Anger is a secondary emotion disguising something more difficult to express.
Often unexpressed and unresolved grief has a way of reappearing in the form of chronic anger and fits of rage.
Many times parents bring children and adolescents into my office hoping that I can help fix their child’s anger problem. As their story unfolds, so does the child’s history of great loss. Sometimes the child has endured an obvious loss, such as losing a loved one. But often the loss is less clear, but equally damaging.
There are many forms of loss- some not so obvious. Experiencing any type of abuse, whether it be physical, sexual, or emotional, involves loss. Witnessing domestic violence or living in a household with members who suffer from some form of addiction creates a feeling of loss. Feeling invalidated or emotionally abandoned also creates a feeling of being alone- another form of great loss. The list goes on…
Many times children are taught to be “emotionally strong” and hide their feelings of sadness. I see this in my office when the “angry child” finally begins to cry about the pain that is at the root of their anger. A mother may say in a frustrated and less than compassionate tone, “Why are you crying?” or “Stop that crying.” A father may say, “Suck it up.” Usually these are very loving and caring parents who are only teaching their children what they themselves were taught as a child. Be strong, hide the emotion, hide the family secret, and it will all just go away.
Many studies have shown that this is not true. Hidden emotions that are tucked away do not simply go away. They come back later in destructive ways. They rear their ugly head and say, “We are back.” This may be in the form of addiction, as an individual tries to numb out the feelings that just do not want to stay tucked away. It may be in the form of illness. “You may try to forget, but your stomach never forgets.” But the most common way suppressed emotion reappears is through chronic anger and fits of rage.
Behind the anger, lies the pain.
Parents- we can help our children with this. We can teach them how to identify their emotions, and we can teach them that it is okay to cry when they experience a loss. They will not cry forever. If they are able to grieve the loss and feel their feelings, they will eventually reach a place of peace and acceptance. By expressing their pain to compassionate others, the injury loses intensity and is less likely to be transformed into chronic anger. In the long run, they will be happier, healthier, and less likely to project their anger and pain onto everyone else.
We can look at this like paying dues upfront in exchange for long-term peace. Fully experiencing the profound pain and anger surrounding a loss is no fun at all. But if we allow ourselves and our children to go through this process, everyone involved will come out of it happier and better able to let in the goodness of life.
Remember it is never too late to grieve a loss. If we allow our children the freedom to grieve, they will become happier and healthier- better able to bounce back from future challenges that life may throw their way.
Written by Kristin Barton Cuthriell, LCSW, MSW, MEd, author of the book, The Snowball Effect: How to Build Positive Momentum in Your Life now available on Amazon.
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