Anger and Trauma

by Guyon Morée from Beverwijk, Netherlands

Recently I attended a workshop “Transforming Destructive Anger” taught by Chuck Lustfield, LPC and Rick Spletter, LCSW at the 2012 USABP Conference. Anger is a common emotion that is often misunderstood and many people struggle with expressing anger in healthy ways. Most people do not even know what healthy anger is.

Let’s look at what healthy anger is:

  • Increase self-esteem
  • Increase self-confidence
  • Set appropriate boundaries
  • Leads to deep intimacy with others

There are very few role models out in the world that show us what healthy anger looks like. In movies what we tend to see is a person expressing anger outwardly in a harmful way to others or being held inside where the person harms him/herself.

When anger is explosive the person sends their energy outward and attacks another. This can look like being critical, hateful, judgmental, sarcastic, intimidating or punishing. One will attack another to protect oneself out a deep underlying fear.

When anger is directed inside toward oneself it can look like: being self-righteous, manipulating, destructive behaviors to self, negative self talk, withdrawing from others. Again there will be an underlying fear.

Getting in touch with the underlying feelings that are driving the anger is essential to learning how to own and express healthy anger.

The instructors shared that there are core fears that drive unhealthy anger:

  • Fear of annihilation
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Fear of being controlled/manipulated
  • Fear of being consumed/humiliated
  • Fear of rejection

In the workshop tools were given to work with anger so that one can learn to express it in a healthy way.

  • Be aware of body sensations that tell signal you are getting angry. It might look like a tightening of the jaw, clenching of the fists, shortness of breath, etc.
  • Find a way to push with your feet. Energy tends to rise into the upper body around the face and arms. Feel the ground so that the energy becomes more evenly dispersed throughout the body.
  • Find a way to communicate that you aren’t able to talk right now and that you will come back later to discuss what is happening. Take time to ground your energy and explore what the underlying fear is so that you can express all of the clearly.
  • Be sure to come back and express the fear and anger from this grounded place.

In my working with clients, many have found that they have felt a lot of anger in relationship to their traumas. Through EMDR therapy clients have been able to safely express their anger that they may have never been able to get in touch with before. Sometimes anger is hidden and will arise once a person gets in touch with the different aspects of a trauma.

I have seen clients during EMDR sessions express their anger and it transform the energy revealing the underlying hurt, pain, and fears that these instructors talked about in this workshop. As the trauma resolves through the work, the anger can move through the body/mind and help the clients feel more empowered in their everyday life.