When Anger Is Your Family Legacy

In my last post, we discussed the importance of knowing your anger triggers.  Many triggers can cause us to respond with intense anger, which can be extremely destructive to our relationships. What about the person who learned responses of anger as a part of the core beliefs of his or her family?

Was anger an everyday part of your family’s life?

A legacy of anger impacts future generations

If you learned how to express anger from core beliefs, it usually indicates you grew up in a family where anger was a regular response to a variety of situations. You would probably have permissions and messages (learned or accepted sets of beliefs and behaviors) regarding anger that have been passed from your family to you. As a result, these messages “allow” you to respond to anger in ways similar to how you saw your family respond. In other words, you have a family tradition and legacy of anger.

Transgenerational legacies: our families teach us many things

Legacies within families determine some of our most powerful values. Our families instill values and core beliefs in us that usually stay with us for the rest of our lives. In fact, we become quite loyal to those values and replicate them in our lives and in the family that we establish.

When our family legacies are positive ones, the passing of those legacies from our family to us becomes an asset to us. Conversely, if our family legacies, unfortunately, are negative ones, we pass them on as well.

We often carry out those negative legacies (or beliefs and behaviors) because of our unknowingly extreme loyalty to them. The transgenerational nature of family legacies is a powerful influence in each of our lives whether we are aware of it or not.

We are loyal to our family legacies–even negative ones

If we have learned that excessive anger–yelling, highly emotional expressions and out of control rage–are acceptable, that is, as a family member placed in us as our personal legacies and core beliefs, then we will more likely replicate that kind of anger in ways similar to how we have learned. Moreover, the response becomes an imprint in our brains that we will quickly access if we are triggered by the kinds of situations that also triggered anger for our family members.

Knowing someone’s family legacies can be helpful

Therefore, if you, or someone you know, has experienced intense anger as a child within his family or caregiving environment, then he will tend to repeat the same types of angry responses to the same types of situations in his life. So, you can see that the anger response is much more easily triggered for that individual than for someone who does not have anger as a family legacy.

if it seems that you are unable to deal with your level of anger, then get help from someone you trust

If you, or someone you know, is really struggling with anger, it is important to evaluate and assess how anger may have become a belief and legacy. It is equally important to recognize that learning how to manage anger requires a very intentional process. Further, it is okay to seek professional assistance because it may take a therapist to help him or her sort out all the ways that a legacy of family anger has had an impact (the impact can be significant).

An anger legacy is an anger trigger

In essence, the family legacy of anger can be a trigger for anger. It is a detrimental way we honor our family. Once we realize that we are triggered by our past, we can get better control of our anger. We can acknowledge where it comes from, make choices about our options and put ourselves in a position to take control of this emotion. This intentional process (ACEing) really can help you deal effectively with anger legacies.

Once again, if it seems that you are unable to manage your level of anger, then get help from someone you trust who knows how to work with you to process your anger as well as your historic sense of obligation to re-enact that anger.

Maybe you can be the one who breaks that particular anger legacy within your family. Maybe then, you will have a positive impact on the generations that will follow you. What a great new legacy!

Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Some information taken from Understanding Anger, 2004, Diane Wagenhals.

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