The Connection Between Anger and Fear
Anger is not a pretty thing, it's black as a night when no robins sing. It robs one of sleep and happiness, it leaves in its wake only deeds that oppress. Anger is hurt that sinks down deep; a wound left open, talk that is cheap. It makes one suffer and sink so low that he feels he really has no where to go.*
How often do you get angry?
We all get angry. Whether at the driver who cut us off in the parking lot or the appliance that just doesn't work. Anger is the way we express ourselves when things aren't working like we think they should.
Anger leads to resolve. We make decisions that we have been putting off. We become motivated to make changes in our circumstances. We learn what isn't working and how we can change it for the better. Anger is the energy of change.
Anger becomes destructive when its underlying cause is fear. Fear leads to apprehension. We hold back rather than making decisions that move us forward. We make assumptions, adopt exaggerations, and blame others for what is happening.
These distortions in our thought processes end up fueling our anger with bitterness and hatred. We lash out at others, inflicting pain, meting out punishment, and seeking revenge. Our anger becomes a destructive force that damages the delicate balance in our relationships. The diagram below shows how this works:
Anger is love turned inside out, it's selfish and greedy, and throws around clout. It has no mercy and claims no prize, but rather gives away bugs and flies. Anger is time that was never spent, food not prepared, letters not sent. It's fool's gold discovered after it is too late, the collector waiting at the garden gate.
What fear does to us
Fear holds us back. When something happens that we don't like, we start to question our own abilities, our feelings of worth, and what others think about us. We put up a wall around ourselves to keep from getting hurt.
In the process of trying to protect ourselves, we also shut others out. They don't know what is happening, they just know that they cannot get in to help. They may misinterpret our actions as pride, disinterest, lack of caring, or even a desire to end our relationship.
When we start making assumptions about what other people are doing, feeling, and thinking, our anger is kindled. We think that they don't like us, think ill of us, or just plain don't care. In reality, they simply cannot penetrate our wall of fear.
Once we adopt these assumptions as truth and act upon them, anger becomes full blown. Rage sets in. We lash out at others and push them even further away. We blame them for our unhappiness and lack of success, and think they are trying to punish or reject us.
A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.— Proverbs 15:1
Anger is an alarm that didn't ring, a book that is late one forgot to bring. Anger is a ball that always goes flat, a car that won't start, a worn out mat, a broken bike that was not repaired after the friend left with whom it was shared. Anger is dreams that are unfulfilled, no money to pay the overdue bill.
Fear turns anger into rage
Fear feeds our anger with distorted thought patterns to the point that it becomes rage. Rage is anger that has festered to the point that we lash out at others, no matter who they are and what they have done. We become blinded to their good points and see only the negative.
Rage is the stuff of which terrorism and abuse are made. It is anger run amok. Like a heard of elephants that plows through the jungle downing trees and smashing villages, rage pushes us forward without consideration of what damage is done and where we end up.
When the rage finally plays itself out, the perpetrator often turns on him or herself, causing even more damage. Lives are lost and people devastated by the carnage left behind. Those who continue to live after an episode of rage may find themselves repentant, doing almost anything to repair the damage.
Unfortunately, abuse is cyclical. Rage comes back when fear feeds anger once again. Apprehension turns into assumption and is quickly followed by fault-finding, criticism, and exaggeration. Before we know it, we are once again in the throes of another attack of rage and the cycle goes around again.
If we are having problems with fear and anger, The Emotional Survival Handbook can help us establish and maintain our emotional health before it is too late.
The cycle can be interrupted by recognizing the red flags
In order to break the cycle of fear and anger, it is necessary to identify the distorted thought patterns that are feeding it. The table below compares the thought process in the distorted reasoning cycle to those in the realistic reasoning cycle and helps us to see the difference:
Directive: Do it!
Directive: Do it!
Fear: What if I do it wrong?
Assessment: I don't know how.
Apprehension: I don't want to do it.
Question: What do I need to learn?
Assumption: If I do it wrong, you won't like me.
Practice: Let's see how this works.
Anger: All right, I will do it!
Evaluate: Am I doing it right?
Aggression: It's your fault, you made me do it!
Success: I did it!
Notice that the directive in both instances is the same: Do it!
The following red flags help us to recognize and refute the distortions:
- "What If?" - In the second step the distortion comes with the question "What if I do it wrong?" "What if" questions lead to apprehension. Once we recognize our fear, we can ask ourselves "Why am I afraid?" We might answer "Because I don't know how to do it." Once we make that assessment and admit that we need more information, we are able to stop the distorted cycle.
- Assumptions - If we allow apprehension to set in, we automatically begin to make assumptions. We think that we know what will happen in the future. If we find ourselves thinking that we "know" what will happen or that we "know" what someone else is thinking or feeling, we are on dangerous ground. We are basing our actions on something that may not be correct. If we continue, anger is automatic.
- Blame - We find fault with the other person, blaming them for what happened rather than recognizing that we allowed ourselves to think that we knew what they were thinking, feeling, or going to do. In order to stop blame, we take responsibility for our own actions. We ask ourselves "What can I do differently?" rather than saying, "He (or she) should have done this (or that) differently."
Anger breeds hate, a despicable thing, it steals the voice from the one who would sing. It brings in dark clouds that hide the sun, words that sting in a game of fun. It kills all it meets in its winding path, ugliness becomes its aftermath. Anger and hate make great nations fall and destroy homes, whether big or small.
Breaking the cycle
Adopting realistic thinking patterns allows us to break the downward spiral of fear and anger. We are able to see the situation for what it is, analyze what we need to do, and make decisions that enable effective problem solving.
At first, the process will be tedious and difficult. It is necessary to write down what is happening and the thoughts that come into our minds. Writing our thoughts enables us to examine them outside of ourselves. Once we see them in black and white, we are more likely to recognize the distortions and how they affect us.
Another great tool is support networking. Talking to others about what we are thinking and feeling also helps us to refute the distorted thinking patterns we tend to adopt. When we rely solely on our own thoughts, we often default to being self-critical and adopt self-defeating behaviors.
Talking with others gets our ideas out into the open where we can see them more clearly. Hearing how others would handle the situation gives us ideas that we had not previously considered. The time we take to check in with someone outside of our own circumstance is well spent.
To make decisions while infuriated is as unwise and foolish as it is for a captain to put out to sea in a raging storm. Only injury and wreckage result from wrathful moments.— ElRay L. Christiansen
Anger is often the result of pride, a little weakness most try to hide. It tends to spill out with foaming froth, not a nutritious bubbling broth, but the drunken madness of saving face rather than kneeling for saving grace. The Balm of Gilead only comes after the Bitter Cup drinking is done.
Turning fear into faith diffuses anger
Turning our fear into faith diffuses the distorted thinking patterns that fuel our anger. In order to turn fear into faith, belief is required. There are basically two types of belief that have a dramatic affect on our emotional health:
- Belief in God - belief in a power beyond this world enables us to see ourselves as something more than mere animals on a decaying planet. When we believe that God created heaven and earth, and that we are his children, our view of life is elevated.
- Belief in ourselves - seeing ourselves as children of God gives us a reason to believe that we are worthwhile people and that there is a purpose for everything that happens in our lives.
In the distorted reasoning cycle, the question "What if I do it wrong?" has the assumption behind it that perhaps "I am not good enough" to do it. "I don't know enough," "I don't have enough talent," or even "I can't." All of these are lack of belief in one's own ability. Exerting faith in this instance leads us to ask the question, "Do I know how to do it?"
We can have only one of two responses in this case: 1) "I know how" or 2) "I don't know how." If we don't know how, we can always learn. The affirmation "I am able" says to us that we have the ability to learn, and are willing to do so. If we know how and are just choosing not to, we are being stubborn and uncooperative, and that can easily lead to other's anger toward us!
Once fear becomes faith, we can stop anger with gratitude
In The Emotional Survival Handbook, we are taught that gratitude is the antidote for anger. This is true only when one has the faith to find something to be grateful for. Gratitude will stop anger in its tracks when we realize that our feelings of being put out by the other person are less important than the relationship that brings us together.
When my fourth daughter was a teen, she had a difficult time keeping her curfew. One night, it was especially late, and I had waited up to let her know that I was not happy with her choices. At the time, we did not have cell phones, and I had no way of getting in touch with her. I paced the floor angrily, breathing out all sorts of punishments I could inflict when she walked through the door.
As the hours passed, I began to wonder if something terrible had happened to her. By the time she came home, I ran to her, threw my arms around her and said, "You are alive!" I had imagined the worst. In turning to God and praying for her safety, I had changed my fear to faith. My anger dissipated as my heart filled with gratitude for her safe return. As we sat down and talked about what had just transpired, we could both see that much of my anger was based on my fear for her safety.
We both learned from the experience that communication was vitally important in our relationship. We determined that if she was going to be late, for whatever reason, she would get to a telephone and call. That way, I would not worry about her. Our relationship deepened, and by the time she was ready to leave home, we had a close bond that carried us through many a difficult circumstance.
When we let our fears get acquainted with our faith, the connection between fear and anger is severed and we are able to stop our anger by finding reasons to be grateful.
*The poem "Anger" was written by Denise W. Anderson.
© 2015 Denise W Anderson