Passive Aggressive Anger

It is relatively rare for a person with implosive anger to become explosive, but if they do they can unleash torrents of anger for all the years they have swallowed their rage and turned it in on themselves. Some psychologists tend to label implosive anger as passive aggressive anger and others view it as covert psychological control. Passive aggressive anger leaves the targeted person confused, feeling guilty, wondering what is going on, and sometimes irritated. Passive aggressive people may not even realise that they are showing anger, but they are beset by troubled personalities, and are irritable, sarcastic, quarrelsome, cranky, embittered and moody. They may not even understand what anger is. They possibly learned it as children in a home where a controlling parent would not allow others to express their feelings or their anger, sometimes seeing it as disobedience or a threat to their control. The lethal result of such control is that the anger becomes contained internally and expresses itself in a masked way. While passive aggressive people may seem pleasant and greet you with a smile, their anger flows beneath, and they put the knife into you in an indirect way. It has been described as sugar-coated hostility. Mike Fisher calls it the velvet dagger. Passive aggressive people are often ‘winder-uppers’ and provoke anger in others by their sarcasm. One writer describes them as harbouring vindictive intent beneath a seductive veneer. Passive aggressive people are neither able to show aggression nor assertiveness openly, but cannot always conceal their burning anger.
It is helpful to know at least some of the behaviours of people with passive aggressive anger. They use long periods of silence, where communication is replaced by sourness, withdrawal and angry expressions. They are frequently uncooperative in helping with household chores causing irritation in partners and creating an atmosphere of tension, which is detrimental to children. They can be deliberately forgetful and even apologise for this, causing doubt and confusion in others. Being deliberately late is sometimes used. This gives them a sense of control over others and points to the irresponsibility of passive aggressors, who prefer to blame other people for their own mistakes. They have an unerring instinct to press the most sensitive buttons arousing rage in others. Many are manipulative, devious, co-dependent, insincere, gossipy, dishonest and false. This is only a brief summary of passive aggressive behaviours, which are dealt with in more detail by Cathy Meyer and Mike Fisher.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Explosive and implosive anger

If you wish to get a deeper insight into the damaging impact of anger on your body, you might like to consult Garry Chapman’s book, Anger. Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way. He explains that as the angry feeling emerges and intensifies, the heart pumps faster and drives adrenaline through your body. The adrenal glands produce two hormones that in turn affect your heart rate and blood pressure. Anger has similar physiological symptoms to panic attacks as adrenaline is released and courses through your body. Normally adrenaline in the system serves a useful purpose, but chronic (toxic) anger keeps the adrenaline activated and the body in high alert. What happens is that a neurotransmitter or hormone called acetylcholine ceases to be effective. This hormone is a mechanism with many functions in your nervous system, one of which is to ease the effects of adrenaline. If that is disabled your health is in danger, because the body’s major systems such as the heart, the nervous system and breathing functions are affected as ongoing anger keeps our bodies in constant arousal and disrupts its proper functioning. Toxic Anger can lead to liver and kidney damage and increased cholesterol, as well as mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Studies show that those with the highest level of anger have twice the risk of heart disease and three times the risk of heart attack. Anger arousal affects the sympathetic nervous system, which mobilises the flight or fight response and affects most of the body’s internal organs. Other illnesses that may arise from chronic anger are type 2 diabetes, lowering of the immune system, premenstrual syndrome, erectile dysfunction, lowered libido, headaches, backaches, allergies, asthma, arthritis, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, being prone to infection, slower wound healing, ulcers, migraine and high risk of a stroke.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Be aware of the type of anger you have

Anger can also be categorised as explosive or implosive and someone who is constantly angry without good reason, carries the burden of toxic anger. Explosive anger is a violent outburst and can also vary in intensity, ranging from mild annoyance to a very strong feeling of rage, where it is expressed by shouting, banging things, throwing objects, sulking, glaring, gritting the teeth, shaking the head, waving fists, looking away, making sour comments and hitting or punching some unfortunate person. If you are chronically angry you should realise that it not only damages other people, but is destructive to yourself. Silent or implosive anger is as destructive, if not more so, than the explosive type. One is like a bomb blowing up around you, and the other is like a bomb blowing up inside you. Implosive anger is never digested and burns on.
Why, you might ask, do people keep a lid on their anger and keep it hidden? Partly because they have a fear of offending others, partly because they want to be liked and partly because their self-esteem is low. There is evidence of the damage done by suppressing anger in the context of employees, who have to stifle anger rather than confront customers, whereby their company would lose business. Research on types of work where showing anger would lose custom is very insightful. A study of flight attendants brought up some interesting results. This was carried out by David Kemper a specialist in human emotions. Flight attendants have no option but to remain calm and suppress any anger or irritations when confronted by the offensive behaviour of some passengers. The study showed that the attendants reported feeling numb and came to have considerable emotional problems. We can assume that the same happens to others, who have to please the public or their customers. The basic lesson is that suppressing our anger leads to mental and physical health issues. The problem is made greater if their anger is toxic.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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We cannot help having toxic anger, but it is our responsibility not to vent it on others

While we can explain the creation of toxic anger and see it as a burden, we must also realise how harmful it is to those who bear the brunt of it. It is the engine which drives abuse of all kinds -verbal, psychological, physical, sexual, or financial. Abuse may be about power and control, but it is fuelled by anger and shame. In a sense anger and shame are in opposite camps. Anger gives a sense of power, but shame cripples us. Toxic anger destroys peace and tranquillity, creating fear, hostility, a sour atmosphere, the death of love, the destruction of relationships, and creates many psychological and emotional problems for children that eventually blight their adulthood.
I see toxic anger as having a three stage cycle. The first stage is one of calmness. The next is of rising anger, where sourness and bad humour is evident. The third phase is the explosion, the venting of the anger on the unfortunate victims, adults and children. When this aggression is vented, the calm phase returns and on it goes, keeping the victims hypervigilant. Those who are victims of this cycle generally use the same phrases – walking on eggshells or being on tenterhooks. Sometimes there is no explosion but a sullen withdrawing which has an even worse impact on the other. An angry silence is a powerful way to control.
People with toxic anger express it in different ways, referred to as five anger styles by Mike Fisher. He describes the first one as the intimidator, whose threatening behaviour brings compliance through fear. The second anger style is interrogation. The interrogator is manipulative and questions the victims to make them feel small and ashamed. It is often supported by a powerful, persuasive but irrational logic. Thirdly we have the victim anger style. The ‘poor me’ type seeks to make us feel guilty for not meeting their needs. It is the ‘look at all I have done for you and there is no thanks for it, would you blame me for being angry with you’ type of mentality. It can be quite crushing if practised on people who have a strong caring or rescuing streak because the ‘poor me’ person always needs rescuing. The fourth anger style is distancing or withdrawing, which makes the other person wonder what is going on, although they will always sense the anger in the distancer. The distancer will rarely get into a conflict and generally will minimise their feelings, or intellectualise them i.e. they will always give a thought when asked about a feeling. The fifth anger style is winding-up. The ‘winder upper’ controls people by jocosity, teasing and making little of others in a witty way. They are disliked and avoided and the knife they sink in you is just as sharp as that of the violent controller. Seeing other people angry somehow meets a perverse need of the ‘winder upper’, who is unable to express his own anger and somehow sees it expressed through other people’s anger. It is projection and a way of avoiding their own anger. Winding up can be learned in childhood when the child is showered with shame and is a distinct sign that a parent is incapable of loving or cherishing.

Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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The anger of a child turns inward and becomes core to re-emerge in adulthood

The human is born with hope, curiosity and love, but when an infant’s dependency needs are not met these turn to ashes, and toxic or core anger is one of the external signs of fear of abandonment. Initially, the faces of angry infants are contorted and crimson as they rage, but if the emotional (or physical) neglect continues they withdraw and the faces register sadness and resignation. The anger turns inward and becomes toxic, to emerge in adulthood as chronic rage, when it is sometimes used as a control mechanism. This anger is an instinct to allay the fear of the inner abandoned child. Healthy anger is an energetic and normally short-lived response to hurt, but toxic anger is chronic, long-lasting, and devastating. Some writers have described toxic anger as similar to post-traumatic stress, i.e. the stress following a trauma. The trauma in this case is the loss of a childhood, which is a prolonged emotional experience that is extremely difficult to process. This emotional neglect is the greatest killer of the human spirit, but it is not the only way that children are infused with toxic anger.
It is said that when we are born we only know how to survive in the wilderness. Everything else is learned. There is, therefore, the possibility that children, who are constantly exposed to anger, may eventually learn it. Anger is seen by them as a way of communication, because their parents can only communicate in an angry way. In other words, for such children angry communication is normal because that is all they see. They also recognise that an angry parent gets what he or she wants, and may form a belief that anger is power to dominate others. This behaviour may be carried on in adult life. It is essential for parents to be aware of their own anger and how they express and use it. They should strongly consider how they deal with it, although this presumes a level of awareness that they may not have.
As you have seen, childhood can be lost in various ways. Sometimes a parent’s own feelings may be so frozen that the children are unused to seeing the expression of emotion, or they may be forbidden to express their own feelings. This is a tragedy. If they feel sad they must put on a ‘smiley face.’ Even crying can be forbidden and this is the greatest tragedy because our tears are inbuilt ways of releasing tension and expressing sadness and empathy. Children are often afraid to express their anger because they might make matters worse or because they feel that their parents might not understand. When children are emotionally muzzled in this way they suffer a deep loss, and anger may emerge in adolescence or early adulthood.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Older people may wrongly regard anger as a sin

There are also involuntary situations that provoke healthy anger, which is, for example, one of the most important feelings in the grief process. It is more likely that older people suffer bereavement and these are the very ones who may regard anger as sinful, especially if it is directed at God. I think we must give God more credit for recognising a feeling and seeing it as such. In the second year of grieving the death of my youngest child, Cathal, I applied for a job as Principal of a second level school. In the months preparing for the interview I pushed my grief away, compartmentalised it and did a successful interview. Later, as I happily drove home, my grief suddenly came crashing onto me and I was forced to park my car at the roadside. The anger I felt at God surged and almost overwhelmed me. It is probably true that the more religious we are, the angrier we become at God, feeling that he has failed to protect us or somehow betrayed us or treated us unfairly. After all, our perception is that God is almighty and has the power to divert tragedy from us.
I swore at God in the car that day for allowing my child to be taken from me and causing pain and chaos in my family. I remember catching the steering wheel and trying to wrench it from its moorings as I shouted at Him. Gary Chapman, a well-known relationship therapist, labels our anger at God as distorted because He has done us no wrong. God was not responsible for the death of my child. He would not have wished this misfortune on me or my family, but, we often project anger at other people, so God is no exception. If you are a believer and a religious person Chapman advises that you take your anger to God rather than being angry with Him. Sometimes we can pray in our rage and I believe that prayers are always answered, although it sometimes takes a long time, perhaps many years. I also believe that God works through people so I am never waiting for miracles. In a way I believe that it is a miracle when a person with toxic or core rage faces it and seeks help to heal.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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If you cannot access normal anger you can’t defend yourself.

we can argue that anger is a protection mechanism. It can protect us from being exploited or harmed. Marcia Cannon, in her book, The Gift of Anger describes it as a power boost that enables us to stand up for ourselves in certain situations where we are in danger, to be assertive and to achieve our goals. She sets a short exercise, which will help you to see appropriate anger as a power boost in your life. So if you can think of a time when you were moderately angry, examine it, write it down and think about what caused you to be angry. Did the power boost you experienced help you to take a stand, to use your boundaries, to do something? How did that feel when it was over? Did you feel your courage rise? Did you feel yourself becoming more determined? Did you feel better about yourself? Did your anger get you what you were looking for? If not what happened? Mike Fisher, who has written several books on anger, also examines it as a positive force which alerts others that we are serious in what we say. He points out that anger facilitates getting things done quickly and gives us a feeling of power and control in our own lives (not over others). Healthy anger also helps us combat fear and depression. The motto better be mad than sad has a lot of merit. Fisher also makes the valid point that healthy anger helps us leave abusive situations and relieve our frustrations.
Situational anger arises from incidents that provoke our resentment. It is a response to a particular situation. So, for example, if somebody disrespects you it is highly likely that you will feel angry. Linda Andrews, a writer on health and psychological issues from Albuquerque in New Mexico, reveals that 1.7 million people are assaulted in the workplace in the United States each year. Some of this is a reaction to a stressful situation, and there is probably a great reservoir of anger among people caught in a deadly daily grind of cut-throat competition. We hear about employees being driven to the detriment of their family life, mergers or takeovers, unrealistic targets, bullying behaviour, lack of security of tenure, and the absence of loyalty by either company or employee. Being used and abused is a strong breeding ground for anger.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Older people learned in school that anger was a sin

At one time Ireland brought a religio-cultural dimension to anger. Older Irish people up to the 1970s learned from their catechism that anger was a sin, and not just a sin, but one of the seven capital or deadly sins. This became ingrained in us. Although I attended school in the 1940s I still remember the seven deadly sins – pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. They were called deadly because they were seen as the sources of all sin. The question is how can a feeling be a sin? Unfortunately, categorising anger as a sin has created psychological difficulties for people, especially older people, who may have passed on the belief that anger is wrong to their children. My experience as a counsellor is that many people, young and old, see anger as ‘wrong’ and confuse the feeling and the sensation of anger with angry behaviour. Because we may feel that it is improper to feel angry we sometimes use other names for it, such as frustrated, disappointed, irritated, indignant, displeased, offended, or upset.
Irrespective of culture, anger is complex and can be broadly classed as healthy and unhealthy or toxic. As with all human feelings and behaviours, it is a feeling that we experience in individual ways. Some brood in silence, some react strongly and vocally, some have finely tuned anger antennae. Stacey Milescu in her pamphlet Anger Management. Self Help Guide for Controlling Your Anger, lists twenty four reasons why we get angry. These include grieving, tiredness, rudeness, pain, injustice, embarrassment, being bullied or humiliated, failure, and money problems.
Healthy anger is an emotion hardwired in the limbic system of the brain and is necessary for our survival, while toxic anger is a feeling in the cortex that therefore can be changed. It motivates you to find solutions to problems. Most people have a sense of justice and fairness, and when they see injustice and unfairness they may experience anger, which drives them to do something about it. Millions of people in Europe were outraged following the banking collapse and the Eurozone debt crisis in 2008-2009, when they were forced to suffer wage cuts, unemployment, cuts to services, investment loss, and inability to pay mortgages or rents leading in some cases to homelessness. This widespread rage is expressed in many ways through mass demonstrations, conversations, letters to newspapers, interviews on radio and television, and through the voting system, so that future governments may be more careful in preserving integrity in every area where they exercise influence. If we see injustice in society our anger can drive us to bring about reform. Examples of this would be the impact of Nelson Mandela on South Africa. We can also look at women’s rights movements as expressions of anger at how women were exploited and treated unfairly in societies, especially in the area of employment, income and promotion.

From Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Anger Coming from an Insecure Attachment

Many people who had an insecure attachment in childhood carry anger as adults, some of it intensely evident and some latent. I have, however, met people who suffered neglect in childhood, who assured me that they did not feel anger and I believed them. Sometimes during a counselling session the anger emerges, but not always. Generally, I have found that children who suffered physical abuse show anger in adulthood.
Before looking at the nature of anger, its management and healing, it is worth considering that anger is strongly influenced by culture. It should be noted that culture affects all the themes in this book and it also dictates how people are socialised. For example, women may feel as angry as men, but it may be culturally forbidden for them to show the anger and they have to hide it beneath a meek and obedient façade. Similarly they may be socialised to show a soft and gentle nature that conceals a different inner emotional state. This is true in societies where males exercise dominance.
Apart from the existence of such abusive societies, we now live in an increasingly multicultural world where we travel widely and intermarry with other races, so failure to understand what provokes the emotional reactions of other cultures can cause misunderstandings, confusion and sometimes conflict, particularly in relation to anger triggers. Likewise, emotional reactions taken from Irish culture may come across as deviant to other cultures. The Japanese psychologist Junko Tanaka-Matsumi offers some interesting research on anger in a cross-cultural context. Basically different cultures, particularly in Eastern countries and among Eastern immigrants and refugees, cluster different words associated with anger. In the United States anger is clustered with such words as fury, wrath, hostility, and resentment. In Spanish culture there are precise words for different levels of anger.
Some studies have found that in various European countries personal and intimate relationships were the major source of anger. This was followed by being treated unjustly and poor behaviour by strangers in a locality. In Japan, however, interacting with strangers was the principal reason for anger, possibly because of the hierarchical nature of relationships there. Some people, such as the Japanese and the Utku Eskimos, forbid expressions of negative emotions such as anger, especially in public, lest they disrupt social harmony. Facial expressions, which are often used as gauging the presence of anger, also differ from culture to culture.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Hitler a good example of how a childhood can damage us although it does not excuse how we behave.

As you can see from the last blog, many circumstances preventing adequate parenting are simply unavoidable. One of the most familiar cases in my experience is that of having a large family, where parents struggle to find time to meet the needs of their children. Frequently, in such cases clusters of children form within the family some with maternal figures taking care of younger siblings. Due to modern life and financial necessity, increasingly either one or both parents have no option but to work long hours and are reluctantly absent from their children’s lives. Despite the pressure of time, it is, nonetheless, vital to make time for children and most parents strive to do this.
We must, however, recognise that not all circumstances are unavoidable. While we appreciate that parents do the best they can for their children, we also have to accept that there are parents who deliberately harm them. This may be cultural in some societies where human development is poorly understood or there is a misplaced idea of what parenting is. This is most evident in subsistence economies, where corporal punishment is seen as the optimum way to bring about obedience to ensure the survival of the family.
Unfortunately, childhood neglect may also be due to abusive parenting in so-called enlightened societies. It is quite prevalent in modern well-developed countries. Have you ever, for example, wondered why Adolf Hitler behaved in such a monstrous way and was responsible for the deaths of millions, or why Stalin had millions murdered without any shred of remorse? These are extreme cases, of course, but they illustrate a point. Alice Miller in her book, For Your Own Good. The Roots of Violence in Child-rearing, paints an interesting portrait of Hitler. He was a dutiful child, who had a very distressing childhood. Instead of being emotionally nurtured, he was from a very young age, frequently humiliated and beaten by his father, Alois. He was eighteen when his mother, Klara, died from breast cancer, and by that stage would have permanently benefitted from any emotional maternal warmth she might have given him. But, his father’s savagery was so consistent that she could never lessen to any significant extent the psychological damage inflicted on him. But, there may also have been maternal shortcomings. Alice Miller challenges the idea that Hitler was loved by his mother, but perhaps was spoiled, an ultimately devastating experience in itself. Many parents confuse spoiling with love, but it is a trauma which comes to fruition in adult life. That, however, was the least of Hitler’s worries as he endured the cruelty of his father. As in almost all cases of childhood abuse there was a transgenerational factor involved. Hitler’s father was born outside of wedlock into poverty and was separated from his mother, Maria Anna Schicklgruber, when he was five years old. There is also the possibility that Alois’s father was partly Jewish. Hitler was aware of this and uncertainty about one’s ancestry can cause anxiety in itself and the possibility of a Jewish ancestry enraged him. Hence, six million Jewish people perished.

Hitler suffered severe fear of abandonment as an adult, even when he was Fuhrer. There is plenty of evidence of his nightmares, cries of terror and shrieks in the night at the image of his long dead father, even when at the pinnacle of his power. He feared the Jews, he feared medicine (even though he allowed his doctor to heavily medicate him as he got older and more stressed), he feared heights, he feared being poisoned and had a food taster, and he feared death, although he committed suicide.
It is more than likely that Hitler suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his childhood. Certainly he has some of the symptoms of PTSD, which is an intense anxiety reaction caused by adverse circumstances including childhood neglect. For example, the mistreatment by his father was beyond the norm of suffering, and Hitler became emotionally dissociated from others, apart from his terrifying dreams, he suffered from insomnia and was subjected to mood swings, he had poor concentration, he was devoid of emotions apart from rage and anger and he frequently relived the emotional trauma of childhood as he tried to sleep. Laurence Rees in his book, The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, rightly states that his main characteristic was his ‘capacity to hate.’ Hitler’s description in Mein Kampf of a three year old child witnessing the brutal behaviour of the father against the mother undoubtedly refers to his own experience. A battered mother, filled with fear, cannot protect her child from a brutal father. Ultimately the massive childhood trauma, stored in his psyche as a child, eventually emerged and as Alice Miller puts it ‘the child who was once persecuted now becomes the persecutor.’ And millions died.
From this section of the blog I hope you now understand fear of abandonment coming from insecure attachment. Equally important, if you are a parent, especially of young children, you will realise how you can ensure (or choose to ensure) their mental health and mental wellbeing by meeting their dependency needs of love, affection, attention and direction. I do not believe that there can be a more invaluable contribution to the mental health of your descendants than this. Further I would add that if you are the child of controlling parent(s) you may have inherited some controlling tendencies that accompany your fear of abandonment. Acknowledge this and take steps to heal it so that you will more easily be able to meet the dependency needs of your children. The final chapter in this book looks in some detail at how to heal issues that come from an insecure attachment, including fear of abandonment.

Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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