Codependents have problems with anger. They have a lot of it for good reason, and they don’t know how to express it effectively. They’re frequently in relationships with people who contribute less that they do, who break promises and commitments, violate their boundaries, or disappointment or betray them. They may feel trapped, burdened with relationships woes, responsibility for children, or with financial troubles. Many don’t see a way out yet still love their partner or feel too guilty to leave.
Codependency Causes Anger and Resentment
Codependent symptoms of denial denial, dependency, lack of boundaries, and dysfunctional communication produce anger. We become angry and resentful, because we:
1. Expect other people to make us happy, and they don’t.
2. Agree to things we don’t want to.
3. Have undisclosed expectations of other people.
4. Fear confrontation.
5. Deny or devalue our needs and thus don’t get them met.
6. Try to control people and things, over which we have no authority.
7. Ask for things in non-assertive, counterproductive ways; i.e., hinting, blaming, nagging, accusing.
8. Don’t set boundaries to stop abuse or behavior we don’t want.
9. Deny reality, and therefore,
a. Trust and rely on people proven to be untrustworthy and unreliable.
b. Want people to meet our needs who have shown that they won’t or can’t.
c. Despite the facts and repeated disappointments, maintain hope and try to change others.
d. Stay in relationships although we continue to be disappointed or abused.
When we can’t manage anger, it can overwhelm us. How we react is influenced by our innate temperament and early family environment. Some people explode, criticize, blame, or say hurtful things they later regret. Others hold it in and say nothing in. They please or withdraw to avoid conflict, but stockpile resentments. Yet anger always finds a way. Codependency can lead to being passive-aggressive, where anger comes out indirectly with sarcasm, grumpiness, irritability, silence, or through behavior, such as cold looks, slamming doors, forgetting, withholding, being late, even cheating.
If we’re in denial of our anger, we don’t allow ourselves to feel it or even mentally acknowledge it. We may not realize we’re angry for days, weeks, years after an event. All of these difficulties with anger are due to poor role models growing up. If one or both parents are aggressive or passive, we would copy one or the other parent. If we’re taught not to raise our voice, told not to feel angry, or were scolded for expressing it, we learned to suppress it. Some of us fear we’ll turn into the aggressive parent we grew up with. Many people believe it’s not Christian, nice, or spiritual to be angry and they feel guilty when they are.
The truth is that anger is a normal, healthy reaction when our needs aren’t met, our boundaries are violated, or our trust is broken. Anger has to move. Unexpressed anger breeds resentment or gets turned against ourselves. Anger requires expression and sometimes action to correct a wrong. It needn’t be loud or hurtful. Most codependents are afraid their anger will hurt or even destroy someone they love. But correctly handled, it can improve a relationship.
Expressing Anger Effectively
Managing our anger is essential to success in work and relationships. The first step is recognizing how it manifests in our body. Identify the physical signs of anger, usually tension and/or heat. Slow your breath and bring it into your belly to calm you. Take time out to cool-off.
Repeating gripes or arguments in our mind is a sign of resentment or “re-sent” anger. Admitting we’re angry, followed by acceptance, prepares us for a constructive response. Anger may signal deeper feelings or hidden pain, unmet needs, or that action is required. Sometimes, resentment is fueled by unresolved guilt.
Understanding our reaction to anger includes discovering our beliefs and attitudes about it, what influenced their formation, and what triggers our anger. If we frequently over-react and view others’ actions as hurtful, it’s a sign of shaky self-worth. When we raise our self-esteem and heal internalized shame, we won’t over-react, but can to respond to anger in an assertive manner.
Finally, forgiveness doesn’t mean we condone or accept bad behavior. It means that we’ve let go of our anger and resentment.
Working with a counselor is an effective way to learn to manage anger and communicate it effectively. For more information and suggestions, see my monthly blogs (see below for links).