Why am I afraid of anger?
Because it will Hurt
In another blog post I talked about my fear of anger and how it was related to the belief that it was very dangerous, as if something bad can happen to me if it reared its ugly head. In this post I’ll expand a little bit on that because I felt there was more to be explored. I’ve always thought that if I feel I’m on to something then I have to shine the light onto it on it and really see all the little details.
Fact: my parents were both angry people, especially my father who yelled a lot and hit me sometimes. My mother was more passive-aggressive and would pull away, guilt me and manipulate me into being her “supply”.
When I’m confronted with anger in other people, I get an anxious response inside my body that isn’t proportional to the situation I’m facing. For example I’m a tall middle-aged male who would feel anxious if a tiny, 95-year-old grandmother was to get angry with me.
My mind makes me think that if I get into an argument with a neighbor and they happen to have a hostile type of personality, they might just go back into their tool shed, grab a machete and come looking for me.
I know that that would never happen unless the neighbor was mentally unstable but my mind believes that it will. And even though I know that it would never happen, and that I can override those catastrophic thoughts, the anxiety still persists signalling ‘danger’.
I’ve been thinking about this for the last few days and I believe I figured out why. It’s because nobody has to come looking to kill me, or chop my limbs off for me to be afraid of anger, people can hurt me in other ways. In other words I don’t have to worry about those catastrophes I’ve described above, there are other ways to hurt someone through anger.
Here are some of the ways in which other people’s anger can (and has) made my life difficult:
People don’t generally threaten to hurt others physically, but if they get angry enough – and I’m thinking of a crazy boss or some creepy looking nutcase at the bus stop whose eyes always seem to be wide open for some reason – they do insinuate so with their words and can gesture like they will do something violent. As if to say.
“I might lose control and that’s because you’re making me so angry ad I don’t know what will happen but watch out!”
Their body takes on this dysregulated affect, where they appear like a trapped hyena that doesn’t know what to do with its fight-or-flight response. The communication is, “I’m going crazy here and am very close to losing it and I don’t know what can happen this is pretty scary isn’t it?”
Their words also are threatening in style even though they’re not saying anything that’s direct because of course they would get in trouble if they did. It’s as if they’re saying once again, “You’re making me really angry because of whatever you’re asking for, or whatever boundary you are trying to put down and I don’t know what will happen but something bad just might and we’ll just have to see.”
Again it’s a way of saying that the other person (me) is making them so mad and bad things might happen. Of course these are more extreme examples as all of these types of anger responses take place on a continuum ( behavioral gestures and words) but you get my point.
YOU’RE A TARGET
“I will ruin your life!”
When people are angry with you because you’re being a normal human being, doing things like just saying no, or doing something that they don’t agree with, or something they don’t want you to do – like calling them out on their trying to take advantage of you – they get pissed.
These types of people are used to getting away with bad behavior because they lead with their hostility knowing that other people are afraid of confrontation, and so when somebody actually does stand up to them they take great offense.
I’ve known some people who stayed mad at me for years over the smallest thing and have, in very minor ways, tried to make my life a little bit more stressful, or miserable. These people spend so much time and resources just trying to hurt you it’s unreal. They will ruin their own life just to ruin yours and that type of kamikaze behavior can be anxiety provoking.
Even if their passive-aggressiveness is just done to you in a minor way, for example making you wait longer in line or giving your boss unfavorable (untrue) feedback about you, it’s still a consequence of somebody else’s anger that is stressful.
When I was young I learned to shut down out of a sense of protection. I knew that if I didn’t do what my parents had wanted me to do, or behave the way they wanted me to behave all the time, that they had the power to make my life miserable. All parents do.
They could withhold affection, they could punish me, they could make me feel like a horrible human being for just existing. Talk to anyone about their experiences with their parents for more than five minutes and you’ll get a laundry list.
As I got older though my parents no longer had that effect on me because they didn’t live with me or control my life anymore. But other people had some influence. I had a roommate once who was such a nutcase that if I upset him on any given day he’d take the TV into his own room. It was his so he had the right to do that but honestly? That sucked for 2 weeks.
When I bought my own small TV for my own bedroom he simply changed tactics and took the fuses out of the electrical box when I upset him (not even knowing what I did) so there was no electricity for the night.
I was afraid to make him angry because I knew that meant moving and it’s not that easy to just move to a different apartment. Of course I ended up doing that but it still sucked.
My girlfriend for my first serious relationship is another example. We moved in together and after a time she started to act out and behave in passive-aggressive ways. That wasn’t fun. If she wasn’t happy she knew how to get back at me once again to make my life miserable.
She would be passive-aggressive and moody all the time (not fun to be around), she would get dysregulated and try to pick a fight with me, she’d nag, she would snap at me when she was feeling stressed and even withhold sex from time to time, not because she wasn’t in the mood but because she was being hostile.
I was afraid to make her angry because the consequence would be that so many of the fun, relaxing or calm moments of my life would be ruined. And again it’s not that easy to just break up with somebody and move apartments because it takes time. Of course I did though.
STOP BEING YOUR FRIEND
This is one I’m sure we can all relate to. To be yourself is to make other people angry and the cost is to lose some your friends. Sometimes it’s not that bad, but with some individuals I’ve seen them lose up to 75% of the people they’ve had around them for many years.
That’s not fun either.
I’m afraid to make people angry because they’re all going to pull away, stop being my friend, and on top of that be hostile toward me in ways that I’ve just finished talking about above.
Of course, because of my anxiety, my mind goes to the worst-case scenarios all the time and much of the above isn’t going to happen.
But sometimes it will. Sometimes it will happen more often than I want it to.
The question is, can I handle it when it does? I think the answer is yes I can, it’s just that it can be very uncomfortable for me, more uncomfortable than it is for most people because they don’t have the same issue that I do.
The issue of intense anxiety, where your body seizes up, your chest gets tight, throat dry, stomach churns, muscles become tense and painful, and you feel like the end of the world is upon you. It sucks but I can learn to tolerate that anxiety and discomfort and over time it won’t be so bad anymore because my body’s nervous system will adapt.
A more important question though is, do I want to exist?
If I don’t say what I want to say, if I don’t tell people what I really think, if I don’t show people who I am by being emotional when I speak, then nobody ever sees me, least of all me.
To exist and connect with other people in the world I have to be willing to stick my hand in the crocodile’s mouth every single day, until one day I realize I’m not sweating anymore, or even thinking about (and getting anxious about) the fact that I’ll have to stick my hand into a big mouth with teeth.
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