Fear of Anger and Avoidance of Conflict
“I am terrified of conflict.”
“My stomach turns flip flops at the thought of someone being angry at me.”
“I spend a lot of energy trying to please others, often not even realizing it.”
“When I was in that relationship, it never occured to me to stand up for myself.”
“I want to be able to tell the other person things that would be difficult for them to hear.”
“Fear of anger means I don’t stand up for myself at work.”
Relational Psychoanalysts and many counselors agree that individuals who have not have the opportunity to work with the full range of their feelings and conflicts often are stunted in their development as a person, both in the realm of interpersonal relationships and and in their work life.
Often such individuals have not had parenting or social training which have acclimated them to working with all of their feelings in a supportive setting. This is especially true with feelings of anger, both in themselves and in others. Some individuals often find their own angry feelings overwhelming, guilt-inducing, or anxiety-provoking. Sometimes they may not even being aware of their own anger, and are often surprised when others express irritation in response to their anger. Sometimes they may find certain situations, which may induce anger in others, more often induce physical symptoms in themselves, such as irritable bowel symptoms, headaches, or other physical symptoms which they have noticed occur only in certain social or work situations. Often these same individuals find the expression of anger in others fear-inducing, and they may withdraw, or even shutdown at the first hint of anyone else’s anger.
Such withdrawal leads such individuals to being taken advantage of in their work or personal life, and it leaves them with only two options. Either they avoid all or most relationships to avoid being taken advantage of; this results in loneliness & isolation in their personal life. Or they could allow themselves to be “pushed around,” which could result in self-hatred or self-attack and consequent low self-esteem. Either stance is devastating for both work-life, where a vigorous give and take is required, and in successful personal relationships, which require a mutual expression and listening to each other’s needs and wants.
Counseling or inter-personal analysis provides a safe setting in which such individuals become more familiar and more comfortable with their own and others’ anger. This is done through coaching in your current relationships, but also by increasing your awareness & attentiveness to feelings that occur during the therapy process. Psychoanalytic therapy has often been called the “talking cure”, because it seems that actually talking about and experiencing your feelings increases your freedom and facility in using those feelings in all your relationships. This is emotional re-education. Some individuals freeze or “run away” from hostility, and need to increase their comfort with that emotion.
There are at least 8 reasons why you might be afraid of anger:
1. You may fear that the other person will retaliate in such a way that you will be devastated, or lose the relationship, or worse.
2. There may be a lack of awareness or emotional intelligence such that your interpersonal style or stance leads to self-sabotage in interpersonal relationships. You feel you always seem to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. You are afraid you will not respond to angry situations appropriately.
3. You may be taken advantage of, and unable to stand up for yourself because of your own self-attack and low self-esteem. You may feel the other’s unfair criticism is justified, so your response is not one of anger, but rather of self-criticism.
4. Sometimes a deeply entrenched view of yourself as undeserving or inadequate in relationships may prevent you from distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy relationships. You stay in a work place or relationship that is destructive and would be difficult for anyone. You may not feel that your anger is ever justified.
5. You may fear that you will hurt, or even destroy the other person emotionally if you are angry. You work hurt to protect them or keep them happy. When someone is angry or critical, you may be thinking about how they are feeling so much that you lose awareness of what you are feeling.
6. Because of previous critical relationships, you may freeze up when another individual treats you abusively or disrespectfully. You are unaware of any anger, but rather feel only fear. Earlier trauma or PTSD can result in this response.
7. You may be one of these people that has never really felt anger. Anger may be an emotion that is just not part of your repertoire of emotions. You may benefit from emotional education that will help you use anger in a healthy manner. Sometimes such individuals may get stuck expressing their anger and instead may develop bodily tension, leading to physical symptoms.
8. Your difficulty with anger may actually be a problem in maintaining an attachment or connection to another person when you are angry. Perhaps, in your experience, family members or earlier peers used anger to break connections, rather than forming them.
When we develop more familiarity with our own feeling responses, we actually acquire an important tool for our work life as well as our personal life. We can become more aware of others and their affect on us. Indeed, we also develop an emotionally mature experience of better emotional boundaries with others. This can lead to less self-blame–it is a “not-me” kind of experience. When we grow in our comfort with our emotions, we also develop the ability to shift back & forth more fluidly from one emotion to another as needed. Skill and comfort in these areas is what is known as emotional re-education. This can lead to the more effective experiencing and expressing of emotions which is known as emotional intelligence.
Often it is the ability to be angry that can give us a sense of ourselves and our boundaries, and thus enable us to freely move into more intimate committed relationships.
By this anger is not meant, of course, as a non-directed rage, either towards ourself or others, but rather an anger that responds to specific concrete environmental issues in a productive, emotionally educated way. To quote Aristotle:
“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way–that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
The major way we learn to regulate and relate to our emotions is through relationships with other people. Relational Psychoanalytic therapy can therefore provide the opportunity for you to grow into the healthy giving and receiving of appropriate and productive anger–in a way that can enhance rather than destroy relationships.
Relational Psychoanalysis can be very useful for such anger difficulties. Feel free to give Dr. Propst a call at 503.244.4660 if you would like to consider whether a course of relational psychoanalysis might be useful for you.