The Many Faces of Anger

Anger is the most misunderstood of all the human emotions. We tend to think of anger as basically distasteful and abhorrent — something that we would rather not experience. Actually, I believe that anger is an expression of the self. It is a protection of one’s boundaries. When a young child says, “NO!” in a loud voice, mobilizing all of the energy she has to express a dislike for something that offends her in some way, she is not angry as we have come to know it, she is expressing her very self. She must use a loud voice because she desperately wants to be heard. Her “no” comes from the core of her being. Since the child does not have the cognitive ability, the language, nor the diplomacy to express profound, basic feelings in pleasing ways she is perceived as angry.

The child soon learns that this kind of expression is unacceptable-that he may,

if he continues to express the self in this vein, be in danger of abandonment. Since his survival depends on the adults in his life, he will make determinations about how to be in the world to insure that his needs are met. The child’s self becomes diminished due to lack of expression, and his deep- felt feelings become buried somewhere inside of him.

Since the child’s major developmental task is to grow up, a paradox takes form. As the child strives to flourish and thrive in her confusing world by calculating how to avoid her parents’ disapproval and wrath, her organism struggles to achieve equilibrium and health. And so the expression of anger, this expression of self that has been frustrated and thwarted, pushes on to become something else- something beyond the child’s awareness and control. One child may retroflect the anger energy by giving herself headaches, stomachaches, generally withdrawing, not speaking, or manifesting other self-inflicting symptoms. Another child will deflect the true feelings by hitting, kicking, striking out.

Some children become hyperactive as a way to avoid feeling anything. Others anesthetize themselves and “space out.” These are only a few of the behaviors and symptoms that mask fearful authentic expressions. These behaviors and symptoms are actually the child’s fierce attempts to cope and survive in this stressful world. These inappropriate and unsatisfactory behaviors and symptoms are the many faces of anger.

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Violet Oaklander, PhD.

Violet Oaklander was the author of the books Windows to Our Children: a Gestalt Therapy Approach to Children and Adolescents (now in 17 languages), and Hidden Treasure: A Map to the Child’s Inner Self (now in 7 languages), as well as several journal articles, book chapters, and audio and video recordings on psychotherapeutic work with children. She earned a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, a Master of Arts in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling, a Master of Science in Special Education with emotionally disturbed children, and is a certified Gestalt Therapist.

Dr. Oaklander’s unique approach to working with children, which combines Gestalt Therapy theory, philosophy, and practice with a variety of expressive techniques, has won international recognition. She recieved a lifetime achievement award from the Association of Play Therapy, U.S. as well as numerous other awards for her contribution to the mental health field. In February of 2012 she was honored and awarded by the Edna Reiss-Sophie Greenberg Chair at the Reiss-Davis Child Study Center in Los Angeles.

Dr. Oaklander traveled extensively in the United States as well as throughout the world giving training seminars on her approach to working with children and adolescent. For 27 years she conducted a highly successful two-week training program drawing people to California from all over the world. In addition, she was a regular instructor for many years with the extension programs of the University of California campuses in Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and San Diego, and the Pacifica Graduate Institute.

Dr. Oaklander grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and lived in Miami; New York City; Denver; Albany; and Long Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Santa Barbara, California. After 21 years in Santa Barbara, Dr. Oaklander moved to Los Angeles to live near her son and daughter-in-law in her retirement. She was married for 26 years to Harold Oaklander, a licensed social worker and Gestalt therapist (deceased). Together, they had three children: Mha Atma S. Khalsa (Arthur), Michael (deceased), and Sara.