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Why Is Authentic Anger So Important If We Want To Truly Feel Alive?

Anger is a part of life. We all experience it but may relate to anger only as destructive or hurtful. Allowing ourselves to have authentic anger can play a vital role in moving our lives forward. I had no idea that all my years of personal and spiritual work was a longing for my own aliveness and that it had an important relationship to allowing myself to feel the anger/protest of what I didn’t get in my early life.

Authentic Anger

I am grateful to my teacher, Dr. Laurence Heller, founder of the Neuro-Affective Attachment Relational Model™ for Healing Developmental Trauma (NARM). This work changed my life. His book with Aline LaPierre, PsyD, titled Healing Developmental Trauma, talks about somatic mindfulness, that is, the containment, deepening and support for the biological completion of affective states and how tracking and containing emotions in this way puts us progressively more in touch with our core aliveness.

When we have an authentic emotion like anger, we may resist it because of how we had to adapt to survive our early life. When distressed, part of the normal inbuilt infant/child response is to protest, to be angry when our basic needs, such as being seen/heard/mirrored are not met, or if there was emotional and/or physical abuse. But protesting may risk losing attachment to our caregivers.

This attachment can feel as important as eating or sleeping, and on the deepest level, may trigger fears of abandonment, even death. Many of us carry the same survival mechanisms into adulthood, manifesting as a fear of losing our psychological parents—a fear of being alone if we are true to ourselves with others. This represents an intra-psychic conflict between our need to be authentic (which is connected to our life energy) and our attachment needs (to be loved and accepted).

Unresolved feelings that are not owned or integrated can lead us to reenact earlier relationships by projecting that energy onto others, keeping us stuck in frustrating patterns. What I’ve learned from Stefanie Klein, LCSW and NARM faculty member, is that we don't necessarily have to have closure with people like parents or ex-partners who impacted us. We don't have to tell them something and have them tell us something to be able to work through our anger because it’s really about our relationship to our emotions.

I enjoy working with clients' anger because I see how it supports connection to their life force which has the power to shift their lives. But it’s often met with resistance. I hear things like, 'I don’t do anger'; ' I’ve already forgiven'; and so forth. They may even protect caregivers who abandoned or abused them with rationalizations like: ‘They had a tough childhood, too’; or ‘They did their best.’

Respectfully, I explain that my focus is on their psychobiology, sharing something I learned from Dr. Heller, that is, the important distinction between the emotion of anger (feeling the energy and protest) and the behavior of anger (often is seen as the acting out kind, such as screaming and hitting, but it can be speaking up for what we need from a centered place). No wonder many feel uncomfortable dealing with anger. Going to a default emotion like sadness or a state of anxiety might feel safer but can keep us stuck. We also may be afraid of losing love if we allow ourselves to feel what’s true for us.

We may direct the anger within, shaming and hating ourselves. Brad Kammer, LMFT, LPCC, NARM Training Director says, "As children we had to disavow our authentic responses to the environmental failure (including anger) and how this then gets turned against the self in the form of shame.”

One client shared, “I had no idea that avoiding conflict cost me so much. It's time to grow up and do what needs to be done.” She decided not to shut down when feeling impacted by another and not people-please just to maintain a semblance of connection.

Some default to anger to avoid feeling pain from past wounds. They may act out, blaming and yelling to discharge intensity and to protect themselves. But cut off from their vulnerability, they don’t get to feel the strength that can come from feeling the hurt/sadness and naming their truth. To be able to live with our hearts undefended allows us to access the love deep within and to orient to life from love.

I guide my clients through a NARM emotional completion process of first owning and feeling the anger/irritation/frustration/rage in the body without catharsis or overwhelm. Sometimes clients don't see the point of owning their anger because they don't feel they can do anything about their situations. I remind them that it's not about the behavior of anger (saying/doing something). It's about integrating their life force energy, energetically containing (not restricting) the energy of anger which requires tolerating this powerful charge. I heard my Somatic Experiencing™ teacher, Dr. Peter Levine say there’s a lot of energy in emotions. If all that energy is locked in, it’s going to leak out somewhere, and frequently with symptoms.

Then I inquire with them what needs the anger is communicating (what it’s trying to say, to do, to change). Once the split-off energy of anger is embodied, it becomes inner strength. We feel powerful when we affirm our truth. It doesn't mean our truth will be accepted, but we have our own backs which gives us fortitude to meet the challenges. When we deny what's real for us, we shut down our life force. And if we act out such as by yelling, we become the problem. We may feel young and weak, trying to convince others to see and hear us.

With inner strength, we enhance our ability to move forward in life or to express healthier boundaries like: “No, you can’t do that to me.”; “I deserve better than that.” Clients often look more present, sit up taller, have more energy. I have seen some who were unable to move forward for years, find themselves taking action in new directions in their work, relationships and living situations.

As an optional take home practice to build capacity to hold the energy of anger that's from our life force, I invite clients to let themselves feel the little irritations/frustrations in life, tracking with curiosity the energy and sensations, being with it, resisting the urgency to act on it or shut it down.

For a long time in my healing journey - my core wound being abandonment and neglect - I could not feel anger towards my mother. I felt numb or sad. Eventually, I got to: ”Why didn’t you want me?” I went through waves of grief and rage, eventually landing in the felt sense of, "This is my life. It belongs to me." I no longer feel ashamed of existing. Even though my mother could love me later in life, I still had to process the early woundings to feel my aliveness.

When emotions like anger are integrating, there can be the challenge of tolerating the expanded aliveness. Clients may acknowledge they are mad, feel it in their bodies, hear the message such as "I needed more than what I got," but then they guilt themselves with something like, "my mother had a lot of stress." I counter with, "we're not here to take care of your mother, we're here to support you to connect with you."

I’ve learned from Dr. Heller, small steps towards greater aliveness may unconsciously be felt as a threat to our psychological attachment relationships. When we begin to thrive and individuate, such as having a healthy relationship or meaningful work, intra-psychically it can feel like death as it once did when we were little to not have the psychological attachment.

When we begin to reconnect with our real self, and grow ourselves up from needing that kind of attachment, it can bring up the fear of losing our familiar identity which is kind of an ego death like, "Who am I if I don’t push down my needs or be small?" One client shared, "Existing is weird. I feel like I'm just born."

In conclusion, there are many perspectives on anger. I am not writing as an expert. I am just excited to share my understanding of the NARM model that connects us to our aliveness. May this blog pique your curiosity about your relationship to anger and inspire your aliveness.

Brianna Ho Delott, MBA, BBA-PSYC is a Master NARM Practitioner & Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, also certified in Integral Somatic Psychology as well as in spiritual counseling with the American Institute of Health Care Professionals. She’s also a Co-regulation Touch Practitioner trained in Transforming the Experienced-Based Brain & Somatic Resilience Regulation. She sees clients internationally on Zoom.

Disclaimer: Please note that I am not a psychotherapist or mental health counselor. The info above is not a substitute for licensed medical, psychological or psychiatric help.

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