Getting in touch with our anger is an integral part of the healing process, given that suppression of anger was essential to our survival as adoptees and surrendering parents but thus buried so deep we often are no longer consciously aware of its stranglehold on our psyches. Unacknowledged anger can then be displaced onto other people or situations, undermining our lives, and can begin to impair our health.
Especially for earlier generations, expressing anger was frowned upon, if not completely prohibited, making it impossible to access our anger and stand up for our selves. I have often wondered, had I been allowed when it was all happening to express my anger over being banished to a home for unwed mothers and forced to give my son away, if things would have turned out differently. But I couldn’t even feel anger, only shame. Then there are those of us who felt their anger from the beginning, but that’s all they felt. No other feelings had room for expression.
Anger is critical to survival. In the moment, it protects us from perceived danger. Finally feeling anger can be empowering, liberating. But, like fire, anger feeds on itself, creating and attracting more anger, to the point that for some anger becomes a sacred cow.
Anger creates distance from a perceived threat. But that distance naturally creates disconnection and alienation, until the very thing we want – connection – is impossible to achieve. Few people can be around an angry person for very long, and the meaningful things they have to say can’t really be taken in. If we remain angry over being rejected, for example, or for what was done to us, we may feel armored but there will be little to no chance of having the relationship we long for – with the other or even with our selves.
To heal, we have to understand that anger is actually a cover emotion. It serves as self-preservation against the threat of feeling powerlessness – a powerlessness we felt under the circumstances of having no control over whether or not to keep our baby, over being adopted. Our personal boundaries and integrity were violated and we were powerless to protect our selves. Feelings of powerlessness and helplessness are the most destructive to our souls. Anger serves to create a barrier to those frightening, hurtful feelings, but also prevents us from healing our wounds and creating the relationships we want – with our selves as well as with others.
Very often we can feel powerless in the situations we find ourselves, and an angry response is natural. Short-term anger allows us to act, know what we need and change things. However, chronic anger creates chronic powerlessness, because the need we still have has not been addressed and may not be able to be accessed, since anger, like fire, can be engulfing.
Some of us know the root cause of our anger, but only intellectually and have not allowed our selves to really feel the past feelings of vulnerability and fear, and the lack of trust such helplessness created. Some don’t have a clue about the cause of their angry feelings. Grief, sadness and depression result from suppressed anger, so anger can become confusing and debilitating. Getting in touch with anger burns up grief and depression, which is why anger appears to be the answer to healing. But it’s not.
Our souls want to be whole and sometimes will go to what seems to be perverse measures to heal our original wounds. Reunion triggers old painful feelings. For many of us, if we pay close attention, some of the issues that come up during reunion and while creating relationships after reunion mirror circumstances at the time that we surrendered our babies. For example, if we haven’t allowed our selves to feel deeply the powerlessness we felt before a social worker or another authority figure we can feel helpless in the face of the adoptive parents’ perceived power. Then all our anger can be displaced onto them. Not until we face our core wound can we see the adoptive parents objectively and feel their equal.
For adoptees, anger at being separated from their original mother can be suppressed until reunion or have run their lives from the beginning. Realizing that the anger is a cover for the utter vulnerability inherent in being given to strangers and having to adapt to survive, and little by little allowing one self to feel the helplessness will begin to dissipate the anger.
Becoming conscious of the feelings of powerlessness isn’t frightening, it’s empowering – we have our own back and so don’t have to project old fears onto others. We find that the feelings aren’t so terrifying to explore, and we no longer need to protect our selves from them by being angry. We can now express our underlying fear and pain instead of anger, and be grateful to our anger for showing us what we still need to heal. Then we will see our true strengths, how courageous we actually are, how powerful.
What puts out fire? Water, and feelings are much like water. So, when dealing with angry feelings and trying to get to the root cause, being around bodies of water, taking a long bath and tears dissipate anger and allows the underlying feelings to come to the surface. Water is also nurturing, so at the same time, we don’t need our anger to help us feel safe.
When we develop compassion for our suffering, instead of running away from it, we develop compassion and empathy for others. Automatically we feel connected then, even when a relationship is not going well. Empathy gives us patience and inner strength to love anyway.