Kicking the Cat

The rising hum of anger and discontent is hard to ignore lately. The upcoming election is getting to all of us in one way or another. My political views are not something I make a habit of sharing publicly and today is no exception.

However, I will offer some insight about the possibility that fear is really responsible for the hate, mistrust, and general shittyness that seems to be intensifying with each passing day. Whether it is politically, personally, or professionally motivated is unimportant. It is there.

There are plenty of people, places, and things which can be a source of anger in our lives. The list for some is endless. Is it possible to let go of the anger and shorten the list? Fortunately, it is.

Before a solution can be offered, a lesson in what anger is and is not is in order. Anger is a fear response. It is one of the “fight” tools we have at our disposal when fight or flight is triggered. It is an appropriate response in many life or death situations but is problematic when it becomes a way of behaving when we do not like something that is happening.

The lines between passion and outright rage are becoming blurred far too often. Disagreeing with someone about their political, personal, or professional views hardly qualifies for a legitimate fight or flight response.

Anger may be a reaction to something but it does not always represent something at face value. It can often be a surface emotion and the source is more complicated to name. When anger is in the forefront, kindness, understanding, and empathy are kicked to the curb and all bets are off. Anger is the breeding ground for fear in many ways.

So how does fear factor in this equation? Consider this story. A child wanders in to the road and a car is coming.

The parent grabs the child and begins to scream at them for not following the rules and staying out of the street. The parent is supremely angry and makes certain that the child knows it. Perfectly reasonable response in the moment right? It is. However, why is the parent really that angry?

As a parent of three incredibly independent and active boys, I have been in this exact situation. I yelled until my voice was hoarse. Did I feel bad about it? Not at the moment. It took me many years to make the connection between the two emotions and even more to understand that anger is simply a mask for what is going on under the surface.

I realized my reaction was rooted in my fear of something terrible happening to my kids and was indicative of my overall level of fear and anxiety at the time. It was not them, it was me. Ouch. Years of therapy later, I know that my lifelong anger was a mask for my flawed internal dialogue.

Anger begets more anger if it is not handled in a healthy and productive way. It took me 30+ years to learn this lesson. It seem silly to have to say it, but it seems as if many could use the reminder. Feeling mad at the world is not healthy. Expressing anger to anyone who will listen is creating unnecessary stress in our lives. 

First things first. Fact: being pissed off does not bring peace. It actually does the opposite. In order to understand how fear and anger are related we first have to think about our triggers and consider the situations, people, and circumstances which make us angry. Super fun right?

More often than not, the moments I get the most upset happen when a raw nerve or truth is exposed. It is an unpleasant reminder of something I may be avoiding dealing with or struggling with that got pinged.

The pain of the truth is maddening, but is also an opportunity to look within ourselves and grow. Anger is a reaction and an emotion. How we react is rooted in what we are feeling. Being able to step back and look beyond the reaction is the most difficult part of the process.

Start by figuring out whether or not you are kicking the cat. Warning: this is where the hard work begins and I can tell you from experience that doing this on your own can be a daunting task. Do not be afraid to ask for help or an outside perspective. Who you ask is up to you. No rules here, just be open to the truth and be honest. When you are ready, you must begin to ask some difficult questions.

What is my anger covering up? Hurt? Self-doubt? Grief or sadness? Is it a way to help try to soothe inner tension or a smoke screen for insecurity? Fear? Again, naming it is the first step. The good news here is the more comfortable you become with your fears, the less likely you will be to choose to express them through anger.

Anger itself is not a bad thing. It is one way of coping in the moment but was never intended to be a permanent state. Creating a plan for when you are feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, or stressed out is the perfect way to keep anger from robbing you and anyone else in your life of joy.

Turn off the television, shut down the computer, put down the phone, and do whatever you have to do dial back the noise of the world and in order to listen to what is going on inside of you. Anger is contagious and insidious. Whether it is loud or expressed beneath sarcasm it leaves a mark wherever it is found.

If you are struggling with anger you not alone. Becoming mindful of our internal dialogue is job one. Make kindness, peace, and love a priority and think before you speak or act. We may not be able to control the actions of others or what they put out in to the world, but we can control what we add to the fire. Choose to not fan the flames.

This week embrace the idea that it is better to be kind than right. Do something kind for someone. Resist the temptation to become caught up in the drama of life and make a personal commitment to look within before lashing out. You will not be disappointed.

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