Layers and Layers of Denial of Anger
Author: Lynne Namka, Ed. D.
Why are people so unlikely to know and act on their own problems? To get to the root of denial and resistance, we must look at fear. Resistance is about fear of change, fear of failure and fear of success. In any event, the biggest “F Word” of all is FEAR! Fear of the unknown is pretty spooky stuff. It manifests as the belief of “The rut I am in is more comfortable than the rut I might jump into next. It is accompanied with the fear of knowing what is dark and rank about me.”
Resistance often uses the defense of denial with accompanying beliefs to accomplish the task of keeping things hidden away under wraps. Denial and resistance are multifaceted and may move back and forth as belief systems shift to protect the fragile state of the self. The refusal to know the truth about ones self functions in a person’s life to keep the person’s shame balloon from being punctured.
People never cease to amaze me. Over the years I’ve puzzled over why with all the good information we have more people don’t live lives that are mentally healthy. More specific, why people don’t address their anger problems when it so obvious that it is in their best interests to do so. To decrease my confusion, I’ve become a life long student about the problem of resistance. The story I heard years ago that helped the most was about staying in the status quo.
There is a lovely story going around about George, an ogre who was caught in a rut. No ordinary rut this. It was lined with prickly pear cactus and filled with cow dung. But George didn’t see that he was in a rut. It looked just like any other place to him although he was pretty miserable sitting there. Of course he did holler and scream a lot and cuss others out.
Yet it was familiar so he didn’t worry about his anger and his assigned place in life. He didn’t get it that there might be a better way to live. As the saying goes, “It is important not to mistake the edge of a rut for a horizon.’
His friend, Albert came by, scoped the situation out and tried to help. He stretched his front leg down to the George to try to pull him out. George lost his temper and hollered at Albert. He shook his head and said. ” You are doing it all wrong. How many times do I have to tell you? I don’t have a problem.”
Albert tried again. He extended his hind leg down. George just yelled and screamed and blamed Albert. “I still can’t reach you. You stupid nitwit. It is too hard. Why don’t you jump down here and I’ll climb on your back and jump out?”
“Well, I may be co-dependent, but I’m not stupid!” said the Albert and he went merrily on his way.
Suddenly Albert heard “Hey, wait a minute,” behind him. He turned around and there hopping furiously was George. “What happened? Albert said. “How did you get out? I thought you liked it where you were in cow dung city.”
George replied, “Well, it was pretty familiar. But then there I was feeling sorry for myself and all of a sudden I heard a truck coming!”
Life sometimes imitates this story. Some ruts are sticky, smelly and stinky but people continue to stay in them. Sometimes it does take a big truck a coming, for a person to change. Then, hopefully he can find an emotional process that helps him see himself differently so that he can jump out of his rut! Some ruts are pretty deep. And they can be comfortable places, even more so than looking at the possibility of what made caused the getting in the rut in the first place.
Resistance and Staying In Ruts
So what is resistance? The famous psychologist Rollo May said, “Therapists best aid their patients by evoking their resistances.” Resistance keeps the person from knowing their pain. Some therapists feel impatient when it comes up in therapy. Resistance is” I am afraid to try. I am frightened to know that I am angry because it is so bad and dark. I must protect myself from knowing about the deepest hidden part of me.” As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” In truth, the more we allow clients and ourselves to discover the enemy which is fear and the related behavior of the resistance and denial, the better mental health we can help others achieve.
Most resistant people avoid psychotherapy like the plague. However, a few do come for help with the hidden agenda of “Help me/ don’t help me.” Resistant people who present themselves for therapy yet dodge the help offered are no more worse off than other people. They may just have deeper shame about not measuring up to what they think they should be. And deeper terror of what they might find out. Yet their pain is so great that they do come to the sessions, at least part of the time. The dance of resistant clients is “I want to get better but I’m afraid to know….” Some part of the person wants the help but their other parts that are in charge are frightened to look at the deep shame about their anger, which hides inside.
Resistance is about shame and not wanting to be exposed. The balloon of shame inside is like a big lead ball, an ogre, which cannot even, be known about. Yet it does have purpose. Virginia Satir often said, “All behavior has purpose.” What are some of the payoffs for remaining stuck in the rut of not knowing about the pain? Welt and Herron give some ideas about typical reasons for resistance.
- Resistance due to ignorant bliss, which actually hurts a lot. (Huh? There is no problem here. I had a happy childhood. No matter that my life is continually in ruins.)
- Resistance due to secondary gains (I’ll have to stop doing something that gives me what I want or helps me avoid something I don’t want to do.)
- Resistance because acting out the undesired symptom is safer than remembering upsetting events. (I’ll keep running my symptom so fast that I won’t have time to remember why I feel bad.)
- Resistance due to feeling guilty and the need to be punished. (I need to keep on punishing myself because at a deep level, I know I’m bad. I don’t deserve to feel better.)
- Grandiose resistance to allowing someone else to help. (I don’t need to be in therapy. I can work it out myself.)
To get to the root of resistance, we must look at fear. Resistance is about fear of change, fear of failure and fear of success. In any event, the biggest “F Word” of all is FEAR! Fear of the unknown is pretty spooky stuff. It manifests as the belief of “The rut I am in is more comfortable than the rut I might jump into next if I know what is dark and rank about me.” Resistance often uses the defense of denial with accompanying beliefs to accomplish the task of keeping things hidden away under wraps.
I learned the most about the refusal to know about the destructive elements of one’s self years ago in a workshop by Psychologist, Ken Moses. Denial is not a single concept; it is multifaceted and may move back and forth as belief systems shift to protect the fragile state of the self. Resistance and the refusal to know about one’s anger functions in a person’s life to keep the person’s shame balloon from being punctured.
Layers of Knowing – The Interplay Between the Shameful Reality and Soothing Denial
- Denial of the Facts
I do not have a problem. I AM NOT ANGRY.
Don’t tell me about…. I don’t want to hear about this. NO PROBLEM!
I AM NOT YELLING!!!!!
- Denial of the Significance of the Facts
So I yell a lot. The situation is not bad enough to warrant my making any changes.
Yes, I’ve got a temper but it’s not important. My getting mad doesn’t mean anything.
My anger does not hurt my kids or my spouse.
I’ve never hit anyone. My temper doesn’t matter as long as I don’t hit anyone.
- Denial of Emotions Of the Importance of the Facts
Yes, I know it is important but I just don’t feel anything.
I’m immobilized. I can’t seem to deal with this. It is hopeless. Why try to change it?
- Denial Regarding Public Knowledge
This is too terrible. I can’t let anyone know. I know it but the shame is so great.
I can’t admit my anger to anyone else. I can’t get help. I’m too embarrassed.
- Denial of the Duration of the Problem
My anger is temporary.
I’ll get better soon on my own.
Even thought I’m xxx years old and haven’t figured it out yet, I’ll do better.
- Denial Due to Omnipotent Beliefs (I am God and I can make my anger go away)
I can work it out myself. I don’t need help from anyone.
I’ll try harder and I won’t be angry anymore. I can change.
Don’t tell me I need to get an anger coach or therapist.
I don’t need help with this; I can take care of this myself.
- Denial Due to Lack of Personal Resources Necessary for Change
Yes, there’s a significant problem. I’m angry about it, but I can’t pay the price for change.
I can’t change how I am. I am helpless in changing how I feel.
I’m an angry person. I can’t change it.
Get used to it. I don’t have the ability to change.
- Denial Due to Not Wanting to Give Up Control
I’m right when I get angry. Why should I change?
If I stop getting angry, I won’t get what I want.
It is okay for me to tell others what to do. And it is okay to get mad if they don’t do it.
- Denial Due to Blaming Someone Else
Well, it is her fault. If she didn’t go xxxx, I wouldn’t get angry.
I’m mad because he/she did xxxx.
If he/she/they would change, I would not be so angry.
Being Human We Are, After All, Sometimes Irrational People
One of my favorite teaching tools is a monkey with a bottle stuck on its hand sitting on a chair in my office. Of course everyone wonders about it asking why the monkey has e a bottle on its hand. It is the old monkey trap story of how hunters in Africa trapped monkeys by putting bananas in a bottle. The money keeps his hand doubled up in the bottle holding on to the banana. Because he refuses to open his hand and let go, he can’t go get the good stuff out there like bananas.
We all have stuff we are holding onto that keeps us from getting the bananas and making us happy. So I ask, “And what are you holding on to today to prevent your happiness?” If it is anger, then you are sure to have an unhappy life.
Ah, denial and resistance, lovely coping mechanisms to avoid change! But remember the old saying, “What you resist, persists!” Or the bumper sticker, which says, “If you keep on doing the same old thing, you will end up with the same old stuff!” Much better to put the bumper sticker, “Shift Happens” on your personal vehicle.
Resistance as Friend
But wait! Modern psychology says that here is a silver lining behind those dark clouds of resistance. Resistance can be seen as the avenue for learning! Virginia Satir called symptoms “the access to the re-framing of the disorder.” Resistance is classified by therapists Welt and Herron as “…. the obstacle, symbol, vehicle for change, and indispensable tool to move the therapy forward.” Exploration of the resistance becomes a goal in itself for understanding the deeper hidden agendas of the psyche.
Denial is to be examined to find the truth behind it. Resistance is to be explored, not dodged if a person want to feel better about them self. Even Freud called resistance a handy tool to the unconscious mind to allow learning about the patient’s inner life.
No easy task, especially if several of the above stated reasons for avoiding looking at resistance are operating in a life, but there it is folks. Anger can be transformed into assertiveness and learning to see things from the other person’s point of view. In understanding resistance in looking at one’s faults and character flaws, we can learn how to mine the gold hidden in all the rubbish!
We Are As Healthy As We Are Ready
To Take Responsibility For Our Own Thoughts And Behaviors!
“Our defenses keep us ignorant.
This I know for sure: Some deny. Some fudge.
Some ignore. Some blame others.
I know. I used to do all these defenses learned from my family.
These defenses kept me stuck in immaturity for years.
Now I choose to see my mistakes differently.
Open my mind.
Own my errors.
The result? Defenses foiled. Relief gained.
Self-respect earned. Maturity expanded.”