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Angry? or Afraid?

An article on the etiology of anger.
Written by Barbara Power, LCDC.

Do you ever feel angry? How do you show your anger? Do you pout, sulk, yell, scream, threaten, name call, hit, get even, or stuff your anger and not let anyone know? Does your anger ever get out of control? Who is to blame for your anger?

Anger is perhaps the most misunderstood of human emotions, partly because we are taught that someone or something makes us angry. But what if anger is really an emotional response to being afraid? Consider this definition: anger is a reaction to the fear of losing something or someone, or of not receiving something wanted or expected.

To truly comprehend this concept, fear must first be understood as an instinctive reaction to danger. When frightened, the body releases adrenalin causing the heart to beat faster, muscles to tense, and the bodys temperature to rise, creating a rush of energy that prepares a person to fight, or to run from whatever danger threatens. This adrenalin rush can provide a frightened individual with the ability to rescue self and/or others from danger by performing feats of strength, speed, and courage well beyond normal abilities.

But what happens when the body is prepared, and there is nothing to fight or to run from? What happens when the fear is not from a physical threat, but the danger of being treated unfairly, of being belittled, of failing, of a loved one leaving or dying, of disappointment, of being denied something that is needed, or of being controlled by something or someone.

When physical, mental, and emotional energy created by fear is not utilized, it is converted to anger. And this natural angry energy will always find release, either positively or negatively. Angry people express themselves in whatever behavior they have learned will protect them from the thing they fear. Humans have learned numerous methods for releasing anger, ranging from suppression (expressed as depression) to minor irritability to verbal expression to physical action to violence.

To understand anger and its many responses, one must realize that individuals react differently to similar (or even the same) situations. What one individual perceives as a threat may have absolutely no meaning to someone else. Being called a derogatory name can be ignored by some, while others perceive it as threat to their pride, their abilities, or their territory, and therefore something to fear and to defend. In the same way, having to stop at every red light in town may seem trivial to some, but for others, it can be an excuse to go postal. As long as external forces are perceived as the cause of anger, any response can be justified. Recognizing that anger is based in fear is an important first step toward gaining control of this intense and often overpowering emotion.

Individuals must accept responsibility for their personal thoughts and behaviors, and while thoughts are not punished, negative thoughts ultimately lead to unacceptable behavior. When fear, disguised as anger, creates undesirable consequences, then new responses to the fear/anger must be learned. This solution sounds simple, but learning to manage anger is an extremely difficult undertaking.

Since anger is a normal reaction to a threatening situation, every human experiences it and must learn the skills necessary to express it appropriately. These skills are easiest learned as children, but unfortunately many people do not have that opportunity. So, as adults, they must unlearn their old responses in order to replace them with behaviors that will create positive results.

Not surprisingly, there is resistance to this process, and for several reasons, including the source of anger in the first placefear. To admit to an anger problem is to admit fallibility, often perceived as weakness, and many people are afraid to admit weakness, believing that it makes them vulnerable. Simply accepting that all humans, self included, are fallible can relieve much of the fear that fuels anger.

Another reason people stay angry is for the physical and emotional rush that anger produces. Anger gives the illusion of power and control, of being untouchable, therefore safe from hurt and pain. Anger justifies the thoughts, feelings, and actions it uses to express itself, even when those actions hurt innocents. Anger protects from uncomfortable feelings and situations and provides a means to achieve whatever is desired. Anger can become addictive, so that a person actually craves the rush, and the feeling of power and control.

For some individuals, it is simply easier to remain angry. Learning to manage anger is hard work, requiring an honest and determined desire for change and a willingness to keep trying no matter what. Practicing new responses to fearful situations demands self-discipline and self-control and often these skills must be learned in conjunction with the anger management process. These changes do not happen quickly, but the battle can be won and the rewards are worth the struggle.

Managing Anger
1. Identify that you are angry. Anger is normal, everyone experiences.

2. Accept responsibility for your anger. Something else may have triggered it, but the anger is yours and what you do with it, is your choice.

3. Learn ways to discharge the angry energy.

a. Choose an image, word or phrase that interrupts the angry thoughts. Example: Think of the angriest, meanest person you know and picture yourself acting like thatwhich you probably will be if you dont control your anger.

b. Separate yourself from the present situation, physically if possible, but always emotionally. Counting to ten or counting backwards from one hundred can help. Imagining yourself as an observer, instead of a participant, helps put the situation into perspective. Remember that anger is based in fear; as an observer, nothing in the situation personally threatens you.

c. Stay calm. Stay calm. Stay calm. Anger escalates anger. If you threaten me, I will need to defend myself, then I become a threat to you, and since we are both in danger, neither can back down. A soft answer really does turn away wrath (Proverbs 15:1).

d. Sometimes anger will dissipate quickly, but often it lingers like embers in a fire, ready to flare up at the slightest provocation. Talking about the situation may help if you focus on yourself. Badmouthing, blaming, and justifying will only make you angrier. Laughter dissipates anger; so does positive physical exercise. Keep in mind that negative energy creates negative energy, so abusing something or someone is not usually beneficial to your overall program.

e. The final step is forgiveness. Forgive yourself, forgive others, forgive God, forgive the universe. It isnt easy, but if your goal is true peace of mind, true control of your anger and your life, it is necessary. Anything you fear has the power to make you angry. Hate and bitterness are remembrances of past wrongs enhanced by the fear that they will happen again. Think good thoughts about people and the world and there will be no room in your heart or mind for anger.

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