Disowned Anger

In IFS, we sometimes encounter parts that have been disowned or exiled because their feelings or behavior are seeDisowned Angern as unacceptable. Because a part wasn’t acceptable in childhood, other parts of you banished it, and this dynamic has carried forward into the present.

A Disowned Part

I call these disowned parts. A disowned part can be a protector, an exile, or a healthy part. Anger is probably the most common type of disowned part. If you have disowned your anger, you tend to lack assertiveness or strength. You may even be passive, pleasing, self-effacing, or lacking in self-confidence and drive. This is because your strength (healthy aggression) has become disowned along with your anger.

Let’s look at an example:

Donna’s parents were judgmental and shaming whenever she got angry. They gave her the message that she was supposed to be a nice girl and not make waves or be aggressive. As a result, her anger was disowned, and this was enforced by managers who believed her anger was bad. Donna became meek and quiet, and had a hard time asserting herself.

If you have disowned your anger, you may occasionally have angry outbursts, due to the Angry Part breaking through. This anger is usually extreme and inappropriate to the context. You may feel ashamed of these incidents and believe they prove that you have an anger problem. However, the real problem is that your anger has been disowned.

Disowned Anger can come from a protector, an exile, or even a healthy part. When it comes from an exile or a healthy part, the part is just responding in a naturally aggressive way to childhood insults or deprivations. However, this anger can become extreme because it has been disowned. The Angry Part reacts to being disowned by becoming increasingly and irrationally angry.

Working with Disowned Anger

When working with Disowned Anger, your goal is to gain access to the disowned Angry Part and welcome it back into your internal family of parts and into your conscious life, where it can live and express itself. It is helpful to welcome even anger that is extreme, though it shouldn’t be acted out. Witness the part’s anger and encourage it to express the anger in whatever way it wants in a session. This is often a great relief since the anger has been repressed for so long.

When anger is disowned, there is a positive quality that gets disowned along with the anger, which I call the Strength. Strength means healthy aggression, aliveness, personal power, and the ability to assert yourself and establish healthy boundaries. It includes the ability to be firm, take risks, adopt a powerful stance in the world, and feel a zest for life. When our Strength is activated, anger is rarely necessary because we can call on our healthy sense of power, forcefulness, and limit setting to handle these situations. We can be strong and assertive without frightening or harming other people. However, when we exile our anger, we also exile our Strength, not because we intend to but rather because of the way the human psyche operates.

By welcoming back Disowned Anger, we take a step toward reclaiming our Strength. This is especially true if we welcome back the anger in an embodied way that includes feeling the anger fully and perhaps even expressing it. This helps us to embody our Strength and personal power.

This article is an excerpt from Self-Therapy, Vol. 3. It is one of the topics covered in my Advanced IFS Classes.