The Wildman In The Cage: Anger In Therapy (James Hillman, 1987)

The following snippet is by James Hillman, appearing in the 1987 volume New Men, New Minds.


I want to say something about anger. The hairy man in the cage has been there a very long time. He is angry. We are all sons of Jacob, not Esau his hairy brother. Civilization looks back to Gilgamesh, the hero, not to Enkidu, his hairy companion who dies. In other words, as Bly says, the wildman is the repressed, and always threatening, and threatening in therapy as anger. What can we do with him?

First of all we have to watch out that our professional style doesn’t keep him out: the modulated voice, the quizzical gaze, the understanding manner. He does not want to be “understood,” because understanding, he feels, always tends to undermine his wants. Mirroring is not enough. To engage him, we have to raise our voices, grunt and growl. As a therapist I have to allow Esau and Enkidu into the armchair. If I repress, what the patient learns in the hour from my role-modeling is my style of repression. If I avoid the wildman, how can the patient be expected to let him in?

Anger. As a son of Mars I easily become angry and the wildman comes into my therapy sessions directly. Handling this anger in front of the patient, our handling it together, letting it walk in, walk by,  walk out — and not explaining it or apologizing for it — this is a “martial art.” It also serves to depotentiate the fear in the patient of his own wildman. It shows him that rage and outrage belong and have a place in human intercourse. And I don’t mean simply his sitting with me through an outburst of Heilige Zorn (that holy rage that fathers were proud to indulge in the German family). Nor do I mean putting him through trial by ordeal. Rather I mean recognizing anger as an impersonal factor in nature, recognizing what it brings with it–not only scorn or senseless tempestuousness, but a strength and warmth, something mineral like iron, like flint. It contributes something proud and noble, and not only mean-spirited viciousness.

Part of developing anger is extending its expression — cursing rather than bitching, sharpening the emotion’s point instead of a general hostile mood, active rather than passive aggression, holding with it (like Jacob wrestling the angel) rather than letting it all fly away.  So long as the anger stays focused only on the parents or the system or on me, the therapist, it has nothing much to do. It stays stuck, and often chained with guilt. By extending the horizon of anger outward, the patient begins to wake up to the state of the world.