Attachment: Unexpressed Anger in Relationship

Anger can lay underneath relationship, often surfacing, and never named. It is an emotion that many of us were never allowed to identify, or express in our growing years. It is one of the most misunderstood and denied emotions in human relationship. The denial of its existence causes on-going pain to self and other. It is often misunderstood that allowing expression over time brings internal freedom and lessens conflict.

Most of my adult life has been spent in supporting others as they navigate the many complex emotions that they have spent their life time (no matter the age) avoiding. This is the process of treatment. The gentle unfolding, acknowledgement, witnessed expression, and new understanding of one’s lived experience.

As children, many of us are taught that anger is bad or wrong. And, because we are children, we will use a child’s thinking to generalize that we are bad or wrong. It’s existence and expression are often unwittingly shamed by well meaning parents who are products of their own histories and our larger society. Parents who have their own complex relationship with anger (and shame for that matter). It is in childhood that we are provided our roadmap for future relationship. This remains with us, intricately connected in our neurobiology (our very physical structure) throughout time. The way we were conditioned to express or not express our feelings (and the thoughts and behaviors that began to follow) become our predominate way of relating and behaving in relationship.

In truth if children’s feelings aren’t supported and soothed throughout childhood, the child wont know how to express or manage them. This brings many issues in regard to future well-being and relationship with others. In regard to anger, like any other emotion, it is a normal and appropriate emotion. It is especially normal and appropriate to feel if ones rights or freedoms are violated.

This said, one of the largest misconceptions regarding deeply denied anger is that it must be connected with childhood trauma. While it certainly can be, it can also come from accumulated experiences of not being supported in expressing oneself. (i.e. consistent dismissal, denial, or minimization of feelings).

It is important in our growing years that our emotions be acknowledged, that they receive validation, support, and any needed redirection within safe relationship. It is through this process that we learn our feelings matter, that they are safe and can find resolution. We begin to trust our own experience and believe (because we experience this with our caregivers) that we can trust others. It is this trust in self and other that allows safe exploration of the larger world.

Unexpressed anger becomes a deeply held and constructed defense in ones navigation of the connection to others. It can show up in many forms manifesting across a continuum of possibilities. The hidden hope (even from ones self) is that unmet need will be acknowledged and met. The continuum of expression ranges from pleasing others (at the expense of oneself) to harming others. It can show up as over focus on other, conflict avoidance, passive, or passive aggressive communication, over dominance, self focus, somatic symptomatology, physical illness, and many other forms. It’s manifestation is often as unique as the individual and the specific relationship(s) it which it came to be (or began to hide from).

In treatment, anger and its counterpart shame often need a place to be heard. These are destructive forces in relationship which can make genuine connection very difficult. Many times, as a therapist, I witness behavior (in children and adults) that is there say I am angry about what has happened to me. I have additionally heard many verbal statements around the denial of angers existence along with verbalized fears of anger.

Through the years, I have been asked (often) some variation of “does participating in therapy mean I have to get angry at my ( fill in the blank)? The question (in what ever form asked) always leads to further exploration of why it is asked and what feelings and thoughts are attached to it. And, as always it is followed by the truth. This truth is, you don’t have to do anything that you do not want to to in therapy and you need to know (if we explore the reasons that brought you here), we will likely find places where there is pain and that you may (in fact) feel angry. It is in its expression that internal freedom comes.

This is often a fear provoking thought for many. And, of course not everyone who engages in treatment is angry. But, it is often there underneath the many layers that have been unknowingly crafted through the years. Waiting for safe expression. At times, there is a thought that the person or persons who have caused pain must be confronted. I don’t believe this has to occur to move forward, and at times it isn’t safe for this to occur. (When it can, and ideally within the safety of the therapeutic relationship, much change can come). What does need to occur, in this writer’s opinion, is an understanding of what one has experienced and felt. A place to shape new perspective. It is through this process that anger can subside and one can begin to live more honestly within themselves and within their relationships.

As always, with any writing, there are further places to explore. Much of what is offered here is from this writer’s experience with and interest in attachment theory. (Resources follow). It is intensely interesting to learn how we came to be who we are both in our development as individuals and in our evolution as a society, Each experience, and the context in which it occurs, impact (both positively and otherwise) who we grow to be.

I would welcome your thoughts on the role of hidden anger and its effects on relationship. What thoughts do these concepts stir in you?

Copyright Protected :© 2020 LaDonna Remy MSW, LICSW. All rights reserved.

Professional Disclaimer: It is important to recognize that all information contained in the Perspective on Trauma Blog is informational, and is not intended as a substitute for clinical care. It is not possible to provide informed care through web content, as an informed treatment relationship cannot be formed. If you or a loved one is in need of care, it is important that you access this care from your own care provider.

Agreement of Use: In consideration for your use of and access to the Perspective on Trauma Blog, you agree that LaDonna Remy MSW, LICSW is not liable to you for any action or non-action you may take in reliance upon information from the blog. As noted, it is not possible to provide informed (personalized care) through blog content. It is your responsibility to seek individual clinical care from your own provider, who will know or learn your specific circumstances, should care be needed.

National Hotlines:  

Treatment Referral Helpline, 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-825

Potential Resources:

John Bowlby: https://positivepsychology.com/attachment-theory/

Mary Ainsworth: https://www.simplypsychology.org/mary-ainsworth.html

Circle of Security Parenting: Circle of Security International: https://www.circleofsecurityinternational.com/circle-of-security-model/what-is-the-circle-of-security/

Blog Image: Pixaby

9 thoughts on “Attachment: Unexpressed Anger in Relationship

  1. This is an exceptional tool, thank you for sharing for everyone to learn from. I know that the next time my grandson expresses anger I might try and find a different way for him to cope with it other than just telling him to stop the behavior.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. “This said, one of the largest misconceptions regarding deeply denied anger is that it must be connected with childhood trauma. While it certainly can be, it can also come from accumulated experiences of not being supported in expressing oneself. (i.e. consistent dismissal, denial, or minimization of feelings).”
    Thank you for posting this – it doesn’t seem to be the first thought of therapists who look to the childhood trauma. Some folks claim anger seems to also have some kind of intrinsic link in pre-depression. What are your thoughts on that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and for your response. When answering questions ( in an on- line format) therapists do have to acknowledge limitations inherent in this and to restate ( as is stated in my blog) that a written answer cannot substitute or be given as advice. All of that said… It is true that many clinicians overlook attachment related linkages to current day clinical need or pain. Early experiences deeply impact our overall health and well being. In responding to your question,this could certainly be true in regard to depression but I do not believe childhood trauma is a definitive precursor to depression. This could be an outcome. We are all very individual as are our individual temperament, circumstances, and relationships ( support systems). All of these are contributing ( protective or non protective ) factors to our neurobiological make- up. It is this ( our neurobiology) that dictates our internal state and external responses.

      Again, thank you for the question. I truly love being a clinical provider and writing about the many nuances related to clinical topics. I welcome your questions, thoughts, and insights.

      Liked by 1 person

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