If you saw me as a teenager, you wouldn’t have believed I was a people pleaser. I was SO ANGRY. At least at home I was. With my friends I won Most Likely to Give In as a Senior Superlative.
But at home, I wasn’t afraid of anger. I was loud and animated. I was using my voice. But that didn’t last long.
Anger only angered my father. And it got me nowhere.
After that, I retreated into silence and lying as a way of rebelling against the strict rules of the house.
Anger felt powerful to me, but I had to keep my power inside. Somehow, I kept that belief – anger gets you nowhere and only diminishes your power.
Fast forward and here I am, a therapist specializing in people pleasing! One thing I hear from clients is how they too have trapped their anger inside and have concurring beliefs about letting it out.
Recently, over the course of a full day of sessions, EVERY SINGLE CLIENT was processing their hidden anger. It really brought to light the relationship people pleasers have with anger.
OURS and OTHER PEOPLE’S anger.
How did we decide anger was “bad” or “scary” or “forbidden”?
I know you might roll your eyes at this, but I am a therapist and we do consider how our early childhood experiences create our world views, so…
Who was angry in our family?
How did our family express anger?
Were we allowed to be angry in our family?
Anger was always lurking in my house. Dad had a hair-trigger and though he wasn’t violent by any means, he had this energy that came out in his body language and his eyes and of course his cutting words.
I was generally afraid of anger because I wasn’t ever sure what might set him off.
When our early experiences with anger are “bad” and “scary”, our story/beliefs about anger begin. With the overarching theme – avoid anger at all costs.
If we live by this belief that anger is “bad” and “scary” then we don’t practice expressing it. It’s a serious disservice for a kid to be shamed or criticized for expressing emotions. Sometimes adult caregivers don’t know how to manage their own emotions and they put this expectation on to their kids as well. Consciously or unconsciously.
But if the message is don’t feel, we are screwed.
If we don’t learn names for emotions we feel, boundaries around feeling them, help processing throughthem, then we are on our own figuring out how to navigate our feelings. That’s more than we can expect from a kid.
I highlighted the processing through part because this skill is so vital to our existence that I believe it should be taught in school.
Lots of people pleasers don’t feel equipped to express a range of anger. They feel like it’s either capped off completely or explosive. It’s the Coke bottle metaphor – it’s all shaken up inside and will literally explode if the top comes off.
Without a continuum of emotions, without a range of options to express anger – it’s all or nothing. And we know people pleasers don’t like exploding on people because that might lead to rejection and abandonment. (Check out this video about Pleasers and the word “no”).
I love helping clients find their range of emotions. Together we explore all the ways they could express themselves. They find relief and empowerment in discovering options to process their emotions.
If we know we can share mild irritation versus rage, then we decrease the backlash of guilt we feel if/when we let loose on someone accidentally. Because guilt is a huge block to expressing anger.
If I keep my irritation hidden and it festers and then it comes out a month later when I am actually mildly irritated, then I am going to feel a ton of guilt for unloading on you.
Hell, as a people pleaser we feel a ton of guilt for breathing!
But, if I wasn’t…
given permission to feel, and
I don’t have language for what I am feeling and
I don’t know I can express a feeling early on so I hold it in,
then I am primed to blurt it out and
potentially push you away and
feel the shame and guilt hangover later.
It’s an awful domino effect.
And all because we have this storyline running that anger is “bad” and “scary” and messes up our relationships and leaves us feeling worse afterwards.
I’ve tried an all or nothing approach to anger.
It made me miserable.
I found a way to rewrite my story and belief about anger.
I’m here to help you reimagine your relationship with anger too.