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Anger, Over the Top

Photo Credit: Birgit Lengert

We all know anger when we see it  -- a clenched fist, a raised voice, a sullen look.  Anger can quickly surface and is readily expressed, but often it is a cover up for underlying feelings: 


  • hurt, depression, rejection, fear, insecurity, anxiety, embarrassment, grief, disappointment, loneliness, and so many more.   
  • These feelings are more difficult to identify, accept and share even with our spouse.  
  • We may see ourselves as inadequate, less than our best, even a failure with these feelings.  
  • They send up red flags "Don't go there!"
TOM:  Most of us as parents have experienced this when a child runs out into a busy street.  Our instantaneous reaction is one of anger,  when deep down we are experiencing intense fear.  I can be that angry sports fan, off the couch with fist in the air, when in reality I am disappointed in the outcome of a play and fear my team may lose.  My anger can be over the top.  Grief, loss, loneliness can even masquerade as anger as family members struggle after the death of a loved one.  Emotions are so raw.   Anger can be like a huge Band-Aid burying the hurt we feel underneath.

MF:  This masquerade of anger can make it difficult to identify other feelings.  It has been our experience that when anger is a cover up feeling it is even more intense because:

  • we are heavily guarded or defended as we protect and suppress the unidentified feeling.
  • Questions like "Why are you so angry?" can be like adding oxygen to the fire.
  • Anger can be off-putting, providing a wall and giving us space. 
You may be familiar with the well-known metaphor that one cannot see the trees for the forest -- one certainly cannot see the trees when the entire forest is ablaze.

Photo Credit: Abigail Keenan
MF:  I was in the garden the other day when a baby robin learning to fly kept dive-bombing a bed of lettuce that had just started to sprout.  I became angry and even cursed the poor little bird.  This took me by surprise, as I love everything about the garden and there is nothing that touches me more than a baby of any species.

As I stood there, I was overwhelmed with tears at my response to the bird.  I flashed on times when I had recently been "over the top" angry with Tom.  I realized my response was not normal, but a symptoms of depression, general frustration and feeling unsettled in my life.

TOM:  You do not fight fire with fire.  When Mary Frances is over the top with anger, I'm most helpful by being patient and waiting momentarily for harsh words to cool down.  Over the top is a clue there is something else going on and it is probably painful, and not my fault.  Being kind and gentle  is more likely to contain the fire than probing questions or accusations.  This act of solidarity frequently allows Mary Frances time to recognize the buried feeling and to share it with me.  Often being patient can allow her tears to completely extinguish the flames.  

These experiences build trust that we will be there for each other if either of us experiences difficult situations where hidden feelings explode as anger.  This solidarity gives us the security to be less heavily guarded when we experience these other feelings and more likely to recognize and share them with each other.



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