Sometimes a random comment will float through the air and land in just the right place to make a difference! One day I heard this comment: “Someone might seem like they’re angry, but actually they are afraid. It can help to ask them what they are afraid of.” The woman was talking about children with anger management issues, and how to help them identify their emotions and direct them appropriately. However, it came right onto the radar of a person who was feeling angry right in that moment – me. I felt angry more often than I should, and I was looking for a solution. So, right then and there, I asked myself the question, “What am I afraid of?” And, to my surprise, I could immediately identify a fear. Once I understood what emotion my anger was really hiding, the anger dissolved.
What all this means is that anger is usually a secondary emotion; one of the ‘primary’ emotions like fear, sadness or disappointment can often be found underneath, fuelling it. Sometimes this is called the “anger iceberg” because there’s more there than we see at first glance.
Discovering the true emotion is helpful. If I can unmask the fear, the anger is replaced and therefore diffused. Then I can deal with the fear, which is more constructive because it’s the actual emotion.
Anger and relationships
For me, fear is personal but anger is relational. When the emotion of fear is expressed as anger, it can damage relationships. For example: “I feel angry when we argue because I’m afraid he might not love me anymore.” or “I feel angry when you don’t stop running toward the road as asked because I am afraid you’ll get hurt.”
In relationships, if fear is expressed genuinely, it will bring people closer; however, if fear is expressed as anger, it will cause distance.
If we can understand what’s really driving our anger, then we can then address it in a more constructive way.
Ask your anger questions
When I noticed the angry vibes creeping up, I learnt to ask myself “What am I afraid of?” I was surprised how many times there was an actual fear lurking, and a fear that didn’t need me to be angry. (And certainly not the responsibility of the person I was actually feeling angry at.)
Asking myself this question didn’t become a habit immediately; sometimes I failed and needed to remind myself in retrospect. But questioning my feelings was like opening a door to self-understanding.
Over time, I came to learn that fear is not the only emotion that expresses itself as anger. Anger seems to also be my ‘go to’ emotion when what I’m really feeling is frustration, impatience, hurt, being misunderstood, confusion, etc. Or even when life is overwhelming or some task feels ‘too hard’.
So, I have another question: “What emotion is my anger hiding?” Is this emotion something I need to sort out with another person? Or is it something I can resolve myself? Usually, I just need to adjust to my perspective, or intentionally do something that I enjoy to recalibrate my mood.
What if my anger is actually anger?
When my feeling of anger is actually anger, I ask myself: “What is the actual thing I am angry about?”
It might be something I have done, or it might be something someone else has done (this is often the case in relationships). It may have been an action directed at me or at someone else. Identifying the actual cause brings clarity as to the way forward.
Let go of anger and leave rage behind! Don’t get upset – it will only lead to evil. Psalm 37:8 (CEB)*
I believe Christian teachings against anger (see below for more verses) are for our own good – but this doesn’t mean they are easy to do! Asking myself focused questions is a helpful tool and contributes to my well-being. I hope that others may find it useful too. In a future post, I’ll share with you some other questions I use to keep me on the right track.
MOPS Office Coordinator
* Here are some more verses from the bible about anger management to encourage you if you’re interested:
- Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly. Proverbs 14:29 (NIV)
- A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)
- A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. Proverbs 15:18 (NIV)