“I don’t mind being the bitch … it gives me boundaries. It protects me from how vulnerable, wrong, and empty I feel inside.”
This was the first session Kate’s focus went inward. Before that, her focus had been on her outer enemies. Kate’s wow—one of many—had me jumping out of my seat that day! It was exciting to be part of her breakthrough.
A protective shield began forming when she was a small child. She didn’t feel cherished the way children should feel. Instead, she felt afraid—afraid of being attacked verbally by her father and shamed by her mother.
“Making the other person bad is my defense mechanism against feeling guilty,” she said.
Mostly, she was afraid of not being loved, afraid of not being even worthy of love.
“You wanna know what’s at the bottom of my anger?” she asked.
“What?” I inquired.
“I’m craving bonding … real connection.”
When Kate’s heart was hurting, she wasn’t comforted. When she yearned to be heard, no one listened.
“At some point I quit trying. I had determined that no one would listen and nothing would ever change.”
It’s a lot easier to be angry than to feel the sadness that accompanies hopelessness. In a strange sort of way, anger soothes the wounded heart.
Not surprisingly, Kate’s current relationships—including her marriage—are continually impacted by her powerful early family environment. For example: “Just like my parents, I go straight to being pissed. I don’t talk things over. Things were never talked over when I was a child.”
Kate reminded me of another client I was seeing, Lindsay, who shared Kate’s inflammatory, angry outbursts. Her motivation was different, but the root cause was identical.
Find her story by clicking here.
Both Kate and Lindsay grew up in homes where they were not heard and felt disconnected from their families, particularly their parents. They coped by adopting anger as a mask—a protective shield.
Ironically, the very thing they have used for protection is the very thing that interferes with their getting what they so desperately crave. In short, anger works against them. It doesn’t cultivate closeness and understanding. In fact, it does the opposite. Kate’s husband can attest to that: “It’s hard for me to be soft with her if she’s angry.”
I applaud Kate for acknowledging her destructive patterns of relating, and for wanting to change. She’s also willing to remove the mask and face her buried pain. And she’s willing to test being vulnerable. All that takes courage!
I’ll walk that path with her. I’ll also be helping her establish healthier boundaries and a more effective substitute for anger . . ., er, bitchiness. 🙂
Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.
(c) Salee Reese 2015