Anger as a Secondary Emotion to Fear
When my son ran into the street, I swore at him. Later, I recognized this was anger rooted in fear.
On Family Night, my husband, boys, and I were ordering snow cones on Main Street when my youngest son darted into the street. Time froze. I could only yell, “Damn you, kid.” My husband rushed into the street and grabbed our son. Our son squirmed in my husband’s arms for the next half-hour while we ate our snow cones.
I wondered why I would swear at my child when he was in danger. What I said wouldn’t do any good. What motivated my cursing my child? I know I had the freeze reaction while my husband had the fight reaction. I was afraid for my son’s life, yet I felt no control. My PTSD from my third son’s accident reared its ugly head when my youngest was in mortal danger. I believe my mind knew that my husband would grab my son, as my husband had saved my third son last year.
In recent online conversations, I have read how anger is a secondary emotion. I realized that my curse came from the primary emotion of fear (and love). I was angry with my son, but truly I was afraid to lose my son. I love him so much I don’t want to lose him. But I know life can be cruel at times. I thank God that this time my son survived unscathed.
My counselor and I discuss my third son’s accident as I am sorting through that trauma. My counselor talks about how rape survivors will blame themselves for not fighting against their attacker, but their bodies freeze just to survive the ordeal. Their reactions kept them alive and were necessary. Many reactions are simply to survive the ordeal.
I understand that my fear manifested in anger toward my son. I cursed him to cope with that fear. I can understand what I did was inappropriate. For that, I need to let my executive brain and my lizard brain work through the problem. I wonder if I can train myself to have a healthier reaction. Whatever happens, my body is going for survival of my offspring.
One time when a deputy sheriff pulled me over, he said something about making sure his kids/my kids wear the “damn seatbelt.” His statement was intimidating and inappropriate. But I understand where his anger comes from. He has seen unbuckled children die in accidents. He loves those he serves, though it may come out in the wrong way.
With the threat of COVID-19, some are letting their fear and anger overrule love. For example, a woman in a Gainesville, GA Walmart told an unmasked woman and her children, “I hope you all die because you’re going to kill me and my husband.” She was afraid for her life and her husband’s life. Her primary motivation of loving herself and her husband is a good thing. It’s letting the fear overwhelm her into attacking others that is wrong. A better reaction would be to politely ask people to wear a mask and educate others on the risks. Then let people decide for themselves.
How can we let love guide our actions first instead of anger? It takes a lot of practice and soul searching. We need to accept our fear and see how it can positively motivate us along with love. For example, we can encourage others to make wise choices, but not attack them in any form. We need to apologize when we hurt others. We need to forgive ourselves and others.
We need to breathe. Just breathe.