The main topic that I’ve been thinking about for the last month is the effect of repressed childhood anger on relationships, especially with our children.
Many people believe that they were traumatised by an angry parent and they worry about getting angry at their own children. I know many mothers who believe that they have harmed their children through their own expression of anger. They see anger as harmful and as a toxic inheritance that is being passed down to their children.
I’ve got a different perspective. Anger is not the toxic inheritance we thought it was.
The main toxic inheritance that gets passed down the generations is the belief that feeling and expressing anger is bad or wrong.
The belief that anger is bad causes a huge amount of suffering. I also happen to believe it isn’t true.
The problem is not anger. Anger is not intrinsically wrong or bad. The problem is the repression of anger and the way anger gets distorted by our thinking. Releasing repressed anger is essential for anybody on a conscious parenting path.
Lets have a close look at anger
After many years of inner work, I am now aware of two very different kinds of anger.
The first is “pure” anger. This emotion is a wave of protective energy that arises when a threat is perceived. The threat could be physical, verbal or energetic. The wave of anger is a prompt to set a personal boundary by saying NO or to get out of the way of the threat. No thinking is required. Words and actions arise instinctively. This kind of anger has a protective energy.
The second kind of anger is the distorted version. This is where thinking/stories are involved that amplify and corrupt the anger. The stories are usually about fault, blame or wrongness; either in myself or another person. Blame can quickly turn pure anger into rage, attack and hatred that has a very destructive energy. This kind of anger isn’t wrong, but it can cause physical harm and emotional suffering, so it’s not often helpful.
During childhood I picked up the belief that both kinds of anger were unacceptable and wrong. I repressed both the pure and the distorted versions of anger in my valiant attempt to be a “good girl” and avoid punishments that terrified me.
This repression led to patterns of people pleasing and self judgment and a belief in my unworthiness.
What happens to repressed anger?
If repressed anger is not released and the beliefs around it unlearned the repression and suffering can be passed down to the next generation.
I was determined that this toxic inheritance wasn’t going to be passed down to my children, but it took years of unlearning, therapy, spiritual study and spiritual practice to deal with the legacy of my repressed anger.
When my children were young I noticed the repressed anger coming out as my own explosive reactions.
My patterns of people pleasing and self blame led to the buildup of resentment, frustration and overwhelm which eventually affected my physical health.
There was a lot to unravel, unlearn and release. This gave me three main things to focus on.
How to unravel, unlearn and release
- Being willing to feel and express anger. Releasing repressed anger meant that I had to allow myself to get angry. This was a messy process that saw me expressing a lot of the distorted kind of anger and yelling at my children, blaming my husband and having more than a few big meltdowns. I did a lot of apologising after these meltdowns and I gradually tapped into the pure, helpful anger that was underneath all that muck. There is more about our family journey with emotions here.
- I actively investigated and questioned my beliefs about anger and my beliefs about myself. Those patterns of self blame and people pleasing had to go! To support my unlearning I used the process that has been my daily practice for at least a dozen years; The Work by Byron Katie. I found the teachings of Byron Katie to be essential for my own unlearning. She teaches a simple process of self-inquiry that you can apply to any issue that’s coming up in your life. It’s a process that you can use to clear your mind of the old programming and beliefs that are affecting your peace of mind. I used The Work to investigate and dissolve my old beliefs and to open my mind to new ways of being with my emotions and my children.
- Finding my inner peace. Throughout the whole wild, chaotic process that has been our family life for the last 21 years there has been an undeniable amount of noise and drama, but there has also been an ever deepening experience of peace within me. As I released my repressed emotions and tapped into the energy of pure anger I noticed something very important: Each wave of emotion arises out of peace and dissolves back into peace when it passes. Inner peace is stronger and more fundamental than any emotion and is always there to hold and comfort me.
I certainly feel a lot lighter, clearer and more aware as a result of all this unraveling. I sometimes experience anger in it’s pure form, but rarely the distorted versions. Letting go of a pattern of blaming myself and others has brought huge relief and freedom.
I hope that I’ve stopped the toxic inheritance of wrongness and repression being passed on, but I can’t be sure. I’ve done what I can, and I’m looking to see if there is more inner work to be done.
You can find more information on unlearning and finding your inner peace during the chaos of parenting children in my book “Joyful Parenting”.