What's Underneath Your Anger?
Anger has a bad reputation, and even talking about it can be hard
Psychotherapist Sara Godoli has devised a pack of anger therapy cards to help you explore anger in a playful and non-judgemental way
We have therapists who are able to help with anger – find them here
“I never thought of myself as a person who got angry. Anger was something other people did. Not me. And then I became a parent…”
Becoming a parent is one of those experiences that stretches you, turns your life upside down, and puts you in touch with feelings that otherwise lie dormant and unexamined.
When I met up with fellow mother and writer Sarah Trueman, we started to talk about anger and specifically the anger we were experiencing as parents. It is surprising how an emotion so common in all households is so often a taboo to talk about.
Parents are happy to discuss how their children get angry. The temper tantrum of the two-year-old is written into parenting folklore. But what about the temper tantrum of the parent? Equally common but rarely discussed. Who shares stories of their own angry outbursts? Very few of us.
When parents or teachers talk about anger the focus is often on anger management. We want to teach our children to ‘starve’ their anger. Over and over again, we instil in our children the idea that anger is bad, to be avoided, and therefore repressed. And certainly, this was the message I’d grown up with. I’d internalised that anger wasn’t ‘done’. When I became a parent and started to experience a whole host of angry feelings, I didn’t know what to do with them.
Although as a psychotherapist I work with anger in the therapy room, when I met Sarah we realised there is a broader need for this conversation, outside of therapy. Sarah and I sat down to discuss and write about the nature of anger. We worked together to distil psychotherapeutic thinking into an accessible format. Our discussions were rooted in the personal – we’d experienced very different models of anger in childhood.
Together we looked at what triggered our anger. We examined forensically how our own childhood experiences shape how we deal with anger today. Again and again, we helped each other notice how unresolved issues from the past can raise their ugly heads when we least expected.
For me, as a parent, when things didn’t happen the way I had envisaged, I felt great helplessness and frustration. I slowly became aware this frustration was born from my attachment to unconscious ideas about the way I imagined my family to look, how I imagined my kids to be. I got in touch with a loneliness that I experienced as a personal sense of failure. These feelings of failure triggered my anger. The very pressure I’d put on myself growing up, I was now putting on my own children.
When I took the time to examine what lay behind my anger, I discovered feelings I had forgotten were there.
Sarah and I started by writing a book for children, explaining what anger is and providing them with the tools to understand and examine it rather than repress it. Anger the Ancient Warrior was published in 2020.
Now we're launching an anger exploration card pack for adults – Anger Therapy Unpacked.
Anger can be an uncomfortable feeling and a damaging force both for those who express it too readily, and for those who never express it at all. With Anger Therapy Unpacked the intention is to encourage everyone to see anger as an opportunity for growth and self-reflection rather than something to be fearful of. The cards help you to explore your anger in a way that is playful and non-judgemental.
When we harness the power of anger, conflict can lead to greater self-awareness and more authentic relationships. Moments of tension become opportunities for transformation, a training ground for emotional competence.
Firmly embedded within the cards is the concept of rupture and repair. Although this is a key concept in psychotherapy it is often hard to translate the theoretical into practical action. The cards are designed to do this. They offer guidance on how to begin difficult conversations after the rupture that anger can bring. They encourage people to reflect on their role in an angry episode and notice the difficult feelings which hide behind the need to blame the other. The repair cards are a practical tool that allow people to find the words needed to acknowledge what they brought to a situation. We want to help people shift their thinking away from a blame game, to focus on “I” rather than “you”, and to discover how transformative repair can be.
It takes time to do this. But when people try they are often surprised by how powerful the result is.
When we think about repair we may think saying ‘sorry,’ is enough. But it’s not. It’s just the start. We need to be explicit about what we are sorry for. A good repair will sound something like this: “Sorry, sometimes I feel I don’t matter and I’m not interesting. When this insecurity is close to the surface, I pick up on the tiniest signs that you are distracted, and I blow. I understand that it’s my insecurity speaking. I hope this goes some way to explaining why I got mad when you weren’t looking at me. Next time I’ll ask if you can put your phone away first.”
Often, we end up saying something like: “I’m sorry I got mad. I can’t stand it when you use your phone while I’m talking to you.” Here, although we are saying sorry, the emphasis is on ‘you’ and what ‘you’ were doing – a blame is implied: I only blew because you were looking at your phone (it’s because of you). This dynamic will keep happening until we begin to take ownership of the role we are playing in the rupture.
When the focus is on ‘I’ not ‘you’, a true dialogue can emerge. This is what repair is all about. Rupture and repair are an essential part of human relationships. The better we become at spotting our triggers, the better we become at repair. So next time you say sorry, experiment, make it blame free!
Many of us are so uncomfortable with anger that we don’t want to talk about it. And even if we do, we often find it hard to know where to start. But when we are willing enough to scratch below the prickly surface of anger, a transformative journey of self-discovery can begin.
Sarah and I have begun to run workshop for parents based on the cards. The feedback we’ve been getting has been outstanding. For many attending our workshops it is the first time they have honestly discuss anger. As a participant in one of our workshops said: “I’ve been ashamed and afraid of this topic and ‘suffering alone’. It is so great to be able to bring it into the open.”
Let’s get everyone talking about their anger!
You can get a 25% discount on the book Anger the Ancient Warrior here
And on the box of Anger Therapy Unpacked cards here using the code ANC25