This is a question and answer page where Codependency therapist/Spiritual teacher/author of Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls, shares his experience, strength, and hope by posting the questions he receives by e-mail and the responses which he sends back.  This page covers  - About Anger, the disease minimizes, Intimacy and Anger, Being Angry at God, loneliness, anger vs rage, Zipidee Do Dah

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The Web Site of Robert Burney and Joy to You & Me Enterprises.

Robert Burney is a codependence therapist, Spiritual teacher, and the author of the Joyously inspirational book

Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls.

This is a question and answer page where Robert shares his experience, strength, and hope by posting (anonymously) the questions he receives by e-mail and the responses which he sends back.   If you have reached this page without coming through the web site, you might want to first explore the web sit by going to the Joy to You & Me Home Page so that you can understand the context within which these questions are asked and answered.

Angry from Jersey wrote:

i am having problems coping. my home, my family, my job. i am so angry all the time. sometimes i feel like the anger is running my life. i have a beautiful 3 year old daughter, i don't want her to grow up with all this anger.  my father when i was growing up, knew all the buttons to push. i know thats where the anger comes from, but i can't make it go away

Sorry it took me a couple of days to answer but things have been pretty hectic. Part of the reason that you have so much anger is probably because it was not safe to be emotionally vulnerable, to cry or express fear, when you were a kid - so you learned to use your anger like a shield.  It has helped protect you - it is not bad or wrong or shameful, it is however dysfunctional in your life now because it is out of balance.  One of the things that is going to be a very important part of finding some balance is to find some safe places/people that you can start to learn to be vulnerable with.  A counseling setting or group where it is OK to get emotional - to do some anger work (beat on pillows, yell and scream, etc.) would really help because when you start releasing the anger that way it can open you up to the pain underneath the anger so that you can start crying/doing the grief work.  Some Twelve Step meetings would probably help - Co-Dependents Anonymours or Adult Children of Alcoholics (not just for people from alcoholic families) - it is important to find some other people in recovery who will support you and help you learn that it is ok to be vulnerable with safe people.

It is important to stop judging and shaming your self for your anger - You can't "make it go away" - what is important is to change your relationship with it so that you are not fighting it - learning to detach from yourself and observe your self is a big, major help.  I talk about how to do that on my Learning to Love your self page.


Response from Angry in Jersey

Thank you for taking the time to answer my little distress call.  I honestly did not expect an answer.

There are no little distress calls.  One of the things the disease does in trying to control the feelings is minimize - tell us that we should quit “whining” or “we are being too sensitive” or we’ve got food on the table and a roof over our head so we should quit “complaining.” or whatever.  When I first went into codependence recovery I was going to Adult Child meetings and did not share for a very long time because “all those people had it so much worse than I did.”  My disease told me that I didn’t have any reason to be feeling what I did, that the feelings were wrong or bad, that it was my fault, that something was wrong with me, that I should feel lucky I wasn’t starving in China or someplace, - all that kind of stuff.  It was very important for me to own my pain and anger and to honor them by realizing that they came from someplace - the feelings were not a figment of my imagination or something.  It is a tragedy how many people in this world are walking around in great pain with no permission to acknowledge it .

It is nice to know that I'm not the only one feeling these feelings.

One of the first steps to learning to Love our self is realizing that we are not alone.  That what we are feeling is normal and natural given where we came from.  One way or another (either because our parents gave us the message directly and through role modeling or because we were ashamed of their behavior) we all got the message that we should “keep up appearances.”  Not let anyone know what we are feeling inside - because there was something shameful about us.  So we learned to wear a mask and hide inside of ourselves - and then we looked at other people and said “they are happy what’s wrong with me?” - never realizing that we were looking at their masks.

I always thought that i was just a little crazy. at least that is what my boyfriend tells me, when a small discussion turns into me screaming, pretty much uncontrolably. which is how i get when i don't think he wants to understand my feelings.

It is natural and normal to get angry when you feel that you are not being seen or heard or understood - that is what happened to you as a kid.  We learn to pick people who will repeat our patterns for us - reinforce our fear that we are crazy by telling us we are crazy - or stupid or fat or a loser or whatever.  Here is a quote from my book about that:

In our disease defense system we build up huge walls to protect ourselves and then - as soon as we meet someone who will help us to repeat our patterns of abuse, abandonment, betrayal, and/or deprivation - we lower the drawbridge and invite them in.  We, in our Codependence, have radar systems which cause us to be attracted to, and attract to us, the people, who for us personally, are exactly the most untrustworthy (or unavailable or smothering or abusive or whatever we need to repeat our patterns) individuals - exactly the ones who will “push our buttons.”

This happens because those people feel familiar.  Unfortunately in childhood the people whom we trusted the most were the most familiar - hurt us the most.  So the effect is that we keep repeating our patterns and being given the reminder that it is not safe to trust ourselves or other people

Once we begin healing we can see that the Truth is that it is not safe to trust as long as we are reacting out of the emotional wounds and attitudes of our childhoods.  Once we start Recovering, then we can begin to see that on a Spiritual level these repeating behavior patterns are opportunities to heal the childhood wounds.

Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney
So this is a wonderful opportunity for growth and your boyfriend is a perfect teacher to help you understand where your wounds came from and that you deserve to be treated better than that - hopefully he will be willing to learn and grow also as you do.

but i guess i have to learn to understand them myself.

I used to be almost obsessive with trying to get people (the ones I cared about) to understand me - it was because I didn’t understand myself.

i promise that i will find someone who can help me deal with the anger. right now as i type this i,m just letting the tears roll. it feels good.  thanks once again.

I am happy for your tears because that means you are on the road to recovery.


A person on a mailing list I belong to shared this story - my response to it is below, and a further response about anger is below that. (In between is something about intimacy I am adding now.)

 The Fence
    There was a little boy with a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, to hammer a nail in the back fence.  The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence.  Then it gradually dwindled down.  He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all.  He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.  The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.  The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, "You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence.  The fence will never be the same.  When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one.  You can put a knife in a man and draw it out.  It won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound is still there.  A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one.

I am afraid that I don't like your story about anger very much.  It reinforces the old tape about anger being bad - one of the deadly sins.  What I believe is there is no such thing as a "negative" emotion - it is our reaction to our emotions that gives them value.  Anger can be a very positive emotion - it is almost impossible for someone who has no permission to be angry to set boundaries.  We all had our relationship with our own emotional process twisted and distorted in childhood - some don't have permission to feel anything, for some anger is ok but crying is not, for some crying is ok and anger is not. It is very important to own all of our feelings - in balance and with internal boundaries so that we express them appropriately, but important to own them all.  Until we own our right to be angry about what happened to us as children we cannot really own that wounded little kid/kids inside.  "Holding our temper" can be just another way of stuffing the feelings. I believe that depression is anger turned inward and that the only way to really start healing the depression is to vent the anger outward.  It is best if we can do it in a healthy way - beating on pillows, screaming in the car, chopping wood, pounding nails, what ever, but it is absolutely life threatening to hold that anger inside.

I know that for me, owning my anger has been a very vital part of healing.


Intimacy and Anger

I also want to add here that one of the damaging concepts that I was taught as a child is that you can not be angry at someone you love.  My mother once in my recovery said to me directly "I can't be angry at you, I love you." (That she has lived for 50 years with a man whose only emotion is anger, who raged all the time, makes a very sad statement about her lack of self worth.)

If you cannot be angry at someone you cannot be emotionally intimate with that person.

Any friend who I cannot get angry at (or vise versa) and then at some later point communicate with and work through whatever issue is up - is not really a friend.  It was very important for me to learn how to fight in a romantic intimate relationship (I have some ages of my inner child that thought that if I stood up for my self she would go away.)  It is important to learn to fight "fair" (that is, not say those really hurtful things that can't be taken back - those kind of things are the "holes in the fence post" types of wounds.  I found that I could stand up for myself and fight fair even when the other person did not fight fair.) But unless we can express our anger -  as well as our hurt, fear, and sadness - to another person we can not be emotionally intimate with them.

It can be wonderfully magical in a relationship when both people are in recovery working on healing their childhood wounds.  An argument over one of the stupid, seemingly meaningless things that couples often argue about can turn into a mutual grieving session - talk about powerful intimacy.  Example: A fight starts, angry words are exchanged, then (sometimes at the time one of the people can say “How old are your feeling right now?” or  sometimes after time has passed, sometimes after a “time out” that is structured into the relationship) one of the individuals says “ I feel about 7.” “What happened when you were 7?” etc. - and you can end up figuring out that the tone of voice one person used pushed a button about how Mom used to talk to them in a way that made them feel stupid - and when the first person reacted to that it pushed a button for the other person about how Dad used to do whatever.  And you both get to cry for the ways you were abused or discounted or invalidated.

It is very important to remember that the Universe works on the principle of cause and effect - our reactions do not come our of the blue, they have a cause.  What we are trying to learn to do is stop reacting to the now out of the past.  We can do that by tracking down the cause instead of getting all tied up in the symptom (whatever started the argument.)  It is dysfunctional to react to the now out of the past because our reaction is only a little bit about what is happening now.


Being Angry at God

This also (being angry and being intimate) applies to our relationship with our Creator, with God or The Goddess or The Great Spirit.  It was absolutely vital to me to own my anger at the God I was taught about growing up - I had a huge amount of rage stored up at that judgmental god.  But it is also vital for me to own my anger at the God-Force I believe in now. Even though I know in the deepest part of my being that I am Loved Unconditionally and that everything is unfolding perfectly according to a Loving Divine plan - I don’t always like the details of that plan.  It is very painful and scary down here doing this human dance sometimes, and it is very important to own our right to be angry about how it feels.  In my book I mention that in my perception my Higher Power often works real slow and that there are some days that I choose to call my HP “fucking asshole.”  I often rage at my Higher Power when things are not going the way I think they need to go - it is important for me to vent that anger.  If I don’t vent that anger at my Higher Power (or at the disease which my HP allowed to develop) then I end up either turning it back in on myself or wanting to blame someone else.  In order to stop blaming my self (and feeling like a victim of my imperfection) or someone else, I need to be able to vent that anger someplace - and my Higher Power can handle it.  I was once at a friends house and we were watching her cat do “cat sculptures” - looking cute and adorable - and I had this insight that the way I was looking at the cat was the way my Higher Power looks at me when I am raging at him (whenever I am angry at God I think of God as being masculine - has to do with “god the father” I grew up with and father I grew up with.)  “Oh look, Robert is raging at me again - isn’t that cute - he is doing human so well.”

I did not have an intimate, personal relationship with my Higher Power until I started to own my anger at God.  My Higher Power is now someone who I have a very personal intimate relationship with because I express my feelings to my Higher Power all day long.  (I sometimes call my Higher Self “Bubba” - which has to do with my Magical, Mystical, Spiritual Fable - The Dance of Wounded Souls Trilogy - where my Higher Self appears to me in various forms and calls me “Bucko” - which irritated me so I retaliated with "Bubba."  It is now a term of endearment for me.  I will, as I am going through the day say things like, “Beautiful ocean there Bubba.” or “Great Sunset Bubba” or “You do good work Bubba” or “Screw you Bubba” or whatever.  There is a preview with the first 3 chapters of The Dance of Wounded Souls Trilogy on my web site.)

I am never alone now.  I may feel lonely for human interaction - but the level of loneliness that felt like a hole in my soul is not here any more.  That "endless, aching need" was about feeling separate from the Source.  It started going away when I started to be emotionally intimate with my Higher Power by owning my anger - and my right to feel angry - about how painful and scary this human experience sometimes feels.

And because I did a lot of positive affirmations (I am a Spiritual Being full of Light and Love, etc.) at the times when I least believed them I now have a place of Knowing deep in my heart - so that even when it feels like I have been abandoned and betrayed by God (and it feels like that quite regularly) I Know that is not the Truth.  I Know that I am not alone.  (If we really believed the positive affirmations we wouldn’t have to say them - it is when we least believe them that we most need to say them.  An article I wrote about Positive Affirmations is one of my online columns.


 Further response about anger

As far as the anger thing - of course what we are seeking is a balance.  Each of us needs to find our own balance - an example I use sometimes is that if we were compulsively clean then getting a little messy is a sign of recovery, while if we were really messy then getting a little cleaner is a sign of being in recovery. In other words, If we never had permission to express anger then it is vital to start owning our anger  - if anger was all we expressed then we need to learn to "hold our temper."

I grew up with a father who is an emotional cripple (still is for that matter) who had no permission from his belief system to have any feeling except anger.  He raged at us and it wounded me very grievously - but at the same time he was my role model for what a man is and subconsciously I believed that it was not ok to cry or be scared or hurt.  And my mother taught me that it wasn't ok to be angry at her.  So my emotional range consisted of - it is ok to be mad at men.  If I hadn't started drinking I think I would have killed myself before I was 21 because I had no permission to be human.  Alcohol gave me permission to be human.  Then later I got into acting and I think that really helped save me - because my characters could have feelings even if I couldn't.

When I got into recovery I had to start admitting how afraid and hurt etc that I was - but my programming was all set up to only feel anger - so what I had to do is every time I got angry stop and ask myself what is underneath this - am I scared, hurt, sad, what?  After a couple of years in recovery doing that I realized that I had swung to the other end of the spectrum and was no longer owning my anger - so I had to then work on learning how to own it in healthy ways.

The first long term relationship (for me 2 years was very long term because of my particular terror of intimacy) I got into in recovery I realized that for me to set boundaries or get angry in an intimate relationship felt to my inner child like I was being a perpetrator - which was the thing (being like my father) that I had hated so much and vowed I would never be - so I had to learn to let my inner child know that it was ok to say no and have boundaries in an intimate relationship and that it didn't mean I was being a perpetrator.

I believe that it is very important to own the full range of our emotional spectrum - I think that being alive means that we can feel all of the feelings in an hour let alone in a day (I think that was the thing that bothered me about the Fence story was that the boy went weeks without being angry which sounded unhealthy to me.)  The feelings are supposed to flow but they are not supposed to flow indiscriminately - I have run into people in recovery who were abusive in the name of being emotionally honest -that is not ok either.  The goal is to be able to not be the victim of our own feelings and also not to vicitimize others with them.

When I talk about how important it is to feel and release the anger I do not mean that we need to release it at someone.  It can be very dysfunctional to express our anger in ways that don't work (like maybe to the boss or to a family member who is still real sick and will use it against us).  So it is important to do some anger work but not necessarily to the person we are angry at - we can beat on some pillows or what ever - but it is important for our own health to release it somehow.

Raging at someone is very different from expressing anger - a lot of us couldn't own our anger because we were so scared of our own rage, or of other people's rage.  Anger and rage are very different (I think of rage as anger that has been fermented in shame for many years).  It is not ok to rage at someone else - although  when we are learning how to express feelings sometimes we go overboard - that is human and a normal part of the process, and what amends are for. (We can make amends for how we expressed ourselves (name calling, or yelling, etc.) - we do not ever have to apologize for the feelings themselves - we have a right to all of our feelings.)

What was so valuable to me was to realize that any intense emotional response I had was coming from old wounds.  That is that rage, terror, panic, want to die pain, helplessness/hopelessness, etc. is coming form the inner children not the adult.  I think that when I have a really strong reaction, a lot of energy attached, when one of my buttons is pushed, that maybe 20% of it is about what is happening now and the rest is a reaction to old wounds.  So I need to learn how to not deny the 20% out of my fear of overreacting and also to not blast the person with the 80% that doesn't have to do with them.  It is a tightrope act - a delicate balancing act - and it is impossible for me to do perfectly.

That is why it is so important to remember that recovery is not self-help - we don't have to do this alone, or figure it all out.  Our Spirit is guiding us - we have a Higher Power, a God/Goddess/Great Spirit who Loves us Unconditionally.  We are not being tested for worthiness - we are simply in boarding school learning some lessons - and we are going to get to go homeare going to get to go home. - we don't have to earn it - that is what Unconditional Love is all about.

We have a whole family of dysfunctional relationships inside of ourselves - with different ages of out inner child, with our own minds, emotions, spirit, and body, with our gender and sexuality, etc.   I believe we need to work on each of those relationships.  We need to change our relationship with our own emotional process, to change our programming - so that we can embrace our emotions and not let them run our lives.  Just like we need to embrace our inner children and stop them from running our lives.

This is a long involved journey we are on and that the most important thing is to be kind and gentle with ourselves and our inner children.  I heard Claudia Black say one time that if you are walking with a young kid - 3 or 4 or something - whose pace do you walk at?  Do you drag the kid along at the adults pace or walk at the childs pace.  Her point was about how often in recovery we think we "should" be moving real fast and that, in effect, what we are doing at that time is dragging the child.  It was a reminder to be patient and gentle with ourselves.

We aren't in control and we are going to get to go home - so it is okay to relax and enjoy it more - that is obviously what I need to remind myself of today - guess I have been taking it all too seriously again.  I need to remember the slogan that my Higher Self gave to me some years ago to help me lighten up - Don't worry, be silly.  One of the payoffs for owning the wounded children inside is that we get to be more connected to the playful, spontaneous, creative Spiritual child within.  One of the assignments I give to people I work with is to try to skip at least once a day.  Skipping gets me in touch with the playful happy child within - I find it impossible to be in a trauma drama when I am skipping.  One of the things I tell people to do is skip and sing "zipidee do dah" at the same time and see if that doesn't change their energy.  In the inner child healing groups I do, one of the closing prayers for the group is to do the Hokey Pokey.

We are Unconditionally Loved - we don’t earn it.

So, Zipidee Do Dah to you all,

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Except where quotes are cited this material is copyright by Robert Burney 1998.  Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney is Copyright 1995.