By Robert Waldvogel
By Both proverbial and of cliché proportions, the term “tip of the iceberg” has been used to compare and shed light on numerous aspects in life, emphasizing that what one sees jutting out of the water is only a tiny portion of the greater mass upon which it rests below it. One of them is anger, since what you feel about circumstances and people later in life may have very early, subsurface origins.
Perhaps using others as a mirror when I was an adult-that is, viewing them with the same trusting eyes, integrity, and honesty I projected-I was sometimes disappointed, receiving, instead, betrayal, lies, and defamation, and not realizing that their low and lesser-than behavior had nothing to do with me, but everything to do with the efficiencies from which they functioned.
Unsuspecting, I was never prepared for their underhanded actions and usually raged about them for a considerable period–anywhere from weeks to months to years–perplexed as I asked myself such questions as, “How could they do such things to me?” “Why didn’t I see that coming?” “Where was their remorse, regret, sorrow, feeling, conscience, embarrassment, or empathy for the hurt they inflicted on me?”
Those who continually heard my tirades were compelled to ask, “When are you going to get over it already?”
I could not. Therefore, I could not answer them.
Examination of my ire revealed two significant aspects of it: (1). Its intensity and (2) Its duration.
Why, I wondered, did I rage with such insatiable vehemence and why, despite the multiply-repeated tirades, did they never lose their intensity, regardless of the time lapse?
I ultimately realized that my late anger was the smoke produced by the early, still-smoldering fire lit by my father’s abusive, traumatizing, life-threatening, predatory chases, projections, toxin transfers, enmeshments, and soul-siphoning-late layers, if you will, of an early, never dismantled foundation. Like threads stitched by time, they all stretched back to those unresolved incidents.
Physically blocked and suspended of power, I was immobilized, unable to run, harness the internal explosion of stress hormones, or even cry or scram. A single word afterward, interpreted by a mentally unstable parent, would only have been viewed as “talking back” and “disrespect of elders,” inviting more of the same. It would have very much been the equivalent of pulling my own trigger. Little had I known that my father had been subjected to the same treatment as a child and that my sheer presence actually pulled his own trigger.
Squelching, suppressing, and swallowing it all, I became a backed-up volcano, always awaiting my own internal eruption and I always chose the lesser-and less detrimental-of two evils: remain silent until I imploded or talk back and risk further physical harm in the name of “justifiable discipline.” It was a lose-lose situation, a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t’ choice.
But the brain, by means of its neuron recordings of the negative, counter-survival experiences it is subjected to, only has so much capacity to absorb, like the sponge that tries to soak up a spilled gallon of water. After it reaches its capacity, the rest will ooze out of it until it virtually drowns in it.
Relevantly, the later-in-life authority figures, unrecovered adult children, and qualifiers triggered these never-diffused bombs and lit the match on the image of the father I had never processed and forgiven-not to mention still feared. Subconsciously, they wore his displaced face.
I could not “finish out” and reach a level of release, relinquish, and satisfaction with those I encountered as an adult, because they tripped the circuit I never diffused with my father as a child. This was the origin of my anger.
Anger, from a psychological perspective, is negative energy and emotion, a natural and automatic response to a person or circumstance who or which wronged you, especially in cases of unfairness, unexpectedness, and injustice. There can be either an internal or an external trigger to it.
Originating in the primitive or stem portion of the brain, it can be a defensive reaction to a threat, stressor, or loss. It provides a channel for the expression of negative feelings and can spark or motivate a person into solution- and survival-oriented actions. Because it never occurs in isolation and is usually preceded by pain or painful feelings, it can be characterized as a “second hand emotion.”
Underlying anger is always hurt.
From the adult child perspective, anger is a normal reaction to an abnormal circumstance.
Spiritual or religious discussions warn of its overtaking nature, if it is not resolved, quelled, or kept in check. “In your anger, do not sin,” the Bible advises.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires”-in other words, if you think that you are doing his work for him, you are not.
Although these quotes bespeak of ultimate truths, they are almost impossible to achieve and maintain when the fires of an abusive childhood still rage within you, waiting to be doused and dissolved with recovery. They may be the origins of your own anger, as expressed in Courage to Change (Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, 1992, p. 341). “Before Al-Anon, I’d have sworn I didn’t have an angry bone in my body. Through working the steps, however, I discovered that, without knowing it, I’d often been furious with the alcoholic in my life. I began to recognize anger while it was happening… It felt great to reclaim these repressed parts of myself. I felt more whole, more powerful… “
The person seems to share the same origin of anger as I and was equally forced to squelch it. All roads lead to Rome and all anger apparently leads to your abuser.
The solution for me came from shifting my focus from the tip of the iceberg later-in-life to the foundation laid by my father earlier in it and realizing that this insatiable, unshakable emotion was due to my inability to confront and express to him what I had been forced to absorb. This was the true origin of my anger.
Can you think of any of your own that you now believe was displaced and out-of-proportion for the person or the circumstance? Can you trace it back to the original ones? Was it something you never processed or resolved or someone you never forgave? Can you determine that what you wanted to express to someone as an adult may have been the same, unfinished emotions you should have vented to your parent, abuser, alcoholic, or qualifier as a child?
This, too, may be the origin of your anger.