The anger metamorphosis is an insidious process that develops over years. Fortunately, there are many opportunities along the way that can alert us that this process is underway. This is important to remember because the process can be reversed – more easily at the beginning. The anger metamorphosis leads to what I call legacies of mishandled anger that include many of the common psychiatric problems of the childhood and teenage years.
Anger metamorphosis starts after healthy anger, a normal, warm, healthy communicative feeling has been repeatedly mishandled by important people in a child’s environment. It is the long-term mishandling that initiates this anger process and not the occasional mishandling that happens in normal households from time to time.
The anger metamorphosis consists of five stages:
Stage 1: A child will exhibit heightened signs of anger or exaggerated expressions of normal anger.
Stage 2: A child will begin to try and curtail or hide their anger. This is an attempt to control the anger.
Stage 3: Since direct anger has not gotten the right response the child now tries other behaviors. Some examples of the behaviors include trying extra hard to please, becoming cunningly manipulative, or silently complying with whatever a parent asks. In this stage, you begin to see early signs of a more serious psychiatric disturbance.
Stage 4: The child will begin to bury the anger by repressing it. Repression is a way of dealing with feelings that are considered dangerous or unacceptable. These dangerous or unacceptable feelings actually are banished from the conscious awareness. This doesn’t mean that the feelings no longer exist. They continue to lead an active subterranean life, affecting the child in all sorts of ways, even know they are beyond awareness.
Stage 5: The final stage sees the transition of the original anger – appropriate, natural communicative – that the child has controlled, repressed, and externalized become fuel for anxiety, hostility, rage and eventually the production of psychiatric symptoms and pathological character traits.
Sadly, the end products of the anger metamorphosis bear no resemblance to the original anger. A healthy anger that is constructive, doesn’t leave scars, is transient and enhances a child’s relations with other. Understanding anger is an important part of parenting. I encourage parents who have questions about their child’s anger to contact their pediatrician or a specialist in child behavior. I am happy to field your questions, too. Details about normal anger and its metamorphosis can be found in my first book, When Kids are Mad Not Bad. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription. Dr. Paul does not assume any responsibility or risk for the use of any information contained within this blog.