What lies beneath your anger?
When a traumatic event occurs it needs to be fully processed and dealt with, otherwise you may snap at other people, feel irritable, angry or ill at ease. When something frightening happens to a person what usually occurs, in a healthy situation, is that the event is fully processed and dealt with and becomes just a memory. We process the feeling and emotional memory together.
When it is not fully processed the emotional feeling becomes a trigger to defend the unconscious wound, and this is when we feel we are being threatened yet again. The memory and emotion are split; the memory goes into the subconscious and we are left with the emotional fear. Our response may become defensive because we are reacting to the unprocessed emotion. This can be why we become irritated, ill at ease or aggressive. The event may come from the unconscious but the emotion can come from the conscious. The emotional feeling is held in our bodies.
When a person (child) is threatened, the self-care system can remove the memory of the event, yet unfortunately it does not remove the emotional feeling from the initial threat. The memory of the event is pushed into amnesia, or subconscious. When threatened as an adult, at times we can have an emotional connection without conscious memory of what happened to us in the initial event. Unfortunately what is left is the residue of the event, which is the emotional feeling of being threatened or feeling unsafe. When someone feels threatened, or unsafe, consciously or subconsciously the reaction is to defend the wound or the memory of the event. The reaction can be to become irritable, snappy and angry.
When someone has no conscious recollection of a wounding event, or violation, the reaction is to use anger as a defensive tool to push people away. We react in this way to try to feel safe. Isolation or withdrawal can also be a way of trying to feel safe.
The work in therapy involves making conscious what is in the unconscious, or connecting the feeling to the hidden event. The therapist is a supporting factor in the work by helping the client feel safe, supported and held by working through this process. When the client feels safe the work begins. The therapist is also a witness to the event, making it real. This is how clients can recount the abusive event and process the wounding by linking the emotional wounds to memory.
What once kept us safe by splitting the memory from the emotion now imprisons us because it stops us having relationships, i.e. we keep pushing people away. The advantages of doing the work in therapy is to become conscious of our own behavior. We no longer have to push people away or isolate. Ultimately, clients can become free of negative recurring feelings and destructive relationships and can rebuild trust in relationships.
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About Paul Barrett
Paul Barrett is in private practice in Chelsea, Barnes and Paddington.