As an organisation, the British Association of Anger Management has counselled many people when anger has been affecting their lives.
When working with individuals who have had addiction in their lives, we have found that, after the initial rehabilitation process, feelings and emotions come to the surface. If left unaddressed they have the potential to affect lives in unhealthy ways.
One of the strongest of these feelings is anger. In principle this is a neutral feeling but how we express it makes it healthy or unhealthy. Unhealthy anger can be expressed passively by being internalised or externally through aggression.
In our experience there are two main triggers of anger in rehabilitating addicts. These are Primary Needs and self-defence anger.
Primary Needs are something that we require in order to succeed, achieve, or even survive.
When these needs are not met, anger, hurt, and fear are activated. It is at this point that our survival instincts kick in. When an individual responds forcibly with anger, underlying that anger will be strong feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. When we deconstruct the anger we find that below it lies hurt, and underneath that, fear.
The fear is that you (people, a person, or the world) will not meet my unmet needs.
This is a major trigger for anger because our belief is that others are there to meet out needs, even if they do not know that they are.
We need to meet our own needs and not expect or assume or believe that it is the responsibility of others to do so. People are not mind-readers.
In my experience shame is another big source of anger for individuals recovering from an addiction and in particular self-defence anger. This is because when we feel shamed or humiliated we are unable to tolerate these overwhelming feelings and anger becomes the only way to cope.
Healthy shame is an emotional signal that we have made and will make mistakes; it gives us permission to be human.
Toxic shame is no longer an emotional signal of our limits; it becomes a state of being, a core identity.
In toxic shame the self becomes an object of its own contempt that cannot be trusted. It produces a feeling of being isolated and alone. People will readily admit guilt, hurt or fear before they will admit shame.
We avoid facing our own shame by using behaviour such as anger, resentment and being judgemental. Each of these behaviours focuses on the other person and takes the heat off us.
As long as our shame is hidden there is nothing we can do about it – in order to heal our toxic shame we must embrace it.
We need to change our shame from being internalised to externalising it. The only way out is through.
By acknowledging and accepting our feelings and learning how to express them in a healthy and constructive way is empowering and part of our becoming fully functioning human beings.