Anger can be a powerful tool used sparingly, as well as a destructive force, damaging our own health and hurting relationships. In survival situations, or in situations where we feel a loss of power, anger can be a needed fuel, sparking action. Or, it can be a signpost of something that needs to be changed. With practice, we can move this kind of anger into empowered action, and not let it become destructive to ourselves or others.
But there’s another kind of anger, which is driven by internalized shame: when we don’t feel good enough in some way, we may become angry in order to displace the bad feelings that we don’t want to face, to push them out of the picture. Shame based anger can come in the form of getting angry when you feel slighted or insulted, or when you feel like your identity or capacity isn’t up to some real or imagined standard (physically, mentally or morally). Shame based anger makes it especially hard for people to connect with us, even those who love us. If you’ve had an abusive or critical parent or partner, formative relationships that belittled you repeatedly, you are more vulnerable to shame based anger.
The tricky thing about identifying this shame based anger is that in many of us, it has gone into hiding. It’s so uncomfortable to examine our shameful feelings, that we redirect it: shame anger masquerades as anger directed towards others. Anytime you get disproportionately lit up by something someone else does, that’s an indicator of the masquerade at work.
By paying attention to what triggers anger in us (the guy in the nice car in the lane next to us, the assertive woman at work who we label as arrogant, people who don’t care about the planet…. make your own list), we often get a clue to the parts of ourselves we don’t want to look at.
That guy in the car? Maybe we don’t want to look at our relationship with money and possessions in our own life, so we get mad at the guy in the new shiny roadster instead- it makes him seem as if he’s figured it all out, when we haven’t.
Or that woman at work? Many of us have been taught to be seen and not heard, and don’t want to examine our own passivity, so the woman who is in her power triggers that shame in us. Get it? Anger at others is a clue to our own shame and unacknowledged places.
Next time you get triggered and feel anger arise toward someone else, take a good long look at where that’s coming from in you. Many instances of anger are shadows cast by shame.
Want some self-talk when investigating shame based anger? This is the one I use.
I run my own mind.
I investigate any anger and any residual shame in my life
in order that I may unwind it. If anger at others arises, I turn my attention inward to see what is going on in me. I put myself on a timeout when I need it. All people deserve love and respect. I am a force of power and good in the world.
I run my own mind.