Wesley was angry about everything including being angry
Although not entirely unexpected the call at 5:00a.m. informing Wesley of his brother’s death was startling. The shock was soon replaced by waves of fury. Wesley was angry that he had to fly across the country for the funeral instead of using the money for a family vacation. He was angry that he had no opportunity to say goodbye to his brother. He was angry that his mother didn’t alert him in time.
Anger seemed the best way to avoid feeling anything !
Most of all, Wesley was angry that he had to feel anything at all. He didn’t want to feel sad. He didn’t want to feel the loss. He didn’t want to feel bad for his father. He didn’t want to feel concerned about his sister and how she would cope. He didn’t want to feel the inconvenience of having to turn his life upside down for a while. He just wanted to numb it all away.
Wesley was proud of using anger to keep a lid on all other feelings
A hard coating of anger protected Wesley from all the feelings he wanted to avoid. He never wanted to relive those moments from his childhood when he heard his mother cry uncontrollably and felt helpless to do anything for her. He was determined to prevent any repetition of those times when his father tried to cover his fear with bravado when ever his wife threatened to leave.
Feelings were overwhelming, ugly, scary things that made him feel powerless, lost, and vulnerable to ‘losing it.’ Wesley took pride in keeping ‘ a lid on’ so that he could maintain his sense of being in control. The tighter the lid, the more irritable and angry he became. Anyone trying to reach him was swatted away with a curt, short tone of voice.
Anger was Wesley's only weapon against feeling like a nut case
But underneath, Wesley was hurting bad. The tears were welling up, and the lump in his throat almost choked him. He couldn’t let himself feel anything up close because it was too big for him, and he imagined it was too much for everyone else too. He believed that if he allowed himself to feel any of the messy emotions churning around inside him, it would make him into a ‘basket case.’ No one would want to have anything to do with a ‘basket case,’ so best to keep that lid firmly on top of the raging emotions. Drink them down, eat them away, busy them off the radar screen - anything but feel them.
Anger robbed Wesley of the cure to his emotional turmoil
The rage became more pronounced when no one came to comfort Wesley. Everyone tiptoed around him, trying to pick up chores as a way of showing their understanding. Wesley’s anger not only kept a lid on his feelings, but created a thick wall between him and his loved ones. Giving the impression that he was strong and could handle things using anger as a power source, denied him the very antidote to his turbulent emotions -comfort, understanding and stability.
Anger may feel powerful but it robs you of companionship and love
The plan to numb himself out worked against Wesley. He found that while one part of him was defending himself against massive emotional upheaval, another part of him was expecting his loved ones to penetrate the thick wall and accurately tune into him, offering him solace. He wanted them to feel his pain, fear, sadness and need for comfort so he didn’t have to feel it himself. He could bypass the shameful feelings that crushed him, while experiencing it second hand through those around him. Let others show their sadness, their worry for him, their fear that he may not get over it. Let them feel the uncertainty of fear, panic and grief. He was not about to go anywhere near it himself.
Anger leads to loneliness and despair
When his loved ones were unable to breach the wall he put up, and gave up trying to comfort him, Wesley became more enraged until loneliness and despair overtook him. That’s when he felt ready to work on his anger in therapy. Wesley’s feelings of heartbreak and despair gave him an opening to explore his overwhelming that threatened to wipe him out.
Sharing feelings brings security and reduces the need for anger
It was his feelings and wishes for comfort and reassurance that opened the door to Wesley’s discoveries:
- It takes courage to admit to your feelings and sit with them.
- People empathize by using common feelings that are human, not weak or ugly.
- Owning your feelings means you can show them to others in an open way.
- Showing feelings openly brings genuine connection, comfort, security and calmness.
- Bad feelings are lessened and good feelings come to take their place.
- Anger isn’t a useful way of feeling powerful or avoiding helplessness.
- Feeling understood, secure and cared for reduces the need for anger as a way to demand from others what you are too scared to face yourself.
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Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2010