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Anger and Anxiety: Your Best Friends?

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Anger and anxiety are forms of fear, as well as coping mechanisms that we use when somewhere inside we feel that our safety is being put at risk. We go into fight, flight, or freeze mode.

The situation can be real, like in the case of a car that is skidding off the road, heading in our direction, or it can be imaginary, produced in our head, like for example the story we imagine about being made redundant. All because our supervisor mentioned that in the days to come she would like to see us when, in reality, her intention is to ask us if we are willing to take on a new post with a higher salary, more responsibility, and more work.

How do we respond when we feel either feeling?

By holding on to certain routines that we are familiar with, like bursting out and pouring our anger onto someone else, gives us a false sense of control. In reality, deep down, there is the fear that we are not at all able to manage the situation and that makes us feel very scared and vulnerable.

For example, we start blaming our partner in life or, for that matter, a business or work partner, for a situation that didn’t work out as we would have hoped. When we do this, we aren’t taking responsibility for our feelings or for what is going on in our heads, we are just acting out – we are starting the blame game.

Taking full responsibility would mean showing ourselves as exposed and unprotected, saying that perhaps we did make a mistake. Our mind is often not prepared to go down that path, as it wants to defend its own identity – the image it has of itself.

So what can we do with this anxious or angry energy to convert it to gold – to something that plays to our advantage?

What many of us counsellors and psychologists would suggest is to go right into it. Feel the uncomfortable feeling, or feelings, and let them go through you. Feel your body getting tight, your stomach churning, your cardiovascular and muscular systems getting ready for a fight. If you have managed to come up to this point without acting it out to get that sense of rapid relief, you might have created enough space in yourself to ask: ‘what is this anger telling me?’ and, perhaps more importantly: ‘what dialogue am I entertaining with myself that causes me to feel this bout of anger or anxiety?’

If you are able to ride it out, you will notice that this anger is showing you that some of your basic human needs are not met – perhaps the ones for being seen, or heard, or for respect. And this is really where the ‘juicy stuff’ is. How can you actually meet your needs, without falling into the trap of blaming others, or yourself? Can you think of ways to use this ‘transmuted anger’ to identify, from now on, what basic human needs of yours you are trying to meet?

Remember that the world is not out there to please us – rather, it’s up to us to fulfil those needs that we are experiencing.

Jerry Zondervan is the author of Everyday Mindfulness for Everyday Situations and of 4 Steps to a Healthy Romantic Relationship. You can learn more about his services here.

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