Anger and Disowned Anger in IFS

AngryAnger is an emotion that is problematic for many of us.

With other emotions, the main question is usually whether or not to feel or show the emotion. With anger, the situation is more complicated because anger can be harmful and destructive when acted out.

Therefore, many of us have conflicting attitudes about anger. We live in a violent society, surrounded by examples of the destructive effects of anger, and some of us have been victims of it. Anger and violence are sometimes also celebrated—in war, gangs, sports, and criminal TV shows. Working with anger in therapy is therefore tricky and complex.

It is too easy to just assume that anger is always bad and disown it completely, while it actually has a positive role to play in our lives.

Anger can arise in various ways in IFS work, depending on which part holds the anger, what function the anger serves, and whether the anger is disowned. Each situation requires a different approach.

Protector anger that is acted out in your life needs to be understood so you can heal the exile being protected and the protector can let go. Expressing such anger is usually not a good idea. Instead, it is useful to learn how to express it in a skillful manner that isn’t likely to cause problems.

Suppressed anger needs to worked with in a similar way to anger being acted out, except that you must first work with the protector that is suppressing it.

Exile anger, on the other hand, needs to be welcomed and expressed in sessions in order to fully witness the exile and also as a way of helping the exile feel protected and safe from harm.

Disowned anger also needs to be expressed in sessions as a way of accessing and developing your strength and healthy aggression.

Self-Therapy, Vol. 3This is an excerpt from Self-Therapy Vol 3.