"Under all anger is fear, and under all fear is fear of loss."
~ Unknown

What Really Underlies Almost All Anger

I remember reading or hearing this in the past, and have always wanted to include it in one of my weekly posts because of how it can help us understand our own anger, as well as the anger of others. Of course, I’m sure that there are some who might have trouble understanding this concept because we generally don’t think of people who are angry as frightened. In fact, they seem to be quite the opposite. I’m going to suggest, however, that this is because we are limiting our view of what it means to be “frightened” to only one aspect of the fight-or-flight continuum (that of flight, or cowering/withdrawing from a conflict).

If you have attended any of my presentations and/or read any of my books, you know that my system for understanding and influencing our lives (and the lives of others) begins by determining which part of the brain is engaged. When we are coming from the lower 20% (the brainstem) we tend to react in a fight-or-flight manner. Further, the determinant of which part of the brain is engaged is the middle brain or the limbic system which routes the data it receives from our five senses either up to the neocortex, or down to the brainstem depending upon whether the data is interpreted to be a threat to our physical safety and/or emotional peace of mind.

This means that when we are angry, we are concerned about something. This explains why we can almost always put “I was afraid that” in front of our reasons for being angry, i.e., “I was angry because I was afraid that he/she didn’t respect me, value me, or our personal or professional relationship, wouldn’t listen to me, do what I asked, would criticize me, etc.” Or, even if we are angry at ourselves, we could say it was because we were afraid that we had failed in some way, or didn’t listen to our intuition and/or our own good advice, etc. Same with others.

Bottom line, what the first part of this week’s quote tells us is that “under all anger is fear,” and if we can begin to identify the fear or concern, we can begin to understand our anger (and the anger of others) from an “awareness/good information” perspective (versus a reactive strike out/withdraw perspective) and thus be able to respond in a more purposeful way. Most would say that there is value in this skill.

As valuable as this is, the second half of the quote (“and all fear is fear of loss”) can, in my humble opinion, be even more enlightening, because it allows us to see even deeper into the depths of anger, and thus understand its meaning and message in an even more profound way. Once again, we must be careful here (full of care) to not oversimplify, and thus limit the meaning of the quote by thinking “loss” only applies to someone dying or even losing a job. Instead, we need to understand how fear of loss can refer to the loss of respect or the inability to have things turn out the way we want. It can refer to someone fearing that they will lose face, the ability to be in control of their own life, be heard, be seen as important or worthy of respect, attention, appreciation, love, etc.

So, if this is true (that under all anger is fear, and all fear is fear of loss) how is this perspective helpful? To answer this, I think we must first look back at how we have experienced/reacted to/dealt with anger in the past. When we were reacting to anger in others, most would say that we either got angry ourselves, or felt intimidated by the extreme nature of their emotion (fight or flight). If we were the one to get angry first, we most likely tried to use this energy to change the situation (“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more and therefore you had better… or else!”) or became angry at, or ashamed of our own anger and turned it inward upon ourselves.

Given that in retrospect most people would say that neither of these actions or reactions were particularly effective, maybe what we need is a new way to respond to anger in both ourselves and others in the future. If so, then this week’s quote could be the key to this new response. In other words, if we are truly able to see the fear of loss beneath our anger and the anger of others, then we have the option of responding to that fear versus the mask of rage that has been clouding our vision for so long.

We have the option of responding to others as frightened versus frightening which should allow us to interact with them in a more purposeful manner. We have the option of understanding the fears beneath our own anger and then moving to address these concerns more directly, which should allow us to become more influential in our lives and the lives of others. Bottom line, when we can begin to see all anger as fear of loss, we will finally be dealing with our deepest truth which can finally free us to pursue our highest purpose of bringing clarity, confidence, and creativity to all aspects of our lives.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill