Collapsing Anger

By Forrest Samnik, LCSW, EFTCert-I, CCH

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Most are familiar with the saying, “Depression is anger turned inward”.   In my opinion, this is an over simplified statement.  Many factors can come into play in the development of depression.  However, unresolved anger should always be explored when a client presents with depression.  Before we discuss how to collapse the anger that may be associated with depression, let’s first take a clinical look at what anger is.

At its roots, anger is an emotional and physiological reaction to one of three things:

1) Pain – Anger as a defensive response to either an emotional or physical injury.

2) Fear – Anger as a protective response to avoid emotionally or physically injury.

3) Frustration – Anger as a reaction to feeling disappointed or defeated at being unable to accomplish one's purpose or goals, or when expectations are not realized.

If we look at the physiological signs of anger – increased heart rate, sweating, clenched jaw or fists, stomach discomfort – we recognize these are also signs of the fight or flight response.  In a nutshell, anger is a signal that tells us something in our environment isn’t right. It can either motivate us to take action to correct that wrong thing. Or, it can protect us from feeling pain or fear by focusing the attention on the person(s) who harmed or is threatening us.  Anger can also hide the reality of finding oneself in a frightening situation that makes us feel vulnerable.

Depression, relating to anger, usually sets in once a person gives up fighting a problem and loses the energy of anger.  This creates the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness – two benchmarks of depression.   

Anger is not well tolerated – socially, culturally, or spiritually – in most civilized societies.  The Judeo-Christian tradition conceptualizes anger as a sin.  I have never had a child answer “good or neither” to the question, “Is anger good or bad?”  Girls are especially acculturated to suppress their anger.  Adults are often heard telling children, “Don’t be mad”.  Rarely are these children guided as to what to do with the energy that arises from the anger response.

It only makes intuitive sense that many people who are experiencing depression often don’t know they are angry.  They have literally been taught to lie to themselves about what they are experiencing.  Of course, the anger doesn’t go away by denying its presence.  It just gets stuffed (repressed).  This can make getting to the root of the anger a bit challenging.

One technique I find particularly useful to uncover anger is a variation of Paul Lynch’s “The Colour of Pain” that I call “Paint the Picture”.  When a depressed client comes into my office not knowing why they are depressed, I guide them through the following exercise:

1)    How do you know you’re depressed?  How does your body signal you?  Where do you feel it?

2)    If you were to paint a picture to illustrate this feeling in your body, what would the painting look like?  Close your eyes and see this painting in your mind’s eye.  Does it take up the full canvas or is it very compact?  What shape(s) or symbol does it take on?  What colors are used?  Can you see through the brush strokes, or are they thick with paint?

3)    What emotion does this painting represent?  Just take a guess, the first thing that comes into your mind.

Anger may not be the emotion that is first identified.  The depressed client will more than likely identify sadness.  Sadness is often more safe to feel than anger.  Whatever emotion the client is accessing, I go with it.  For example: “Even though I feel this thick, red, sharp sadness, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.”

After a few rounds of tapping, I have the client get in tune with their body again and ask if anything has changed.  If so, I ask them to paint a new picture of what the feeling looks like and repeat the process.   This is reminiscent of “chasing the pain” (described in EFT-Beyond the Basics DVD series).  It may take awhile, but it usually takes us where we need to go.  Another option, that I use more frequently now, is to just go with my intuition.  I find that if I’m receiving a message, the client is ready to “go there.”  I might say, “I’m sensing this picture has a lot of angry content.  If you were angry about something or somebody, at what or with who are you angry?”  If they say they don’t know, I say, “Pretend like you did know.”  Giving them time to process this question is critical.  Becoming comfortable with silent pauses is an essential skill to develop.

If there was no change in the original picture, I ask them the first time they remember having this feeling of “thick, red, sharp sadness” in their body.  Now we have a “tapable” event.  The “Tearless Trauma Technique” is a great option at this point.  Depressed people already feel vulnerable; I find it best to reduce as much intensity as possible before having them vividly remember specific events. 

Once the sadness of the event has been reduced, I will ask. “How angry are you that this happened to you?”  Bingo!  The intensity, more times than not, rises quickly back up.  I start with:

 “Even though I’m really angry that _ _ did ___ to me….”

I then take a SUDs level.  But even if the intensity is now at a zero, I ask them, “If there were no consequences to telling this person know how angry you are/were, what would you say to them?”  I then take their words and introduce forgiveness.  For example:

“Even though I’m really angry that you ___ me, and you had no right to do this, I choose to forgive you for this because you don’t deserve my energy anymore.”

The usual response to this is, “Forgive him/her!  I can never forgive him/her.”  Of course, this is the perfect segue to have a discussion about forgiveness.  The next round of tapping goes something like this:

“Even though I refuse to release this anger because I want ________ to have this control over me forever, I deeply and completely love and accept this anger.”  I always smile while saying this.  If the client doesn’t smile back, I continue with a complete round – “I refuse to release the anger; he/she still has control over me”.

If the client smiles back, they get it!  The next round of tapping uses Dr. Carrington’s “Choices” (http://www.emofree.com/articles/choices.htm ).   Here’s an example:

Setup: “Even though I still feel some anger that  _ did ___, I choose to forgive them and release this anger.

Round One: “This __< the offence>__anger”

Round Two: Alternate – “This __< the offence>__ anger”; “I choose forgiveness”

Round Three:  “I choose forgiveness”

It’s now time to check in with the body again.  If the original feeling of depression is still there, I ask them to remember another time they experienced this same feeling.  If a specific event does not emerge, I get them to paint a new picture and start the process again. 

Depression can have multiple layers, and many aspects.  Physical pain, shame, trauma, abuse, and loss can contribute to the symptoms of depression and these conditions should be explored and assessed.  Treating depression with EFT is not going to be a “one minute wonder” but with tenacity and skill, relief can be relatively quick and dramatic.


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Author's Bio:

Forrest Samnik, LCSW, EFTCert-I, CCH, founder of LifeWorks Counseling & Coaching, has dedicated her career to helping people through life's challenges.  A psychotherapist, life coach, and retired Registered Nurse, Forrest has more than 30 years of experience in counseling and medicine.  She has been practicing the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) since 2002 and was one of first practitioners in Florida to receive EFT certification.  Forrest has had phenomenal success treating issues relating to trauma, depression, phobias, panic and stress disorders, low self-esteem, and relationship issues.  She also provides EFT training to other mental health professionals through the Florida Department of Health.

For more information log onto www.LifeWorksWithEFT.com or email Forrest at forrest@LifeWorksWithEFT.com.


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