Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Anger: Its 6 Roots

anger six roots

It seems to me much is written about managing anger, but not as much about the roots.  If there is a universal emotion that we see as therapists when infidelity has been exposed, it’s anger. Whether it’s anger at their spouse, themselves, or the whole world, anger is a very common part of disclosure. If reconciliation is going to happen, the anger has to be addressed. Many times I have to help spouses realize, if you didn’t care, you wouldn’t be angry about it. We’re angry because our heart is broken.

“The fiercest anger of all, the most incurable, is that which rages in the place of dearest love.” 
― Euripides

Anger is generally a secondary emotion generated by other feelings. Now there are exceptions and not all anger is negative. In my mind, anger only goes negative when it becomes destructive in your life or in the lives of others. There are certainly ways to manage anger to keep it from being destructive, but eliminating the root of anger is an easier way of taking care of the problem. As Michael Wells says, “Don’t sweep the cobwebs, kill the spider.” The following is a short list of the roots of anger I see most often when treating infidelity.

Resentment

An inability to eventually let go of resentment will frequently result in anger. If the resentment isn’t released, it will result in either anger or a perceived victim status. It’s difficult to let go of resentments, but doing so is a gift you give yourself. It has little to do with the other person. Please don’t think that forgiving a wrong perpetrated against you is the same as condoning another’s hurtful actions. Rather, resentment prolongs the harm perpetrated by the other person. In short, it keeps the hurt going. The resulting anger robs you of your peace and ability to gain traction in your own recovery. This foreboding anger can also delay healing in your spouse’s recovery. In the short term, it’s expected that anger will not only be present, but off the charts. However, as you move towards finding help, healing and the possibility of restoration, the anger must be diffused. Remember, forgiveness is not about reconciliation; it’s an act of self-liberation that frees you from being a prisoner of the past and allows you to live in peace with your past.

Soul Wounds

Another significant source of anger is soul wounds. Our past is littered  with occurrences where the very essence of our identity was wounded and possibly, forever altered. It’s also where we began to believe lies about who we truly are. The memories where these lies are anchored can hold significant amounts of anger and pain. When similar circumstances occur in the present, the old wounds resurface and old emotions echo from the past, influencing how we feel in the present. These wounds can be a significant source of anger and can cause our emotional response to a circumstance to be exaggerated to say the least. It’s part of the reason we say “Pain that is not transformed, will eventually be transmitted.” When a hidden pain is triggered, we can have a $500 response to a $5 incident. If you find you tend to overreact to circumstances, then it might be worthwhile to seek professional help to determine if there is a past wound affecting your ability to have peace in the moment.

Guilt

It may sound strange, but guilt is also a source of anger. I don’t know about you, but each time I get caught for speeding, I get mad. Now it’s not that I’m not guilty, it’s the fact that my first response to guilt is anger. I hate it when I’m called to account for my bad actions. In fact, many of us will use anger as a way to push away our guilt and shame. Our defensiveness and anger are often a measure of the guilt we feel internally and have no idea how to remedy. I can’t tell you how many unfaithful spouses deal with this paradox and feel powerless to remedy the situation.  If you find yourself dealing with anger, a great exercise is making a personal inventory and honestly focusing on your own areas of failure to see if your anger is a way of avoiding taking responsibility for your own actions.

Inferiority

We have a strange way of giving others power over our life. If we feel we are being disrespected or another is making us feel “less than,” anger is a common response. We hate it when others fail to value or affirm us. Why do you think we get so mad so quickly when someone cuts us off while driving? Or, my favorite, when someone interrupts us while speaking? Both actions send the message that we are “less than,” that the other person has more important places to be or things to say. When we feel undervalued, it triggers a response in us to place all the blame on the other party. Let me ask you, who is giving the other person the power to decide how much value I hold? I am. Once we realize that our value doesn’t change based on individual interactions we will be much more free to love even those who may disrespect us.

Fear

There are times when fear is at the root of anger. The "fight or flight” response is a God-given mechanism intended for self-protection. In the moment of danger, we will frequently utilize anger as a method of self-protection. Don’t misunderstand; there are times to honor your fear. There are circumstances that are not safe, but not all fear is justified and at times anger blinds us to its root. When asking yourself, “Why am I angry?” always ask if the root is fear. You’ll find it’s far more productive to deal with your fear than it is to deal with anger. If fear is the root, then focus on how to increase safety.

Righteous Indignation

I saved the best for last. At times anger is justified. When a wrong is done and needs to be corrected, then anger serves an intended purpose. Even in this case, however, it’s important to manage anger. If you believe in the concept of love, then it’s important to be loving, and maintain love within the expression of your anger, and that is not the same as being abusive. While angry, it is still possible to speak the truth in love. It’s OK to right a wrong, but be sure to stay within the bounds of love as you follow your quest.

I hope and pray your search for the roots of anger will result in a new found peace for yourself and for those you love.

If you are a hurt spouse and need help dealing with your anger at your spouse or even at your situation, then our Harboring Hope course will be a safe place to help you heal. As a betrayed spouse, your journey of forgiveness and anger management is not for the faint of heart and Harboring Hope will help you make sense out of the overwhelming emotions including anger, confusion and help with the trauma you’re dealing with. Learn more about Harboring Hope.

 

 

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