We spoke to Australia Counselling member Greig Phillpot about his interest and passion in working with anger issues.
Here’s what he had to say.
You have a specialty in anger and you run an Anger Resolution Workshops. How did this specialty in anger work come about?
I have been interested in helping people who have unresolved anger for a long time now.
There are often two outcomes involved with anger. This is when anger is expressed through violence, whether that be verbal or physical or both. The person on the receiving end of the violence is injured and the person who commits the violence is injured.
There are two losers in this interaction. The victim and the perpetrator. Sometimes this involves two adults and sometimes an adult and a child, often parent and child. Sometimes it is also children who are violent to each other.
A pattern is learned very quickly by children in this regard. The cycle can begin very early.
I would like to do everything I can to stop the cycle of violence in families and in our community in general.
How do people become angry?
Whenever anyone gets hurt there is the potential for the development of anger. Hurt can be experienced in two ways.
Firstly, direct actions, often within a family context. The parent can be insensitive to the needs or behaviour of the child and punish or act in ways that directly hurt the child. This can be physical punishment, verbal assault or harsh treatment of a child. Sadly sometimes children are just abused by adults both physically, sexually and emotionally.
Secondly, when a child doesn’t have its needs met the child is hurt and again there is the potential for the seeds of anger to be born. These are acts of omission but are still just as powerful for the child.
The child will always try to protest their hurt and depending on how this is met, the hurt can be released or reinforced. When either type of hurt is not allowed to be expressed in a supportive environment it is held within the body through contraction of the musculature.
Is there anything a child can do when they are faced with this situation?
The child cannot educate the parent or control how the parent responds. The child will protest their hurt by crying or dissent or stubbornness. The child cannot articulate to the adult the dynamic which has occurred. It is the adult’s responsibility to be there for the child. To be open and receptive to what the child is expressing.
Sadly, the child is often punished more for their expression of their hurt.
So you are saying this is a common experience for children to have?
Yes it is inevitable for all of us to be hurt in different ways as we grow up. Our hurt will be to different degrees depending on our parents capacity for loving us as opposed to controlling us. Everyone has a degree of anger within them. However, different people express their anger in different ways and this becomes the key issue.
So do you believe that there are many angry people in our communities?
This is because anger is such an unacceptable emotion as it is often frightening for people to see or hear because it contains such strong or even fierce energy. Also, for many people it reflects something that they know is within them as well.
People can respond to their own hurt and anger in a few ways. For some people they bottle it up and then at some time it explodes often from some seemingly minor event but with the usual display of violence. Where someone or others are left hurt and injured and the angry person is left feeling ashamed or vindicated in their own mind. Everyone in this situation is violated and their own anger begins to build, unless there is a process for them to release.
Another way is that people suppress their angry emotion. They bury it deep inside so that it can hardly get to the surface. They are masochistic and use it against themselves most of the time. They are punishing of their own being. It is an internal process and not obviously visible.
However, when the anger does rise to the surface it is usually very annihilating in a less visible way and can be hurtful through shaming another person and then withdrawing. It may then be followed by a withdrawal of love, affection, relationship or attention and provide no means of explanation of where this anger came from or a path for resolution.
A third way is to find someone, usually a skilled therapist, who can help them express their anger in a safe way. To be with them whilst they unravel all those hurtful experiences from the past that are locked inside. They are engaged in a war of wanting to be released but must be contained so as not to allow another person to see who they really are. This way is the therapeutic way.
A fourth way, is for a person who is not overloaded with anger, to calmly yet authentically express their feelings. They are mindful of the content and the energy within them and they express their feelings in a healthy way to the person who their anger is directed at. This of course is the mature way. The way that doesn’t injure or hurt unduly. The way that is respectful and mindful of oneself and the other people involved.
How important is it that your anger needs to be expressed?
Yes, I believe anger is as valuable as any other emotion. The aim and energy of all emotion is to be expressed.
The difficulty with anger is that it is so energetic and when expressed in a violent way is terrifying for many people. However, it is not the emotion, it is the violent way it is expressed that makes it unacceptable.
An angry person needs a skilled therapist who can guide the person back to the hurtful experiences which have lead to this build up of anger. A safe environment is essential.
Resolution of anger is more than just catharsis. I believe the unexpressed emotions are held within the body and that they can be accessed by reconnecting with the hurtful experiences. When the person becomes aware of these hurtful experiences they will feel either sad and angry about being hurt. They won’t feel these both at the same time because energetically they are completely different.
However, when they make contact with their anger they need to be aware of where their anger is directed, primarily who it is directed at. The therapist then needs to guide them to find a way to release this anger from their body. Finding the words which wholeheartedly express the hurt and anger they feel. Allowing the body to express by hitting, kicking, biting or any other physical action that the person can feel needs movement.
The person will often move between being angry and sad – high energy and low energy. The words are essential, as is the witnessing of this process by another human being or beings. It validates what the person has been through both their hurt and their anger. An essential difference in this process it that it is aggressive not violent. It has a clear focus and intention, and harnesses the individual’s energy to provide a non-violent outcome. Not only is it non-violent, it is healing.
The relationship between the angry person and the person who injured them has been changed. Sometimes people get to a position of forgiveness.
You talk about resolution not management. Why is that?
I talk about resolution because I know that therapy can deal with any hurtful situation from the past and change the relationship the person has to that experience. But this can only happen by re-engaging the person, with the hurtful experiences from the past and allowing whatever the natural response to those events is. This is the process I just briefly outlined.
When the relationship with the past is changed the anger has dissipated, it doesn’t have to be managed anymore. Not only is the angry person relieved and released of the anger, the people that usually ‘cop it’ are no longer victims. The cycle of anger has been stopped.
About Grieg Phillpot
Greig has trained extensively in Relationship Centred Psychotherapy and in Body Oriented Psychotherapy.
He believes that everyone has been injured in their life and that everyone can change and live in a way that is creative and harmonious with the people they are closest to.