25 [Healing Series] Anger with Pamela Cordano, MFT

Pamela Cordano, MFT and I discuss anger. What is it and why are so many adoptees accused of being “angry adoptees”? We discuss the reasons we have for legitimately being angry. Pamela teaches us about different types of anger and gives us some practical exercises to work on. I find out I’ve been engaging in Spiritual Bypass, and why that is so toxic. Anger is a powerful emotion, let’s harness it to make it work for us, and not against us.

Show Notes

Topics We Discussed


What is Anger?

  • Anger means “I don’t like this”

  • Adoptees have plenty to ‘not like’ about adoption, and therefore plenty for us to be angry about

  • Fear and anger are closely linked; there’s also a lot for adoptees to be afraid of

  • Anger is considered a secondary emotion that follows a primary emotion (like fear, shame, humiliation, sadness, grief)

  • When we change mothers/families it is a trauma to our brains and we go into flight/fight/freeze mode even as an infant. We are in a trauma adjusting to the new family, and our brains are not adjusting the same way as an infant who feels safe. Our brains are literally being wired differently from the very beginning.

  • Startle easily, sleep problems can be caused by this

  • Living in a state of biological and neurological fear

  • Bessel van der Kolk “Trauma is re-experienced in the present”

  • The biggest reason for anger in us has to do with our trauma (that is living in us in a biological and neurological way)

  • We need anger, it’s a necessary emotion with a healthy component

Unpacking different types of anger

  • Connected Anger (talking about your experience, having a conversation and feeling understood) vs Disconnected Anger (rage, not understood, no conversation, one-sided)

  • Grounded Anger (we feel we have our feet on the ground, there’s room for the conversation even if it’s difficult) vs Ungrounded Anger (like disconnected - can fly off the handle! Dangerous when we take our anger to someone who is unsafe)

  • Integrated Anger (we know what we’re mad about, why we’re mad, we have other emotions -sadness, grief, fear- it’s integrated in a larger way inside of us) vs Sideways Anger (addiction, passive-aggressive or indirect)

  • Internal Child Anger (tantrums, chaotic and overwhelming, sometimes there’s no words to describe what we’re feeling) vs Adult Anger (we know we have choices about how we can manage that inner charge)

  • Social Justice Anger (using our anger as fuel for making change, advocacy; important and useful type of anger in society for social justice and equality)

1. Anger at the societal concept of adoption

  • “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour” Viktor Frankl

  • Society believes adoption is a happy fairytale, poor-unwanted-homeless babies are scooped up by loving homes and are loved and sheltered forever

  • Where would you be if your parents hadn’t adopted you?

  • “An abducted child is expected to retain fond memories of, and long for reunification with, their “real” families of birth, and reject the abductor raising them, while adoptees are expected to bond unquestioningly to non-related strangers, and in some cases are expected or encouraged to abandon any thoughts or talk of seeking out their roots.” from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/adoption-and-abduction-legal-differences-emotional_us_588cddb4e4b0de286b2573c6

  • We don’t want to hurt people, but our truth is different than society’s view of adoption. What do we do? It’s very difficult. “If I say what I truly feel about adoption, I’m going to hurt people.”

  • Is social justice anger the antidote to this? #flipthescript, writing, podcasts, make space for our views in ourselves and in the world. We need to come to this from the place of grounded anger not the disconnected rage

2. Anger at the “system” and adoption agencies

  • Adoption as a money-making business, filled with corruption

  • Agencies that prey on mothers-in-crisis

  • Haley hearing first mother accounts of agency scheming have enraged and inflamed a passion for change in this area. These unethical practices are not 60s scoop era, this is happening RIGHT NOW.

  • Anger as an energizing force, heat, movement, life, energy

  • Before anger comes out of the body, it’s not yet assigned a camp - we can decide what to do with the energy and fury. What do we feel called to do? Our adult selves need to come in and make some decisions.

3. Anger towards those who tell us to be grateful, or “I wish I were adopted”

  • Pamela - a profound experience of not being seen for the “whole of me”, feeling alone and isolated because our whole being is not understood by culture and society

  • Pressure to adjust to adoptive family, comply with the new family so you aren’t abandoned twice, to comply and fit into society. We comply or rebel.

4. Anger towards our adoptive parents and first parents

  • Haley shares about being angry at being adopted - yet guilty for feeling angry because it was normal at the time, all parties didn’t know any better (we didn’t know adoption meant trauma, etc.)

  • If we negate our anger, with that kind, adult forgiving perspective, we’re negating our own anger right away and our anger never gets a chance to have its own say.

  • Make a defined space for your anger about a specific issue (in your car, in your room in private) and let it exist and happen. Don’t come in with the “but… they did their best, but… they didn’t know better”.

  • We’re the pioneers inside of ourselves leading the way: unraveling this jumble of trauma, fear, anger and sadness inside of us.

  • The “this, but that” negates those feelings, and then we’re stuck in a bind because we can’t feel this because of that.

  • Have a journal and write with your non-dominant hand (for the adopted child perspective) “I’m so mad, I can’t believe they bought me, do they not care about me at all?, they changed my name, they participated in this, etc.” Let it have its whole say. Then with the dominant hand (for the adult perspective) Respond and listen to yourself, “I hear how angry you are, everything you’re saying is legitimate, you deserve to have your say, you deserve to express yourself, you deserve to finally be listened to”. Make internal space for your anger.

  • Leave the adult compassionate side out of it. It’s not helpful, it will get in the way, there’s a time for that later when healing comes.

  • Spiritual Bypassing: a way of taking the high road before the low road has been fully explored. We should not take the high road until it’s time; until the low road feelings have been acknowledged and dealt with.

  • Pamela believes we can make ourselves literally sick by keeping these feelings inside and never dealing with them.

  • Nelson Mandela (discussed in a book by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu) needed those 27 years in prison to the mature, grounded person who could help run and heal the division in the country. He needed that time for transformation.

  • We can’t just jump to the high road just because it’s nicer and more adult; we have to go through the guts of our own trauma, let it have space and be with ourselves in it. The high road will come on its own, naturally.

  • It’s hard being treated as an extension as someone else’s dream.

  • Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, she realized that she’s not fully in either family. She’s her own person and didn’t belong fully in either place. We don’t have to pick: we can be our own person with our own distinct history. One of Pamela’s clients says “I’m a child of the universe”. This gives the outside world less power over us, less of a feeling that we need to comply.


5. Anger with ourselves

  • One root in shame, what is wrong with us specifically to be given away

  • Why am I so triggerable? Why do things get in the way of my progress that don’t hinder others? Why do my insides not match the outsides of other people? Why can’t I do things well enough? What’s my fatal flaw?

  • Trauma can present like ADD or ADHD; attention can be scattered in a hundred different directions.

  • Why am I not more competent?

  • Becoming a parent: passing the trauma in our history onto our parenting, and that affecting our children.

  • Repeating the same cycle: becoming a first parent, high incidence of abortion and relinquishments by adoptees.

  • Becoming more conscious of our pain/anger/hurt/fear/anxiety/despair/grief will help us to act out less.

  • “Emotion is meant to be acted on” Bessel van der Kolk

  • Our body is organized to take action towards the anger (fight, drawing a line, etc.). When we feel like we have to keep it inside we pay a terrible price. All of our stress hormones, our muscle tension, our heart rate are organizing toward anger and we’re shutting the door towards any action. Then we curl in on ourselves and it makes us sick to do that. Same with sadness and grief - we need to find ways to uncurl and let these out so we don’t pay the price physically and psychologically.

Next steps:

  • Finding a competent therapist

  • Try on the idea that we have a younger part of us (arrested development) that got stuck in different places. We need to make space for the younger parts of us that are stuck, silenced or immobilized. To find ways of expression, mobility and connection to others. The unwinding of our feelings and experiences is what’s healing. We need to connect with ourselves and others. We need to make space for our truest, deepest experiences even if we feel like we’re being outrageous. It’ll be a relief to let some of these things out!

  • Writing with non-dominant hand (as above) for emotional access. The other for logic/linear thinking.