Fear V. Anger=No One Wins

It’s easy to confuse anger with fear.  I was watching a movie tonight, and the bad guy was shown in towering rage, in full bad-guy mode. I looked at it more closely, because it wasn’t quite. . . right. Yes, I understand that movies are fiction, but they are designed to manipulate our emotions, so they have to have a basis of reality in them, otherwise we wouldn’t connect. I get that.

rattlesnakeHere is what I noticed: the bad guys knew they were bad. They broadcast bad out in front of them, and people shrank and ran in fear. But that isn’t what happens in real life. People who are villains in our life are not aware they are behaving badly. Nope. They are scared. And scared people behave like scared animals do–they hiss, bark, bay, turn sideways and puff themselves up to appear bigger and show their teeth.

Scared animals and scared people are both scary. I’m not messing with the neighbor’s pit bull when he is leaning against his leash, teeth bared. And when I see people behaving in loud, rude, angry ways, I avoid them, too. But they aren’t necessarily bad people, they are scared people. They don’t always know what the problem is, they most certainly don’t have a good solution, so their fear gives way to aggressive behavior.

What to do in the face of anger? Most often we get scared, and scared people are 32i-arched-back-catscary. We return the hissing, claw-bearing and take it one step further because we are now more scared. You can see where this is going. Someone’s going to get hurt. Emotionally, if not physically.

The way to react in the face of anger and fear is calmly. If scared people are scary, calm people are calming. Keep your voice low, say something that acknowledges the other person’s reactions. Pretending not to notice will only make them escalate so you will notice. Acknowledging is not telling them they are right, but letting them know you see their anger. “I can see how angry you are, Bill.” Notice it’s just an acknowledgment. No fixing, no advice, no soothing. Just witnessing. Without someone to scare them, scary people often aren’t scared and not scary.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who knows scary people and scared people, too.

9 thoughts on “Fear V. Anger=No One Wins

    • It’s true. A lot of fear is a show of force, strength, and power. Most mammals do that. Now if we can stop from getting tangled up in showing a similar response, we might get to communicating more quickly.

  1. I also worked with children and often around anger management issues. The group I worked with were teens and you can see the progression of this learned behavior, it’s really so sad that when you do the work you can see where the anger and behavior issues come from and luckily we can influence some people and help them find a way through the world differently. I had to follow my passion for art and take care of myself, got caught in burn out. I do believe that if lawmakers realized the positive influence they could have on individuals lives, therefore our nation-they would think much differently about how and what they do regarding support systems and early interventions.

    • Teens amplify every emotion to see how it fits. When they amplify fear and anger it can get scary to parents and friends. Helping them learn to take it down a notch is a real skill that can be very useful in life.

  2. A lot of my work was around the needs of children with what was termed ‘anger management problems’ however I seldom found angry kids. What I found was hurt, fearful, humiliated, sad, confused and powerless kids . . . and once the adults around them could see that half the difficulties were over.

    I also taught the adults in their lives how to intervene in if necessary. Match the intensity in the voice to gain attention and then quickly bring the level down . . . give the child time and privacy, but most importantly, give them choices.

    I also taught the kids how to reconnect with their environment, how to notice the breeze on their cheek, the rain on the roof, the sunlight clittering on leaves and in puddles.

    That was what I enjoyed most about the work, but in saying that, I have to admit I don’t miss their pain . . . nor that of their parents from whom they learned their responses.

    • You have so much excellent real-life experience. “Match the intensity in the voice” but, I notice, not the volume. Giving a child choices is also constructive. Wish I had had these ideas when I was an impatient mom.

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