Why am I so angry?

My client, Sarah, had just pondered this question. In uncertain times, you’ll observe more anxious and angry reactions all around you. I’ve certainly noticed them – everything from social media rants to that guy yelling at the dry cleaner. In this dynamic and ever changing world, we naturally face disappointment or frustration at times. In Sarah’s case, however, she couldn’t pinpoint anything particularly bothering her.

She just knew that she was tired of lashing out.

Her life had the usual ups and downs, and for the most part, she was happy. She had a beautiful relationship and a nice career. She may have a typically easygoing day, and then, she’d notice that she was accidentally over-charged at the store. Or someone would cut her off on her way home from work. Anger would begin to boil inside her.

Things unfortunately quickly spiraled out of control. She would charge through the door and snap at her partner. The negative loop in her head would begin, and everything that had angered her before would surface. She would curse her childhood, her circumstances, and anyone or anything where she could find fault. She felt out of control, and she desperately wanted out of these awful feelings. She wanted rescue.

Whenever we talk about sharing our core emotions, I usually reference the big three: happiness, sadness, and fear. Notice that anger is curiously missing from that list. It’s because although we may react to a situation in anger, anger is rarely the primary emotion. There is always some other feeling that created the response of anger.

Think about the last time that you were angry – perhaps someone let you down, or had insulted you in some way. Or, as in Sarah’s case, the jerk had just cut you off. Though you may have been seeing red, the likelihood is that what you really felt was afraid – you felt threatened. You didn’t feel in control of the situation.

Sometimes, it’s a physical fear – for instance, you or Sarah could have been injured in an accident. Sometimes, it’s an emotional fear – for instance, if you are insulted or singled out, if you are socially outcast, you would lose the protection of your tribe – of your safety. Or, perhaps in a relationship, you would worry that your needs would not be met. You would be left behind or worse, be unloved.

When we only observe the anger, we don’t address the anxiety and fear that causes it. Humans crave comfort, protection, and support – without them, we’re fragile souls.

Whenever you feel angry about something, consider where you may have felt threatened or afraid in the situation. Before you react, see if you can pinpoint the fear. Then, reassure yourself that as an adult, you are quite capable today of taking care of your needs and safety. If you begin there, you’ll find the compassion, comfort, and support within that you need, waiting to soothe you.

And, the next time that jerk cuts you off, realize that he’s probably just afraid of being left behind. Send a little prayer his way.