Brianna Ho Delott
Why Is Authentic Anger So Important If We Want To Truly Feel Alive?
Updated: Jun 28, 2022
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 a direct relationship with allowing myself to feel the anger/protest of what I didn’t get in my early life.
I am so 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 (connected to our life energy) and our attachment needs (to be loved and accepted). Here's an example of how I dealt with an intra-psychic conflict: When a friend messaged me to talk, I was really busy but afraid she’d be upset if I didn’t get back to her right away (‘I may lose a friend,’ i.e., ‘displease mother’). Using agency from my adult consciousness, I told myself, ‘I can be okay if she doesn’t like my response.’ I felt strength in my body, trusting where I was at.
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.
It’s an inside job of allowing ourselves to feel what we feel. We need to be able to recognize our emotions, tolerate the energy in a contained way and, from that place, make a choice if and how we want to share those emotions with the people who directly impacted us.
I enjoy working with clients' anger because I see how it supports connection to their life force and wholeness, which has the power to shift lives. But it’s often met with resistance. I hear things like, 'I don’t like 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 served me so I could work through my karma.’
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). 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 turn against herself when feeling impacted by another and not people-please just to maintain a semblance of connection.
Some default to anger because the pain and sadness is too much to bear. They may act out, blaming and yelling to discharge energy, but find nothing gets resolved inside because they’re not connected to their core self. Cut off from their vulnerability, and thus access to their heart, unaware of their part in the conflict, they project their past and see others now as threats
I guide my clients through a NARM process that often involves first exploring what might be scary about feeling anger, which might be numbed out or minimized. Some say they are done feeling angry or have a good adult relationship with parents, but when the energy shows up, it’s something we can work with.
We go through an emotional completion process of owning the anger psycho-biologically that surfaces, then understand what needs are being communicated (what it’s trying to say, to do, to change). We also need to feel the energetics somatically without catharsis or overwhelm. It can be an intricate process, often intertwining with working through grief and other emotions, usually over an extended period.
Once the split-off energy of anger is integrated, it becomes an inner strength which enhances our ability to express healthier boundaries like: “No, you can’t do that to me.”; “I don’t have to beat myself up for being mad.”; “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.
My personal process with healthy anger/protest involves mostly working with both NARM and the embodied spiritual work of Miranda Macpherson, who encourages us to not dismiss our reactivity so that it can transmute the part of our consciousness that's more fixated and dense. Letting it liberate the essence at the depth of it, which ego anger can block if not digested or processed, allows core qualities like strength and courage to emerge.
My early life was not easy, immigrating to Canada at the age of eight, raised by parents who had developmental traumas themselves and were impacted by two wars and the Cultural Revolution in China. But the core wound for me was being rejected at birth because I was a girl and then neglected growing up because my mother was stressed and very ill for a year.
For a long time in my healing journey, 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 and waves of grief and rage. Even though she passed away in 2005, I have a loving heart connection with her now. She did care for me when life got easier but my young heart felt so broken and shut down. I no longer feel ashamed at existing. I feel my aliveness and love my work. I started a private practice three years ago and I am blogging about spirituality and trauma.
Once emotions like anger are integrated, then comes tolerating the expanded aliveness. For someone who felt invisible most of her life, I was touched and surprised by the responses to my first blog in December, How I Welcomed My Traumas on the Spiritual Path. With over 400 readers, the positive comments and even an invitation for an interview (which I declined), I found myself retreating and feeling a bit empty. I knew enough not to force some happy state, trusting that my system needed time to reconnect with my inherent value.
As 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 ourself 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 & P-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 trained in Transforming the Experienced-Based Brain (for fetus/infant traumas). She sees clients internationally on Zoom, some are on spiritual paths and some not, but all want to feel more alive and connected to themselves. www.BriannaHoDelott.com
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.