The term ‘repressed anger’ poses two questions: Why would children feel angry? Why is their anger ‘repressed’? I will address the second question first.
Question 2: Why is anger repressed?
Children’s behaviour is subconsciously motivated by a need to be taken care of. Hence, the ultimate goal of children’s behaviour is to be valued by their parents so that they will be motivated to take care of their children. Therefore, any feelings or thoughts (such as anger and resentment) that might meet with parental disapproval or even alienation of parents, have to be concealed rather than expressed. We learn at a very young age to ‘wear a mask’ to hide our feelings. We also learn to ‘put on armour’ to protect our feelings and learn to 'adopt roles' which will meet parental approval and validation or avoid parental disapproval and alienation. This is what adaptive behaviour really is - the facade that parents see – the facade that says, “I’m not ok” - the facade that hides a child’s true feelings and thoughts of “I am not ok”.
What happens to this concealed anger? It is repressed into the subconscious mind - where it may be 'out of sight' but it is not 'out of mind'. It certainly hasn't gone away! It has just been stored away, like storing something in the basement under your house. That does not mean that the anger has been dealt with effectively. Just like having some inflammable or explosive materials and some oily rags stored in the basement, if they get overheated, there is the potential for lots of damage. Likewise, having anger repressed in the subconscious mind has damage potential.
In repressing the anger, it is being directed away from the actual object of the anger (ie, a parent) and displaced on to some other target, generally a ‘soft’ target that won’t ‘hit back’. This displacement can take two forms: repressed anger can be internalised or externalised, or a mixture of both.
Internalized anger is turned ‘inwards’, against the self. This can manifest as psychological problems, ‘cutting’ or ‘self harm’ behaviour, depression and risk of suicide. This repressed anger can also, in effect, become toxic and attack the physical body, resulting in physical illnesses. Dis-ease of emotions can contribute to disease of the body. Personality profiling of cancer patients has identified a common factor is unresolved anger.
Externalisined anger may be expressed in 'acting out' behaviour or explosive outbursts (such as punching a hole in a wall) that are out of proportion to trigger situations. (That may be the explanation for a ‘brain snap’). A person may be described as having an aggressive, angry or hostile personality, engage in bullying, physical assaults, domestic violence, road rage or kicking the dog. Repressed anger may also be expressed more ‘calmly’ in deliberate vandalism of property or cruelty to animals. (Sadistic torture, mutilation and maiming of animals goes further than just externalising of repressed anger. Society has to carry some of the blame for glorifying graphic violence in entertainment and condoning sadistic violence in gaming).
The myth of ‘alcohol-fuelled violence’:
Whether repressed anger is internalised orexternalised, it is more likely to be expressed violently after consumption of alcohol. This is not because the alcohol causes violence but because it removes the inhibitions that keep the anger under control. There is a range of behaviour that drinkers exhibit in response to consuming alcohol: relaxed, chatty, giggly, romantic, singing, maudlin, sleazy, loud, belligerent, abusive, aggressive or physically violent. Yet, a single substance cannot be responsible for such a diverse range of behaviour. What alcohol actually does is switch off the brain mechanism responsible for inhibition or social control. This results in revealing the true character that is hidden behind the socially desirable facade which we all present to those around us. For example, at a social function, a man with a reputation of being a ‘respectable family man, a pillar of society’ consumes several drinks, then makes crude comments and lewd suggestions to women and gropes their breasts and bottoms. Friends and associates defend his gross behaviour by claiming it is ‘so out of character’ and he ‘just had too much to drink’. Sorry to disillusion anyone or offend drinkers who use alcohol to excuse bad behaviour, but the
reality is that if a man behaves like a sleaze when he is under the influence of alcohol, it is because he really is a ‘sleaze’. Likewise, anyone who becomes angry, abusive, aggressive or violent after consuming alcohol is really only expressing existing
anger and an existing desire to engage in aggressive behaviour – but they keep these feelings and desires under control when they are sober. (The topic of "Self Medication" is discussed in “Drugs and Alcohol" under "More Info").
This issue of ‘alcohol-fuelled violence’ leads to concerns about ‘angry youth’. Considering the alcohol-fuelled violence that exists in society, there are a lot of angry people out there – not just angry adolescents, but also angry toddlers and angry pre-schoolers. This brings us back to the first question: Why do kids experience anger?
Question 1: Why are kids so angry?
In the section “Self Esteem Parenting”, I have discussed the ALIAS emotional needs of kids in development of Self Worth and the CAARP parenting behaviours that meet those needs. I have also discussed how when the ALIAS needs are unmet or violated by parents, the child will experience some degree of low Self Worth. This negative subconscious belief about their worth has been internalised from the low value they perceive their parents place on them. This has come from the subliminal message which is implicit in the parents’ behaviour (or lack of) which is: “My parents don’t think I am worth their love, nurturing, support, approval, protection and guidance – they do not think I am worth making a commitment to the time and effort required to take care of me - I am not a high priority – they place a low value on me”.
In addition to low Self Worth, there can also be anger. There are two situations which I have found can result in anger. One is when ALIAS needs are violated by a parent. The other is where the child has made extra, extra effort trying to elicit the desired response from a parent, but the parent still fails to meet that need. The onus for receiving care being on the child and consequently children feeling responsible for how they are treated has also been discussed. Hence, it probably seems like a contradiction to state that children will experience anger in the two situations described. Why would they feel anger? Why
wouldn’t they just feel that they had been treated as they deserved? Well, you might argue that it is pretty obvious why a child would feel angry towards a parent who is being violent or abusive.
On the surface, that would appear to be obvious but it is too simplistic since it does not explain why a child would feel angry when they had put in extra effort that had not been acknowledged. An example: A girl brings home her school report card which has all A's except for one C in a minor subject. Mum ignores the A’s and just focuses on the C: “What’s this ‘C’?That’s not good enough - you can do better than that - you have not worked hard enough - I expect better from you”. The daughter puts extra effort into her studies. Next report card, A’s are the same and the ‘C’ has improved to a ‘C+’. Mum responds the same as for the first report. No acknowledgement of the A’s or the improvement in the minor subject or the extra effort that her daughter has made. Daughter increases effort. Next report, the minor subject has improved to a ‘B-‘. Same response from Mum. No acknowledgement, just criticism. The daughter is going to experience some degree of anger towards Mum, plus internalising Mum's words in the self-belief,“I am not good enough”.
A plausible explanation goes something like this: Parents and children engage in this 'hardwired' interactive process of ‘care eliciting behaviour’ by the child followed by a ‘reciprocal parental response’. I have referred to parents entering into a sort of innate 'contract' at birth, to meet the needs of their kids. If we look at what underpins this interactive process what we find goes something like this: Kids have innate ‘needs’ with an innate ‘right’ to have these needs met and parents have an innate ‘responsibility’ to meet these needs. We could say that this is the basis of the innate ‘contract’ parents enter into (whether they acknowledge it or not).
Children are 'hardwired' to utilize a range of ‘first line’ care eliciting behaviour such as spontaneous affectionate behaviour towards the parent. Through feedback, the child is able to learn what behaviour works and what doesn’t, so behaviour can be modified accordingly. This modified, ‘second line’ adaptive behaviour requires a bit more effort than ‘spontaneous hugs’. It could be suggested that there are innate rules to this innate contract and there is an element of trust that parents are expected to respond to adequate or reasonable effort by the child. Accordingly, there is likely a limit to what can be considered reasonable effort for a child to undertake. Therefore, if a child has made effort that could be regarded as beyond reasonable to gain approval but it is being withheld by the parent, the child is likely to be angry. When the parent violates the child’s needs (and their parental responsibility) by withholding approval when beyond reasonable effort has been made, it could be argued that the parent has violated the rules of the innate contract, ie, violated the child’s innate ‘needs’, innate ‘rights’and their own innate ‘responsibilities’. This (and straight out violation of ALIAS needs) could be considered as violation or betrayal of the child’s trust so the child is justified in feeling angry. While the child subconsciously feels responsible for the parent not meeting the need which has been violated (resulting in low Self Worth), the child does not feel responsible for the parent’s betrayal of trust in violating that need. Contradiction resolved.
This element of violation or betrayal may increase the need in the child to repress the anger. When ALIAS needs are unmet, children may believe that their parents do not place a high value on them - and this can result in the child feeling ‘hurt’. The subliminal message in the violations may be perceived to imply that the parent places a very, very low value on the child – and this may result in feeling ‘very hurt plus a sense of injustice -> anger’. This perception of low value may imply
(subconsciously) to the child that there is an increased risk of alienating the parent if anger were to be expressed directly at the parent. Hence, repressing anger is a must for survival (ie, being taken care of).
Note: A child/adolescent testing the boundaries and attempting emotional blackmail or manipulation by yelling, “You are mean – I hate you” - because you are maintaining boundaries by saying ‘no’ to an unreasonable demand - or you are teaching responsibility by imposing ‘consequences’ for wrongdoing – is not real anger. The key word here is testing boundaries. Setting and maintaining boundaries around the ‘conceptual safe zone’ is one aspect of protecting your child and providing guidelines for an acceptable code of behaviour. When this ‘safe zone’ exists, kids can feel safe to explore, make mistakes, learn and
develop confidence and competence. When the safe zone does not exist because there are no boundaries in place or parents cave in when pressured, kids feel unsafe. Even worse, subconsciously they believe that their parents don’t think they are worth the effort of providing the ‘safe zone’. So, when they are pushing against the boundaries, they are really just testing
for reassurance that the safe zone actually exists. What will make kids angry is parents continually caving in because they ‘want to be liked’ and are ‘afraid their kids will hate them’ or 'just want peace'. I recall, many years ago, (before I knew anything about psychology) my teenage daughter telling me that she hated me, to which I replied, “That’s your prerogative – does that mean that I don’t have to give you Christmas and birthday presents, anymore”? Could I have handled it better? I was just ‘doing the best I knew how’. She never said it again.
What to do about your child’s anger:
Repressed anger really does need to be dealt with – resolved and released. Mostly, parents are doing what they think is best for their kids and are unaware they may not be meeting their kids’ needs. They may not be aware that something they say or do (or don’t say or don’t do) is actually violating these emotional needs. Parents will be unaware of what their kids are feeling because they adopt protective strategies (subconsciously of course) such as ‘masks’ and ‘armour’ and putting on a ‘brave front’. Engaging in internalising or externalising behaviour or getting into trouble at school, provide a clue to the existence of repressed anger.
So, going through the checklist in your mind, ask yourself if you have been following CAARP "Essential Principles of Parenting" and meeting all your kids’ ALIAS needs. If you have been complying most of the time anyway, your kids will be emotionally ok. (Check out “Self Esteem Parenting”). They will have a healthy sense of Self Worth and wellbeing that will stand them in good stead, long term. If there is something you may have done, or not done – be honest with yourself. It does not mean that you are a bad parent if you realise there is something that you may have done has caused hurt and anger. If you realise you have actually violated a need, even unintentionally, what can you do about it?
What I do with clients:
When I am treating an adult client for ‘anger issues’ due to ‘repressed’ anger occurring in childhood, there are essential steps I take to bring about resolution and emotional healing. While the client is in hypnosis, I work directly with the Child Ego State responsible for the angry feelings, to bring about resolution and healing. (A brief explanation of Child Ego States is provided in the second paragraph of “Child Needs Unmet”). An uncomplicated example of working with the ‘angry child ego state’ while the adult is in hypnosis: I validate the feelings of the angry child, eg, “Mothers are supposed to protect their children – you feel that your mother failed to protect you from that wicked person who harmed you – it is understandable that you feel angry towards your mother”. I give permission to the ‘child’ to confront Mum with the ‘charge’ and express this anger. (The adult client visualises this confrontation while in hypnosis). The ‘reaction’ of the mother in this visualisation is often remorse and sometimes she is surprised if she is unaware of committing any violation. The 'mother' (in the visualisation) may be able to provide an alternative reasonable explanation (from the client's subconscious mind) for her behaviour and this reframe allows the child to change the original perception and thus release the anger. This remorse is followed by visualising the mother hugging and comforting the child while asking for forgiveness, in which case, resolution for the child’s anger is achieved. At a follow up session, the adult client is generally able to report feeling much more calm and also, surprised that they have not been reacting to minor irritations and provocations that would normally trigger off their anger. I just love those outcomes!
What can you do?
If your child has serious anger issues or has failed to respond to your overtures or has progressed to serious ‘acting out’ behaviour or depression, you may need professional help for you both to achieve resolution/reconciliation.
However, if you think you can address any problems yourself, follow the principles I have described. Open communication with your child, letting them know it is a ‘safe space’ where they can tell you honestly how they feel without
getting into trouble - you are prepared to listen because it is important to you that they feel ok so if they are not feeling ok, you want to know so you can help fix whatever the problem is. If you are aware you have said or done something that might have caused hurt and anger – or the child reveals something you were unaware you said or did (or didn’t say or didn’t do) –
acknowledge what you did - no excuses. Validate your child’s feelings and give permission for the child to express their anger to you. Express remorse. Even a criminal is entitled to a defence in a court of law and you, too, are entitled to speak in your defence – not to excuse what you have done, but a reframe with a reasonable explanation allows the child to change negative perceptions and feelings - and that is the goal. Seal the deal by hugging and comforting your child and giving reassurance of your love. Kids want to feel valued so are very forgiving and loyal to parents.
Note: Do NOT compensate your child with money or expensive gifts – they soon learn to exploit guilt if you encourage them to do so and generation-Z has been labelled the ‘gimme generation’. Litigation lawyers have reinforced a victim mentality in
society by encouraging people to sue for large sums of money for ‘stress and suffering’, even if they have been careless and tripped over their own feet. This undermines development of resilience and condones non-responsibility for personal behaviour. Don’t create a victim mentality in your child with expectations of payment for any suffering in life. Being honest in acknowledging your wrongdoings or failings as a parent, followed by genuine remorse, then healing hugs and kisses mean more to a child than being ‘paid off’. When parents ‘pay off’ a child, it is more a ‘quick fix’ to clear their own conscience of
guilt than what is best for the child’s emotional wellbeing. Financial compensation does not make the child feel better – it just makes them feel like they have been ‘paid off’.
When families break up:
A common source of ongoing anger for kids is family breakdown, because of violation of emotional needs. If you are divorced or separated from the other parent of your kids, they will experience anger. (Unless the other parent was a violent, drunken
sociopath and they are glad to escape - although they will probably still have ‘issues’ with that parent).
You may pride yourself that you have kept everything ‘civilised’ and the kids have ‘adjusted’. Denial! Delusion! You are the only one you are fooling! The kids may appear to have adjusted because that is what is expected of them – and they do it out of fear of alienating parents and risking any more loss to their family security – trust me, there IS anger there. Whether kids lose their family security in a civilised or a tumultuous breakup – they are still losing emotional security of attachment to both parents and the intact family unit. Parents denying this reality are invalidating the feelings of their kids, reaffirming to them the need to repress their anger. Also, reassurances from both parents that they still love the kids can be contradicted by the subliminal message in their action of breaking up the family security. Even if they can get past the anger, they will
still experience low Self Worth since the subliminal message received by their subconscious mind is that their parents do not think they are worth keeping a commitment to the innate contract they made at the birth of the child, to provide emotional security. Since kids subconsciously feel responsible for what happens to them, young kids may feel responsible for the parents’
If you and the other parent remain ‘good friends’, there may still be anger – there may be confusion as to why parents who are ‘good friends’ would want to split – anger that their family security has destroyed for no reason at all. Trust me, there will be anger, since you and your partner have violated the innate contract you both entered into to meet your kids’ need for the emotional security provided in the context of two parents in an intact family unit. And if the parents cannot provide a reason, then the kids may believe the breakup is their fault.
The anger may be hidden (ie, repressed) but it is there, behind the facade, the ‘mask’ and the ‘armour’. They may deny any anger, but this is just an example of adaptive behaviour, concealing true feelings so as not to alienate parents any further. You need to be able to talk to your kids about it and help them resolve any anger. Be honest with your kids about the reasons for the split and be honest about your feelings. If you or your partner is guilty of some wrong doing that led to the split, be honest about that, too – without emotive, defamatory embellishments. Parents who are concerned about their kids’ wellbeing and having them maintain a relationship with the non-custodial parent will refrain from bagging each other - even if one parent is the ‘guilty’ party, either in initiating the split or ‘guilty’ of wrong doing that led to the split. Nevertheless, the kids need to know the truth about the ‘guilty’ parent – otherwise, the ‘innocent’ parent’s silence is, in effect, conspiring with the ‘guilty’ parent to maintain a false positive image - which creates other problems. This allows the kids to idealise the ‘guilty’ parent, but some day, eventually, they will be disillusioned and feel betrayed - and this may be more devastating than knowing the truth earlier. Better for them to face the truth sooner rather than later.
To kids, there is no such thing as a ‘no fault divorce’. Somebody is at fault, somebody is to blame for destroying their family and their emotional security, someone has to be the object of their anger. By joining in the ‘conspiracy’ to protect the image of the ‘guilty’ parent, the ‘innocent’ parent, by default, may become the object of the anger. This will particularly be the case if the ‘guilty’ parent is attempting to deflect guilt and make the ‘innocent’ parent the scapegoat. Kids will generally tell the
‘innocent’ parent what the ‘guilty’ parent said, as if offering a ‘right of reply’, an opportunity to refute the allegations. The ‘innocent’ parent makes it easy for the ‘guilty’ parent if they remain silent because they do not want to disillusion the kids by bagging the ‘guilty’ parent. The kids will interpret this silence as ‘admission of guilt’ and so feel justified in making that parent the object and target of their anger while they regard the ‘guilty’ parent as the real ‘victim’.
Entering new relationships while the kids still have unresolved anger can exacerbate the situation, and provide another target for the displaced anger, expressed openly in ‘acting out’ behaviour and resentment towards that parent’s new partner.
When parents split, family counselling is probably essential, to help the kids. Even if you and the other parent think you handled the situation rationally and are civil to each other and your children appear to have adjusted. Even if they seem to be
handling it, they need a safe space in which they can speak freely and honestly about their feelings to a professional. Of course, this exercise requires that both parents are on the same page in being committed to making the welfare of their kids a priority. That can be a challenge when there is too much hostility between the parents or one of them is determined to be
Summarising the important points I want to make about repressed anger:
* Think of your own parents and how you have been affected by them - as a child and in the long term. How did their
parenting measure up to the CAARP "Essential Principles of Parenting"?
* Be aware of your parenting style. How does it fit the CAARP "Essential Principles of Parenting"? Have you violated any
ALIAS needs? Can you see any reasons you have given your kids to be angry? (I do not mean imposing discipline for
breaking rules or saying ‘no’ to unreasonable requests or demands. This is just testing for reassurance that protective
boundaries do exist).
* Be aware that kids will repress anger behind a ‘mask’, ‘armour’ and ‘put on a brave front’. (In contrast, when you impose
discipline for breaking rules or you say ‘no’ to unreasonable requests or demands, any protest by your child will not be
concealed, but will be loud and clear, eg slamming doors, heavy stomping and, “I hate you – you are ruining my life”).
* Be aware that if asked, kids may deny any anger – this is part of concealing how they feel, repressing any anger.
* Be aware of any signs of externalising or internalising anger or problem behaviour reported at school.
* If you see any such signs, do not ignore them and just hope that ‘it will pass’ or ‘they will grow out of it’. If there is any
real anger with a real (or perceived or imagined) basis, it will not go away, it will not resolve itself, but any problem
behaviour will only escalate and any impact on emotional wellbeing will be long term.
* Communicate with your kids - let them know that how they feel is important to you. If necessary, get professional help.
Your Self-Understanding as an adult:
If anything on this page relates to you, don't put up with it and don't expect others to either. What can you do abut it? 'Anger management' is one way to go, but I don't think that goes far enough. I prefer to get rid of it and that can be done by addressing these childhood issues with hypnotherapy.