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Attachment and Anger Part III: Taming the Tiger Within

What if you are caught in a cycle of conflict with the person you love and your bad anger is destroying your bond? How do you tame the terrified tiger inside of you?

Most intimacy anger is rooted in the fear of losing the person we love. And we often have difficulty admitting to ourselves and our soul mate how much we need them.

We all have bad days and occasionally get angry at home. Work throws us a curve. The kids drive us nuts. Our spouse does something to push our buttons.

Life is frustrating and may seem unfair. So having angry feelings from time to-time is not unrealistic. Displaying our anger in the presence of the person we love can be a good thing. It can allow our beloved to have empathy for the struggle we are in.

When anger is displayed appropriately, it has the potential to draw the relationship closer together.

However, we need to avoid bad anger: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. In Attachment and Anger Part II I talked about how these ways of expressing anger are dangerous to relationships.

The bottom line is that we become very afraid, sad, ashamed and hurt when we fear that our love relationship is failing. Many of us get caught in the trap of getting angry when we feel these vulnerable emotions.

Anger is a difficult emotion to empathize with when it is directed toward the relationship. However, being vulnerable enough to express our most painful emotions lets our partner know how much we care about the relationship.

It is true that vulnerability is risky. At the same time, as world-renowned researcher Brene Brown reports, it has been found to be the one variable that separates people with a strong sense of love and belonging from those who are struggling for it.

Learning to acknowledge and express our vulnerable emotions is the golden key to connection. It has a magical effect on the person we love.

If we can stay in vulnerability and out of fight-or-flight expressions of anger, our partner loversusually can’t help but show us love and compassion.

This creates a safe haven for us when we are  struggling emotionally. We will have a strong sense of love and belonging. And this will turn our hiss into a purr.

“Why is vulnerability so hard for me?”

Being vulnerable is difficult when we have a negative, mistrusting view of self or our partner. Shame, which is rooted in a feeling of unworthiness, is often at the root of the negativity.

Since being loving or being loved is our birthright, shame, unlike guilt, is always unhealthy.

Shame vs. Guilt

Guilt is taking responsibility for our mistakes. It is closely related to the concept of remorse.

Shame on the other hand is a false judgment about ourselves. It leaves us feeling trapped. When we feel trapped we are more likely to lash out. Shame is a predictor of violence in relationships.

Learning how to escape the internal spiral of shame is essential if we want to love and be loved. We can’t let love in if we do not feel worthy to be loved. And shame makes it difficult to freely give our love away.

Trauma and Anger

Trauma produces fearful emotional memory that can trigger anger and cause us to withdraw. When we have been emotionally or physically violated our brains are hypersensitive to anything that reminds us of what hurt us. In severe cases, people, places and actions can trigger our painful emotional memories. If the trauma is due to a relationship betrayal, we can suffer for years with feelings of mistrust. Victims of trauma often show their anger when they are feeling extremely afraid.

Insecure Relationships and Anger

Insecure attachment in previous relationships makes it more likely for us to be angry, rather than vulnerable, with the person we love. When we keep our walls up, our partner will eventually shut us out. This will create what therapists call cycles of conflict. And these cycles will likely repeat themselves over and over.

How do we tame the angry tiger inside of us?

  • we stop living in shame
  • we heal traumatic emotional memory
  • we become secure in our current love relationship.

“That’s easy for you to say… where do I begin?”

  • We may need some anger management therapy if we are violent in our relationships.
  • We may need to get the help of therapist who specializes in trauma.
  • We may need specialized treatment if we have a drug, alcohol or sexual addiction.

“I’ve gone through rehab and some therapy…I’m still angry.”

Taming the tiger is about living securely in a loving relationship we can trust.

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) may be the most effective method for learning how to love and trust the person you love. EFT, developed by Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg, helps couples break out of their cycles of conflict. It creates a safe environment for the vulnerable exploration and expression of emotion.

It helps couples to not be afraid of what the other person is feeling. It teaches them to explore each others’ emotions and to have empathy for each others’ hurts. This makes our marriage or love partnership feel like the safest, rather than the scariest, relationship on the planet. And in that safe place, bad anger cannot exist!


The Power of Vulnerability, Brene Brown:

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, Sue Johnson


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