I’ve had very smart people offer very reasonable arguments against the idea that Anger is a mask over fear. Fear can paralyze or motivate flight. Anger mobilizes us to action, sometimes righteous action, one of the best things in life.
So the only question is: what would be a good test of the theory? I would say such a test wouldn’t be found in logic or argumentation at all. If it is true, it is a map of reality that is useful.
So I simply propose a test for anyone who wants to see whether I’m right. It is this: the next time you are dealing with someone who is angry, ask: “what if this anger is fear? What might they be afraid of? How can I reduce or eliminate either the source of the fear, or show them there is nothing to fear?” A corollary: faith and gratitude are antidotes for fear. If the corollary is true, and you can help the person find a way to feel gratitude for the situation, or have faith that all will be well, does the anger fade? If either of these are true, then regardless of the theories you have, the map is useful. And in my mind, the best study of reality is: “does it work?” I don’t believe this because I heard it, or because it makes sense logically. I believe it because I’ve experienced it working countless times, even in life-threatening situations. And I invite anyone interested to actually perform the experiment and see for themselves. If they aren’t willing to do so, fine. But frankly, I’d have to wonder why not.
1) Your boss is screaming at you. What is he afraid of? That you are an incompetent employee who will bring his company down, or make him look bad enough to get fired? Is he thinking of ruin, debt, embarrassment? If you can find a way to reassure him that these things will not happen, what happens to the anger?
2) Your spouse is furious with you when you are late for a date. What are they afraid of? Loss of love? That you disrespect them? That you are having an affair? Fear of abandonment and cuckolding is a common human experience. Egos are fragile, and often we armor ourselves to the rest of the world, but our spouses have the power to destroy us with a glance or reproachful word. What can you do or say…what is THIER “love language”, not yours, to assure them that they are precious and lovable and desired. What happens to the anger?
3) Your child is furious that you won’t buy them a toy. What are they afraid of? Powerlessness? That you don’t love them? That their status among other children will be diminished because they don’t have the “in” toy? What can you do to reduce or eliminate that fear? Give them a road to power (an allowance, etc.) Hug and hold them? Help them remember an alternate route to status?
Now, when someone is right in the middle of the anger, you often cannot reason with them. If they are angry enough, you might have to deal with a physical confrontation, right then and there, and trying to talk them down is absolutely the wrong tactic (a “pattern interrupt” can work great here. If you can make them laugh, distract their attention or get them to focus, even for a moment, on something positive, change their physiology in some way…you can interrupt the spiral of anger, gaining a moment in which you can change their focus to something they feel grateful for…which can lead to a sense of peace and love, which diminishes the fear, which dissolves the anger.
Not everyone can be reasoned with, and EVERYBODY hits states where they are beyond reason. Having empathy for their process and humanity does NOT mean making yourself a vulnerable target. It means that, if you are forced to deal with someone who is so angry they have become violent, after the immediate danger is past, YOU have the responsibility to ask “What is true?” about what just happened. And that takes you to “Who am I?” and to “What kind of fear would motivate ME to this behavior?” And if you are honest, I believe that you will find times in your own life when, yes, you were angry and aggressive because you were afraid, either for yourself, someone you loved, or someone you empathized with.
So…if you want to know if this is real, if it is true…try the experiment. If it works, it works, even if it conflicts with your current beliefs. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t, regardless of mine.