Anger seems to be one of the primary emotions with which most people consistently struggle. Anger can be an extremely SCARY emotion for an individual to feel…it is powerful and therefore difficult for people to HOLD. “Holding” in the psychological sense means the ability to tolerate an emotion and allow for the actual feeling of it. Children have temper tantrums. They get angry…sometimes really angry! This can be a problem if a parent doesn’t set limits on this expression. However, if a child is not allowed to feel this anger, then it goes somewhere else…it is suppressed and hidden, and can be unresolved and not directly expressed for years.
Sometimes this unresolved and unexpressed anger seeps out in destructive ways and can lead to violence, substance abuse and even depression, (which is often described as anger turned inward). It is often very difficult for individuals to admit that they are angry…at anything or anyone. For many, there was a “script” somehow given to them as a child that they cannot get angry without being made to feel ashamed for it or punished. This punishment can be confusing if it is not explained to a child in an empathic way.
Many parents cannot handle their own anger so it is impossible for them to not have a reaction to their children’s anger. These parents become afraid to see anger in their children as the parents are afraid to see it in their own self. A common reaction to this is to “throw” this anger back at their children via shaming, confusing punishment or even bigger “adult rage” (which to a child is even more terrifying than their own rage.) This inability for a parent to hold anger causes the childs’ rage to become suppressed.
PROJECTION of anger is very common. Quite often, an individuals’ rage is “split off” and then “projected” on to someone else. For example, if an individual is holding suppressed anger that was not allowed to be expressed as a child in a containing and holding environment, this individual will more easily project this anger on to the driver who cuts him off on the freeway, or might even develop a prejudice against another culture (the members of this culture become “the screen” for this anger to be projected upon).
SPLITTING is the precursor to projection. If a feeling is so intolerable, then this feeling will be in a sense broken off from a persons’ consciousness and thrown (projected) into someone else so that the other will have to hold (feel) this emotion.
2) Anger is PROJECTED and misdirected onto another person or group of people, leading to prejudice and intolerance.
3) Anger is NOT HELD or TOLERATED by another, (especially primary caregivers during development), leading to the message for a child that anger is TOXIC and should not be felt or expressed.
SOLUTIONS: Anger is RESPECTED, HELD and CONTAINED by primary caregivers…Meaning a child is given BOUNDARIES. Children actually want and need boundaries…as it allows their anger, (that often feels out of control and without boundaries) to feel HELD. Rules and discipline are important for this, but given in an UNSHAMING manner.
EX: “I understand that you’re angry. It is frustrating that you can’t have another cookie, but that is how it is. You need to accept that.”
Matt Casper, M.A. MFT; Matt is a licensed Psychotherapist with a private practice in Los Angeles, California. He graduated cum laude from Duke University where he studied personality psychology, comparative religion and film He received his master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from the California Graduate Institute of Professional Psychology and Psychoanalysis and has worked with a diverse population including individual adults, teens and children as well as with groups and couples. Matt has been involved with the Maple Counseling Center, a non-profit counseling clinic, as well as with the Julia-Ann Singer Therapeutic School where he worked with children who fall somewhere on the Autism spectrum. Matt also served as a supervisor for teenagers at TEEN LINE, a hotline and website that provides teen-to-teen outreach for teenagers facing emotional challenges. He is also the author of 12 books in the "Emotes!" series to help children manage their emotions.