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The following is the second chapter of Steve Altabef’s new book “Wounds, Vows, and the Freedom of Forgiveness”.  He is excited about getting it out there so if you have any comments or questions, please let him know!

 

CHAPTER 2

WOUNDS AND THE CONNECTION TO ANGER

 

Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful

to us than the injury that provokes it.

 

Seneca

 

During most of the 1980’s I had the privilege of working at a great youth camp during the summers.  For seven of those years my entire family moved out to the campgrounds and we stayed there for the majority of the summer. The first 2 summers I was a counselor during High School Camp and I’ll never forget the group of young people I had the pleasure of working with.  This was during the time when many of the teens were adorning themselves with creative attire such as bandannas and leather bands with spikes.  There was a group of them that I spotted entering the camp and I distinctly remember hoping like crazy I wouldn’t have to deal with any of them.  I ended up with a whole cabin full of them which meant there were six of them and one of me.  It turned out to be a fantastic week and all but one of them returned the following year and requested me as their counselor.  One of the most significant things for me was the interaction I was able to have, not only with them, but with one of the young ladies who was connected to these guys.

Melony was a rebel from the first day of camp to the last.  Somehow we had established great rapport with one another.  One evening I spotted Melony walking across one of the fields with a friend of hers and I felt very compelled to go and talk to her.  I asked her if I could make an observation about her.  She agreed (which she may have later regretted) and I proceeded to tell her that she seemed to me to be a very angry young lady.  Her reaction stunned me!  No, she didn’t hit me; rather, she fell to her knees in tears and proceeded to tell me about her life.  As you might suspect, she revealed many wounds.

Danger: Wounded Beasts!

Again we can turn to the animal world, this time to help see the connection between our wounds and anger.  People who hunt will tell you that it is dangerous merely to wound an animal such as a bear, a wild cat, or a wild boar. These animals become enraged when they are wounded and will attack any living creature in sight, and with incredible force. It is far safer to complete the kill on the first shot than to risk the animal’s furious reaction.  Wounded dogs and cats, even if they are the family pet, are considered unsafe to handle because they will often lash out and bite anything or anybody they perceive as a threat.  I learned this the hard way when my sweet, gorgeous Goldendoodle, “Zoe” got in a fight with her best dog-friend, “Shelby”.  The other dog had her by the neck; and as I was attempting to separate the two, my dog bit a 5 stitch hole in the top of my hand!  She wasn’t trying to hurt me, nor did she view me as a threat; she was just lashing out as a survival behavior.

Often the wounds of our childhood have the same impact.  The real difference is that it is difficult for a young child to view his or her adult caretakers as bad or even wrong.  Often it isn’t okay or even safe for a child to express anger in any way, though there may be the impulse to lash out.  Some children have learned that to do this results in far greater injury, either verbally, emotionally or physically.  The result is that children, more often than not, turn this anger on themselves, sometimes in dangerous and harmful ways as we’ll see in Chapter 9.

Goal Prevention, Beginning of Anger

To help us understand how wounds so often result in anger, let’s imagine that it is the first day of a much sought after new job.  Somehow you set the alarm to the “old” time which happens to be a half hour later than the “new” time!  As you scurry to grab a bite to eat and get dressed you notice your anxiety level rising as you discover you are out of underwear and have to run to the laundry room (which is downstairs on the other side of the house) and hopefully dig a pair out of the dryer which has hopefully completed its task.  You manage to get dressed and out to the car only to have much difficulty starting it.  You now have less than 20 minutes to make a 23 minute drive to the new job you have wanted for so long!  How’s that anxiety?  Finally the car graciously starts and you head out of your neighborhood just in time for the school bus to pick up every single kid on every single corner of the road you need to be on in order to get to where you want to go.  By now, you are aware of the horrible thoughts you have about school bus drivers and other people’s stupid kids who have the nerve to stand on the street corner so the bus has to slow down and make you late!  You get the picture!

Your primary goal of the day was to get to the new job in plenty of time to begin it in a relaxed state.  Various obstacles prevented that goal from being met and you were not a “happy commuter.”  You were indeed angry though probably understood that it is not appropriate to track down the bus driver and “let him have it.”  Perhaps you noticed that you engaged in slightly self-destructive behavior such as driving without your seat belt, or driving too fast, or overeating, or smoking an extra cigarette or two, etc..  Congratulations!  You turned that anger on yourself.  Ouch!

You have just experienced the scaled down adult version of why a child who is wounded may also be significantly angry.  Wounds, much like being out of underwear or getting stuck behind a school bus, can be obstacles to the most primary goals (needs) children have.

Inherent Goals

All of us were created with the inherent needs (goals) to be loved, protected, nurtured (physically and emotionally), validated, and nourished.  These are the things we need, but unfortunately, we often don’t get.  One of the most poignant and deplorable illustrations of the reality of these needs was observed in a Mexican orphanage in the 1950’s.  A couple of researchers desired to find our what, if any difference would exist between a group of babies who were regularly nurtured and a group of babies who received little or no nurturing either physically or verbally.  They divided the babies in the orphanage into two groups.  One group was held and talked to on a regular basis, receiving much nurturing physically and verbally.  The other group was not touched at all except for diaper changing and whatever minimal contact was necessary to place a bottle in their mouths.  This group was never talked to or handled in any other way.  The results revealed that the nurtured group maintained normal weight gain and were mostly healthy physically and emotionally by age three.  The babies in the second group had a very high mortality rate, were significantly lower in weight, had high incidents of illness and were largely withdrawn by age three.  Though this research project was horrible and cruel, and would never be allowed today, it does dramatically illustrate how important these needs are. In an extreme way it also illustrates the severe consequences that occur when these needs are not met. Many other studies over the last 50 years have conclusively demonstrated the need for physical and emotional stimulation and the serious problems that result when these needs are not met.

That these needs exist is virtually indisputable, and if any of these goals or needs are unmet, the potential for anger exists.  If these goals are seriously unmet, as in severe abuse situations, anger is nearly a certainty though it may not manifest itself in ways that are detectable on the surface.  However, there are frequently clues, and in children and young teens these clues often look more like sadness and depression than overt anger.  Anger in adolescents can also be more aggressive and aimed at family members, especially siblings.  Others, as was my own adolescent anger, is more about self-destructive behaviors and destroying objects. According to Les Parrot in his book “The Struggling Adolescent”, young people who are angry tend to be “more isolated, less successful, and less satisfied than their peers”.   They also tend to have more turbulent relationships from which they frequently withdraw and often lose.

As we get older and enter the school social scene we have goals of being popular or at least accepted by our peers.  Approaching adolescence, we have goals pertaining to academics, sports, or male-female relationships.  In adulthood we may have goals of career success, successful marriage, effective parenting, or financial security.  Wounding in any of these areas that results in these goals not being met, the needs not being realized, has the potential of resulting in anger!

Active or Passive, Same Results

Wounds can have both an active and a passive quality to them.  It is not simply what is done to us (active; e.g. emotional, physical, or sexual abuse) that blocks our goals (needs) from being met, it can also be what doesn’t happen to us (passive; e.g. neglect or lack of nurturing), or what we don’t get that prevents these goals.  Another way of saying this is “that we may experience things in life that we don’t need”, and these things cause us pain.  This is the active sense of wounding.  On the other hand, “we may not get certain things that we do need”, (i.e. our inherent goals) and this may cause us pain as well.  This is the passive sense of wounding.   In either case, our basic needs get blocked and anger has the potential of developing, festering, and exploding over the course of one’s lifetime if the wounding which is at the heart of it is not looked at carefully,  interpreted accurately, and resolved properly.

There are three other areas that define these blocked goals.  The first is “things we had which were taken away or lost in some way”.  This could be the loss of a loved one, a pet, a social group, or a position held in one’s life (e.g. supervisor, president, lead, etc.).  For me, the biggest losses growing up were various moves that resulted from my father’s professional career.  Of course, he was doing what he honestly believed was best for his family.  However, in each case I lost my entire social structure and at rather strategic points in my life.  The worst move was to Racine, Wisconsin when I was in the 9th grade, which then was the last year of Junior High School.  All the friendship groups were well formed and not real open to a new kid.  That was a most miserable year for me, and I realized much later in life how much it contributed to my own anger as an adolescent and as a young adult.

The second area that helps to define our blocked goals is “unmet expectations”.  Many people grow up with expectations of what adult life will look like.   This may include some kind of success in marriage, academics, or career.  Life, being what it is, doesn’t always look exactly as we had pictured it and in some cases it is so drastically different that anger begins to take the place of what at one time may have been hope.  I have talked with women who had expectations of having many children, only to find out they were unable to have any. Or, in some cases, had multiple miscarriages after only one or two children.  While some women seem to be able to navigate this situation, many do not and often harbor a low-grade anger or resentment, sometimes to the very Creator Himself.  Marriages often don’t look exactly like we had pictured them and in many cases are drastically different enough to generate anger.  I’ve talked with men who had expectations of “climbing the corporate ladder” only to find out they could not test high enough or the politics of a particular company prohibited their advance.  In some cases this has generated a lot of frustration and anger.

The third area is our own “unenforceable rules”.  These are the expectations we have for how others should respond or behave without any power, whatsoever, of being able to see those expectations come to fruition.  In other words, “rules for how the world should be without the ability to enforce those rules”.  These can be in the form how people “should” respond in various social situations (e.g. she “should have” acknowledged me at the party).  Or, how spouses or partners “should” greet us a certain way, or be in the right mood, or like the same things we do.  In any case, when the expected behavior fails to make itself known, anger is once again a strong possibility.

 

Major Expense

There is a vicious cycle that tends to be perpetuated by the anger we develop as a result of our childhood (or other) wounding.  It goes something like this:  Let’s say that as a child we had been severely neglected and as a result of this need-for-nurture goal (something we needed, but didn’t get) being blocked we developed intense anger (There are several other possibilities here, but anger seems to be a common theme).  Now as an adult, people don’t seem to desire to get close to us because we are angry most of the time.  This leaves us once again being emotionally neglected, albeit by our own doing, and new anger is generated.  There can be severe consequences as a result of the anger!  In other words, anger has a very expensive price-tag.  I see four primary areas where anger can cost us much.

Relationships.  People who carry a lot of anger with them tend to be quite intolerant with others, and often with those who are closest to them.  Some tend to withdraw often leaving others with the feeling that perhaps they did something wrong.  These types of things can drive an oppressive wedge between people.

I was aware of an individual who for six months would not talk to their spouse because of a fairly insignificant event that had occurred between them.  This action had an extremely long impact on the relationship and actually threatened it for several years.

It is not unusual for us to see patterns of short lived relationships, disturbed relationships, or lack of relationship altogether in those whom we would mutually describe as angry people.  This can be a major source of stress for the angry person and for those around him/her, often generating further anger.

Job/career.  Another fairly common consequence to anger is seen in the workplace.  Anger has a way of making people seem unstable, untrustworthy, and unfriendly.  As a result, someone may get passed over for a promotion and be mystified as to why it feels like they work as hard as or harder than the “next guy” and yet they don’t seem to move up the proverbial corporate ladder.

Patterns of many short-lived jobs may be typical of someone who cannot control his/her anger in the workplace.  I have talked with several people who could not hold down a job because of their anger.

This causes stress because it is humiliating and embarrassing.  Further, it inevitably has a financial ramification which is another blocked goal which presents a very high potential for leading to more anger!

Emotional health.  The self-perception of people who are angry is often distorted, at least partially as a result of their anger.  This occurs because both their self-esteem (respect, regard, and reverence for one’s self) and self-worth (evaluation of one’s value) have decreased over time.

To cope with this problem, many people today “medicate” themselves with drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, or anything else capable of temporarily removing the pain.

Physical health.  On January 26, 1993 USA Today printed an excerpt from a book entitled Anger Kills: 17 Strategies for Controlling the Hostility That Can Harm Your Health (Time Books/Random House).  Heart disease, cancer, immune system deficiencies, ulcers, and other physical illnesses have been connected to anger or feelings of hostility which are not resolved.  The stress anger puts on the physical body increases the risks of physical ailments. Much research over the years has validated the connection physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The Need for Healing

If it is in fact true that there is a connection between the wounds we accumulate over the span of our lives, and anger, then it is also true that there is a tremendous need for healing those wounds and working at resolving that anger.  It is strongly my belief that the ultimate road to accomplishing this task is what Part III of this book is all about, and that is the vital necessity for forgiveness.

Because so much of our anger results in psychological, physical, or even spiritual damage to ourselves or others, it is crucial to resolve it.  Genuine forgiveness addresses these issues in a remarkable way and ultimately leads to the resolution of that anger.

 

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