How to Recover When A Family Member Makes You Angry

I’m going to start with the end in mind; “Anger is a strategy”

I start with that, because we need to de-emotionalize anger for a moment so we can see things more clearly.

When a fish wants food, it swims. Swimming is the strategy.

We have emotions and traits about us, that we use day to day, to create and get outcomes for what we want and what we are trying to achieve- we have emotions and traits to help us get what we want.

As we interact with each other, especially family, we are constantly trying to communicate our needs, wants and desires to people where there is emotional bonding. Emotional bonding, as written about by Dr. Murray Bowen, creates a family dependency where we actually lose our sense of self as we are required to consider the various needs of the family and emotional unit. (this is not inherently a ‘bad’ thing, it just is what it is)

The dependency side of things creates expectations we instil on family members to act, behave, and treat us a very specific way. It is an overly ambitious desire to be supported and not challenged. In a sense, this emotional dependency gives very little room for a family member to challenge our values, what we say, or what we do, without getting our backs up because we start feeling like there is a lack of support in the way we expect or want.

Anger is often the knee jerk strategy we use to let others know they aren’t supporting us the way we think they should.

The “losing ourself” part that Dr. Bowen refers to, is involved with feeling emotionally bound to the individual and a sense of ‘non-freedom or autonomy”. In family, this emotional unit and overlapping of identity creates a potential stifling of our independence, and anger is often our way to stretch this perceived impedance on our ultimate freedom and autonomy. Anger says, ‘I feel bound, and I don’t like it.” Anger is the primary strategy to gain independence from a dependent emotional connection.

When engrossed in family, we are left with the great task of being kind, nice, pleasant, and considerate of others thoughts and feelings, and we are also woven in the expectation that ‘family doesn’t challenge each other, we are here to support each other.’ This unrealistic thinking has us try to play ‘genie’ of what everyone else needs and wants. This mind warping process has us withhold things that need to be said, repress for the sake of others’ feelings, and to placate our needs for the sake of the family. This is exhausting, and anger is a way to quickly give ourselves permission to say what we have been holding back, to express the repressed energy, and to claim our needs as we temporarily override the helpless feelings and guilt of putting our needs first over family.

So consider in a nutshell the utility of anger as a PRIMITIVE COMMUNICATION STRATEGY

Consider anger as:

1) a communication strategy to gain independence from the emotional unit

2) a communication strategy to communicate unfulfilled expectations

3) a communication strategy to overcome walking on eggshells for too long and overly considering the needs of others over self

When we gain appreciation for anger as a tool to express a need or want, and have empathy that it may be all the person knows on how to communicate at this point in their life, we open up the door to accept the person for who they are, and also to become more CURIOUS as to what they really are trying to communicate.

This deeper understanding will allow our nervous systems and brain to recover, take things less personally, and stay much more aware as our family is trying to communicate in the best way they can in the moment.