NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Overcoming Fear of Anger

Fear of Anger:
Does the thought of dealing with anger, whether it's your own or other people's anger, make you feel uncomfortable?  You're not alone.  There are lots of people who have a hard time either acknowledging their own anger or dealing with other people's anger.  I'm not talking about violent or explosive anger.  I'm talking about everyday, run of the mill expressions of anger.

Overcoming Fear of Anger

Most of the time, feeling angry isn't pleasant and because it's not pleasant, many people will go to great lengths to avoid feeling angry.  Rather than allow themselves to feel angry, they'll suppress and deny their feelings to themselves as well as others.  It might be very apparent to everyone around them that they're angry.  Their faces might be flushed, jaws clenched, and they might be trembling with the fight or flight adrenaline running through their bodies, but they'll still smile through clenched teeth and deny they're angry, "Who me?  Angry?  I'm not angry."

Why Are So Many People Afraid of Anger?
There can be many reasons why people are afraid of anger.  Usually, it starts when they're children.  Sometimes, children grow up in families where expressions of anger were extreme--either on one end of the spectrum or the other.  So, on the one hand, they might have had a mother or father who had an explosive temper, and the lesson they learned from this was that anger is dangerous and should be suppressed and avoided at all costs.

On the other hand, they might have had a parent on the other end of the spectrum who was too afraid to express anger and came across as either timid or too accommodating.  So, the unspoken message was that anger is bad and should be avoided.

In some cases, a child might have two parents who are unable to express their anger in healthy ways--with one parent exploding and the other cowering in fear.  Or, there might have been two explosive parents or two repressed and timid parents.  The point is that in all of these cases, the child doesn't see healthy expressions of anger being modeled, so s/he doesn't learn that anger can be expressed in a healthy way.

In other cases, people were taught as children, especially girls, that they have to be nice to everyone, no matter what happens.  The implication is that if they're not nice all of the time, they're bad and other people won't like them.  So, being liked becomes primary and anything they think would cause people to think they're not nice has to be suppressed.

Suppressed Anger and Health Problems
When people deny and suppress their anger, it can result in health problems like headaches, upset stomach, teeth grinding at night, muscle aches, insomnia, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, and other medical problems.  It takes a lot of energy to constantly deny and suppress anger.  Eventually, the body can break down under the strain.

Emotional Numbing
In order to suppress their anger, many people numb themselves emotionally.  So, not only are they numb to their anger, but they're numb to other emotions as well, like happiness.  This can happen over time without a person even realizing.  After a while, everything feels flat and dreary.   It might cause them to feel depressed.

Warding Off Anticipated Anger
For some people who are afraid of anger, they'll often go to great lengths to ward off any type of anticipated anger.  They'll often engage in "people pleasing" behavior in an effort to avoid dealing with any anticipated anger from others.  When this becomes the primary goal, they'll often lose touch emotionally with what they want for themselves because they're so focused on other people.

Healthy Anger vs Violent Temper Tantrums
Learning to express your anger in a healthy way doesn't mean that you allow yourself to have violent temper tantrums with others.  There are many people who will say, "My therapist told me that I have to express my anger" and use that as an excuse for unhealthy expressions of anger.  No responsible therapist would tell a client to have violent temper tantrums.  When someone uses this as an excuse for ongoing rageful behavior, it's a distortion of what they're being told in therapy.  When we get angry, we're still responsible for our behavior.  

Healthy Expressions of Anger
Even though many people think of anger as being bad, healthy anger often mobilizes us to take care of ourselves.  For instance, if someone feels angry and unappreciated at work, he might recognize his anger as a cue to either assert himself to ask for a raise or look for another job.

If someone feels angry and taken for granted in a relationship, she could recognize her anger as a cue to try to make changes in the relationship.  Or, if she's angry and deeply dissatisfied, after many efforts to make change, she might leave.

Getting Help to Overcome Your Fear of Anger:
Going through life being afraid of your own or other people's anger can have emotional as well as physical consequences.  Rather than spending your life being fearful of anger, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional so that you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist. I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

For a related topic, you can read my article:
How Do We Balance Our Own Needs With Being Responsive to Our Loved Ones?