTANT: No amount of abuse or neglect to you entitles you to treat someone else with disrespect and if you are a perpetrator of abuse, you can recover if you want to change.

I am waiting for your contact and look forward to meeting you and working with you soon. Best wishes, Karen.

Links for references and further information

Victim Support (has a red stripe at the top of the page to quickly exit the website), gives you lots of information about domestic abuse and may be useful to determine what is defined as abuse if you are unsure, in any type of relationship.

Disclaimer: I write from my experiences and from my client work in counselling and have no scientific training whatsoever.  I am a person centred counsellor specialising in anxiety and trauma within the context of counselling.  My work is dependent on the therapeutic relationship and the meeting of two minds. It is a humbling experience and that is all part of the healing process that I witness every day. It is the best job in the world.