In today’s blog we will discuss Anger and Anxiety. Anger is an important emotion experienced by humans of every world culture. However, this strong feeling/emotion is often a tricky feeling to experience and to navigate healthily. We have all seen Anger expressed in unhealthy ways (just watch most action adventure movies) and for this reason Anger has often gotten a bad rap.
We will address healthy Anger in the next blog, but today we will explore how Anger and Anxiety are connected. While it may seem they are opposite emotions — Anger is often experienced as an emotion expanding our energy into the world, and Anxiety as an emotion that contracts us away from the world—they are often linked. So, what is the relationship between Anger and Anxiety?
First off, both Anger and Anxiety are sensations/emotions many of us experience as extremely uncomfortable, and the expression of both emotions are fairly hard to disguise. Many people experience and express consistent Anxiety as chronic irritation, and may not even understand they are anxious. If you would measure their physiology, (levels of stress hormones and the amount of activation in the Autonomic Nervous Systems—ANS) you find their ANS is agitated and dis-regulated, hence the chronic irritation. If you are feeling happy, content, and life is going well, there is little need to be irritable, is there?
Frankly, Anger is scary for most of us, it is a big, and very powerful sensation and experiencing it can feel like it could swallow us whole. It can be extra difficult for women who are often socialized from babyhood that nice girls don’t get angry. We have often heard angry women being described as that “B” word that has kept many females stuck in the prison of nice. (Yes, I mean Bitch!) Over the years many a woman has been stopped from angrily voicing her true thoughts and feelings, fearing that label. (Though it seems the new generation of young women are less bothered by it than my generation.) However, voicing our thoughts and feelings is critically important for our emotional and physiological health, as well as for changing things that need to be changed. As the bumper sticker so aptly states, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” I would argue that holds true for men as well. It is often the humans who have behaved against culture norms that have changed our world for the better.
Men often struggle with the emotion of Anger as well. However, often the male struggle is with controlling the expression of Anger, not so much not allowing themselves to feel it. Again, socialization plays a big role in our childhood, as well as our adult, behavior. Generally if you go watch young children at recess, the girls are often giggling and playing together, and the boys are fighting with sticks, or whatever vaguely weapon-shaped objects they can find. It’s our gender differences showing up in our play. Our brain wiring, hormonal systems and socialization are vastly different from that of the opposite sex. If we can understand that and work with those differences instead of stigmatizing each other, the world would be a kinder place.
So many human beings become automatically Anxious when we experience the emotion of Anger, whether it’s our own Anger or the Anger of someone else directed at us. Anger is not often handled well in workplaces, families, etc. Sometimes people get stuck in Anger and are not be able to discharge it healthily, or may not want to let it go. Anger can be a secondary emotion, coming up repeatedly after we have been hurt by another person. Sometimes after being emotionally wounded, it is easier (and often more pleasant) to feel Anger rather than the underlying hurt or sadness, or the helplessness to do anything about the pain of betrayal. Feeling Anger is correlated emotionally with the threat of harm, being stuck in Anger often keeps our bodies stuck in threat physiology, which causes physiological anxiety just by its very nature.
We will explore more about Anger and Anxiety and talk about healthy Anger in part 2 of this blog. In closing, I encourage my readers to be curious about your own relationship to Anger. How does Anger impact your life, your health, and your relationships? I would love to hear any thoughts people are willing to share.
1.) What do you think or feel when you read about Anger? Do you have a healthy relationship to your own Anger? What about to your loved one’s Anger? Do you express anger directly, or do you let it leak out in other ways that are less frightening but still cause great damage? (I.e. the silent treatment, passive aggressive behaviors, etc.)
2.) How does your body respond to Anger in general? How does it react to other’s Anger? Do you retract, or do you desire to fight back and defend yourself?