When ANGER Breeds Across Generations

Many people who grew up experiencing adversities in childhood believe the LIE that ANGER gives us control, when, in fact, it is the exact opposite – it leads to loss of control. Here, I want to share part of the story of Jeremy – a young man who began his life believing this LIE. He inherited violence and anger from his father, who in turn inherited them from his father. Jeremy did eventually learn to move beyond his past and become a happier, more fulfilled person – but it was a long journey.

All his pent up resentment was channeled into emotional cruelty and physical abuse against his family

Jeremy’s grandfather was a highly intelligent man. According to Alabama state tests, he was a bona fide genius. But in those days, there weren’t many opportunities for black men – even for a brilliant one – and all his pent up frustration and resentment were channeled into emotional cruelty and physical abuse against his family.

Jeremy’s father, Walter, a Vietnam vet, was also a highly intelligent man who could not seem to make his way in life. He felt held back from the rewards and recognition to which he felt entitled. Jeremy can remember him primarily in a perpetual state of anger that would regularly erupt into verbal or physical abuse.

“My father was kind of a victim and he blamed everyone for everything”

“My father was kind of a victim and he blamed everyone for everything,” Jeremy says. “Even if he was just having a bad day, I or my mother would be the cause of it. He would spend more time being critical of others than focusing on himself.”

As a physically underdeveloped four-year-old experiencing adversity, Jeremy did not understand that his father felt out of control because he had very low self-esteem. He was unaware of the generations-long cycle of growing up with domestic violence, exacerbated by racial prejudice and poverty.

quote-4Jeremy wasn’t the direct recipient of physical violence

Eventually, Jeremy’s awareness of his father’s struggles would show him the pathway out of ANGER and towards PASSION for the things that mattered most, leading him to a happier, more accomplished and fulfilled life. As a child, however, he acutely felt his mother’s suffering. Jeremy wasn’t the direct recipient of physical violence, but there was plenty of screaming and verbal abuse. What hurt and angered him most was feeling helpless to protect his mother. He keenly felt every kick, punch, and shove she experienced.

“Literally take on the feelings of others”

Such channeling of anger can often occur because children are naturally empathetic and tend to “literally take on the feelings of others,” as psychology professor Alison Gopnik explains in her book, The Philosophical Baby. Children respond strongly to what they see, due to the activation of mirror neurons. Later in life, when they learn to understand what exactly happened and accept that anger is a choice, they can learn to heal.

Can you relate to Jeremy’s childhood? Did you ever witness someone you love in your household being hurt by another when you were a child? Did you experience their physical or emotional pain as your own? I encourage you to share in the comments below.

A detailed overview of the ANGER LIE can be found in CHAPTER 5 (“Angry to Passionate”) of INVINCIBLE: The 10 Lies You Learn Growing Up With Domestic Violence and the Truths to Set You Free.

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