In this post I want to briefly share my understanding of the interplay between fear and anger, or, at the risk of sounding a tad too lofty, my philosophy of anger and fear. I call it “sutra on anger and fear.” The word “sutra” is Sanskrit for “aphoristic teaching.” (I don’t speak Sanskrit but I like to play with it a bit since much of my clinical thinking has been influenced by Vedic and Buddhic ideas that had been originally written in the language of Sanskrit.) This “teaching on anger and fear” is rather basic but it’s pivotal to understanding my approach to anger management (I’ll be sharing some anger management tips in the months to come as I am currently working on an anger management book).
Here are the key points about anger that inform my anger management approach:
- Life is scary, so we are naturally afraid.
- Fear is normal.
- Evolution has prepared us to be afraid, to be paranoid, to be vigilant.
- Paranoia is normal.
- But paranoia divides “what is” into “self” and “other.”
- This self-other division gives rise, first, to fear and, then, to anger.
- This self-other dualism – for all intents and purposes – is inevitable.
- As such, self-other dualism is normal.
- Yet, as a species, we are safer than ever, the saber-tooth tigers have all died out; thus, most of what we fear are symbolic threats, “paper tigers.”
- Fear of symbolic threats is normal.
- Anger is the flip side of the fear coin, the “fight” part of the flight-or-fight self-defense system.
- Anger is a form of self-defense.
- Anger is fear-based.
- Anger is motivated by fear.
- Anger is a response to fear, a response to a perceived or real threat (and perception here, as anywhere, is reality).
- Anger is normal.
- Anger feels like fearlessness but it isn’t.
- Anger feels like courage but it isn’t.
- The fearlessness of anger is misleading: anger is fear-based.
- We are not just afraid of what’s outside, we are also afraid of what’s inside.
- We are afraid of our own feelings.
- We are afraid of being afraid.
- We are afraid of our own selves.
- This fear of self is normal.
- Anger is a release of all these fears.
- Anger is a consolidation of a feeling of fear into action, the beginning of an escape from “what is.”
- When faced with real threats, anger is a legitimate self-defense solution.
- Anger, just like fear, is an impulse to run.
- But even if you are running forward/toward the threat (to confront it), running is running.
- And staying is staying.
- When faced with symbolic threats (threats to ego, not to body), anger is a fear of self.
- Anger, as a fear of self, is a solution that perpetuates the problems.
- Anger, as an escape from fear, is fear.
- Anger is an attempt to run away from the feeling of fear, an escape from “what is.”
- The solution to this kind of anger is to stay with the fear.
- Only by staying with fear do we learn not to be afraid of being afraid.
- Fear, the feeling, is safe.
- Fear of fear is normal but so is non-fear of fear.
- When you are not afraid of being afraid, you don’t need anger.
- Anger is not a tool for dealing with ego threats, anger is a tool for dealing with bodily threats.
- Fear passes, anger passes, fear of fear passes, anger about anger passes.
- There’s never been a feeling (or a mind-state) that didn’t eventually go away.
- Ultimately, because all feelings pass, there is absolutely nothing to do but to witness “whatever is” transform into “whatever was.”
- Staying with “what is” is the true courage, the true fearlessness.
That’s about it: this is the philosophical context for my clinical work with anger. Anger management – as I see it – is meta-fear management, i.e. management of our fears of our own fears. Nobody needs to be taught how to fear a saber-tooth tiger. That’s hard-wired and taken care of. Yet many of us – particularly those struggling with anger – seem to require help with learning how not to fear “paper tigers” (symbolic threats) and help with learning how not to fear fear itself.
Adapted from Anger Management Jumpstart
Fire fist photo available from Shutterstock