Insights into Psychology

How Childhood Affected My Relationship with Anger

How childhood affected my relationship with anger

I got thinking about this because I’ve seen a number of people write about anger recently, and it’s not an emotion I’ve ever been comfortable with.

Anger is a basic human emotion.  We all experience it sometimes, and it has an associated facial expression that is universally recognized across cultures.  Yet anger is far from basic in that we often have a lot of other mental baggage attached to it.

My relationship with anger began in childhood.  My dad has always had a quick temper, and tends to shout loudly when he’s angry.

As kids, it was directed more often at my brother than at me.  I remember times when we were up at my Grandma’s for the weekend, and my dad would flip out at my brother and then we’d have to abruptly go home.  As a teenager, there was a time I didn’t want to go to some activity that I felt pressured into, and for whatever reason my dad blew up, started ranting, and then punched a hole in the hall closet.  That’s the only time I remember him acting out physically.

What I learned from this was that anger is frightening, both in myself and in others.  I also had no model of controlled anger that was channelled effectively; all I saw was uncontrolled anger.

Often, in situations where the more logical response would be for me to get angry, I instead react with my little girl response of crying and feeling afraid and under attack.

Supposedly women tend to look for partners like their father, but for me, the opposite is true.  I don’t think I could be with someone who angered easily or often.  Looking at the two long-term relationships I’ve had in the past, neither of them had angry tendencies.

I’ve dealt with plenty of angry patients over the years, but that was different, probably because it was clearly driven by illness.  There was one occasion when a coworker went on a lengthy rant directed at me, but I was so frozen that the crying response didn’t kick in.

I seldom feel anger directly.  I’ll feel annoyed/irritated over things that don’t hit close to home, but it rarely progresses to anger.  Or maybe my whole idea of anger is skewed, since I equate angry with being out of control.

I think controlled anger can be most useful in fighting for social causes, where it can be channelled in a constructive rather than a destructive way.

Anger is probably the only emotion that I’ve created such a story around.  It may be because it was the only highly overt expression of emotion that I was regularly exposed to in childhood.  It’s fascinating how even non-traumatic childhood conditions can do so much to shape us in adulthood.

What is your relationship with anger like?

43 thoughts on “How Childhood Affected My Relationship with Anger”

  1. Yes, I also had childhood anger experiences that made me very scared of it. I tend to repress my own anger and express it as depression or self-loathing. I can get sarcastic with my family, but I rarely express real anger, and when I do it’s usually directed against myself instead.

  2. Anger seemed a staple in my house when I was growing up. Myfather being a raging alcoholic had a lot to do with it.
    Unfortunately for me (The Apple), per se… Did not fall from the tree. I became the same way. My anger was horrendous, and I would feel guilt soon after, because I could only imagine how harsh it must have been to be on the receiving end of my anger.
    Thank goodness for sobering up in 2015. My anger is pretty well contained. I may get annoyed or irritated like you do, but I haven’t lashed out like a raving lunatic like years ago.

  3. Stored anger resurfaces when triggered for most. In my disorder I don’t get mad, ever, it goes to a fragment and is dealt with there. When the fragment returns, he/she vents and leaves. My base personality (everyday living) never seems to get angry.

  4. All the novels and novellas I have written have a fair amount of anger in them. My ex and mother had terrible tempers.I grew up frightened unable to express anger, then married someone worse, I can’t stop writing about it in my characters. the real problem is you get used to being frigthened and when you escape, it takes ages to break out of that cage of fear.

  5. My relationship with anger is complicated. Since my mother had probable Borderline Personality Disorder, I learned at a very very young age not to trigger her. The fallout was terrifying. I grew up (in the years I was with my biologic parents) watching BPD play out again and again, and I squashed any anger and stuffed it down just like my father did. Only once did I ever explode and let the anger demon out, and it was so horrifying to me (I was out of control and literally saw red) that I determined never to express my anger openly ever again. It’s been tough to learn how to properly express my anger and confront people who are being nasty or bullying, without losing my temper completely as I did the one time. I work on that problem most in therapy. Because my anger simmers every day and I’m angry most of the time honestly. I personally think anger might be the most challenging thing that people have to manage – even so-called healthy individuals.

  6. In my house, displaying anger towards the authority figure would result in abuse, so I had to learn to fake not being angry while I was seething on the inside. A horrible way to have to exist.

  7. I agree with what you said.

    I accept that sometimes anger is righteous and justified. But from a young age I found it frightening. I couldn’t distinguish justifiable anger from the terrifying behavior of someone who had lost control. When I was a very little girl, I remember a neighbour chasing my Dad (and me) with what in my head is a baseball bat (but I doubt it was because in England people don’t have baseball bats) or something that kind of size. My Dad had to run for his life with me in his arms. There were a few other scary incidents that gave me tendency to become very fearful around anyone angry. In reaction to things that provoked me, I became fearful and distressed, rather than angry.

    As an adult I can feel what I would describe as appropriate anger when I learn about a terrible injustice that has occured, but I stay calm. If it’s something that affects me personally, I usually have the same response when I was little, it’s fear, hurt, tears and helplessness that come a long time before anger does.

  8. I really like this piece! Very relatable. I have seen anger expressed in so many different ways from those I was around during childhood, and I do feel I experience anger in a skewed way — it definitely isn’t constructive but we’re all growing. I like your idea of putting anger towards social justice, which gives us a positive way to channel a negative emotion. I’ve been trying to look more into that lately, rather than just trying to get rid of negative emotions. Sometimes, we do our best work when basking in the light of negative feelings… maybe I’ll write about what I find soon.

  9. Oh, anger…the closest emotion to describing my existence; sadly. The most tragic part is, I’ve always felt rage. The tightening of my stomach, hotness of my ears, and the immediate saliva that drips in the back of my throat. It is ingrained itself in my DNA and I despise myself when I become unhinged. It isn’t pretty and sends me into depression quicker than the fit itself. I work diligently to not become angry or allow others to affect me in such a way yet I am not always successful. 🙁

      1. When I was growing up my Ma used to say I was mad at the world and it bothers me they never tried to figure out the source. Instead, they modified life around which did absolutely no good for me in the long run. I am most familiar with anger and that angers me. Lol…sigh

  10. I’m getting better with it, but anger to me, still feels like something that has to be justified, like a scientific equation. If A+B+C=D then I am free to get angry, but if any part of that equation is off, I’m just being a self-centered whiner. Logically, I know anger almost never solves anything, so I try to deny I have the feeling. What’s interesting though, since I’ve been working on it with my therapist, I have actually had far more dreams where I express my anger. I guess it’s baby steps.

  11. I don’t think my anger is necessarily healthy, but I do know that it’s better than it was when I was younger. I guess I decided that most things that make me angry don’t really matter in the scheme of things, and I’m able to tell myself that I don’t care.

  12. When I was younger, I used to break things. I don’t remember what I was angry over but it for some reason caused me to break toys and I one time kicked a hole in a door.

    I remember when I got in trouble or my sisters got in trouble, mon would slap us. Because of this, whenever I watched my sisters and they did something to upset, I would slap them as well

  13. My relationship with anger is quite complex I guess. I feel very uneasy with my own anger and have learned to suppress it like a pro at a very young age, as well as other negative emotions. Still trying to unlearn it and it’s not as extreme as it used to be but I still have a great tendency to suppress it and am actually not sure I do want to get it out, it’s scary. The downside is though that sometimes you can’t contain anymore in without getting some of it out so I’ve had situations where even a minor thing would ver suddenly make me raging mad, and that’s even more scary, especially that once it happens I have little control over it until it just goes away on its own and I hate not having control over my own freaking brain. It hasn’t happened in some years though. Usually when I’m feeling angry it feels very intense but I direct it inwards sort of by default, so it often manifests as more self-loathing or I have self-harm urges. There is a thing that I call emotional overload, that I suppose happens because of all that stuff I’ve never known how to release that’s gradually coming up now, and it feels like I’m feeling a lot of various and very intense emotions at the same time. Usually anger is the strongest and, while normally I don’t have much trouble identifying feelings neither my own nor those that I can observe in others, when I’m overloaded like that anger is the only feeling I can identify clearly and for sure.
    Witnessing anger in other people either makes me super irritable as well (as it is for example with my Dad, when I see him angry I get angry at him which is kinda weird and creates a vicious cycle, and he is very often angry though it never lasts long) or I just feel confused and don’t know how to react when people show their anger. I guess it’s the most tricky emotion for me that I usually have no idea what to do with it.

  14. My best friend recently told me I have a quick temper. I have worked on that for years and I personally know I am much better at it today. Could I have been born that way? Definitely not, sadly learned it from my first school – HOME. it is more uncontrolled anger back here with a lot of spanking or as my mum called it ‘ skin you alive’. But I don’t spank my children and really try not to get quick tempered or mad angry with them lol – I prefer to dialogue about the situation. A good post here dear Ashley

  15. I have battled with controlling my anger ever since I can remember. Part of it is genetic (or parents and grandparents) and the other part is due to years of childhood trauma. Whenever I feel threatened, I am get angry and am ready for a confrontation (verbally or physically). It’s something that I am dealing with though. I don’t want to allow anything or anyone to have control over my behavior in a negative manner.

  16. This is such a good post and just what I needed. After being anxious today the real emotion that came up was anger. I don’t like other making choices for me. My father is the same as yours and I can’t deal with people being angry. I’m always afraid of people being angry at me. Now is the time that my anger comes up because of everything I have been through such as bullying. I’m angry that that happened and I didn’t came up for myself

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