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Fear and Anger: What a Pair

Whenever I think of anger I have thought of Edvard Munch’s famous “The Scream.” Something happened along the way called “Home Alone” that basically ruined its mysterious and spectral quality for me. How? Here, let me ruin it for you too:

Munch Scream Home Alone scream

Home Alone raked in a whopping $476,684,675 worldwide at the box office. The Scream was just sold at auction for its own record-setting total of $119.9 Million. Seems like we put a high price on fear.

As my kids were screaming on what was their third temper tantrum in 2 hours yesterday evening I felt anger rising and decided to sit with the situation. I felt sudden peace, relaxed with the situation, and laughed. Not only did I feel better, but the kids settled down as well. Why did I do this instead of demanding they submit to my will? I got brave.

Fear is really intended to help human beings survive. This is the same with other animals. A scared cat can be pretty vicious. A scared dog is the opposite of what Caesar Millan calls “calm, submissive” – the state in which you want a dog that will actually listen to you. These are basic defense mechanisms for animals to stay alive. They are messages to ward off threats against the young, food supply, shelter, and to protect an injured part of the body. Fear and anger have a very intimate relationship.

What happens when these threats are diminished by safe environments for our young, ample food supply, shelter seemingly everywhere, and technologies to accelerate healing at rates never before seen? In a post-industrial society many of those fears are simply abated. It has lost its primary function. Fear turns inward. The once natural instinct becomes something unmanageable. It becomes, in short, a vehicle to control the world around us to increase the supply of what we already have. Rather than to protect scarce resources, fear becomes a motivator not only to keep what we have, but to seek out more and to get what we want.

What happens when we don’t get what we want? Well, we get angry. We start resenting that slow driver, the old lady fiddling with her coupons and checkbook at the grocery checkout, those yelling kids in the backseat of the car, or doing another damn load of laundry rather than watch that TV show to unwind.

What gives?

These are all pretty selfish desires that pop up because we are uncomfortable with the emotional material in a situation. Our messed up fear instinct tells us to run away from that aversion even if it does not pose any danger to us whatsoever. We want to run to what we want so we do anything we can to just get people to do what we want. Or, we try to hide and ignore that problem altogether. This is all so we can escape our uncomfortable position.

The next time you feel that anger rise, try feeling that instinctual pull to escape. That’s your fear doing the pulling. It’s a fear of not getting what we want when we want it. Take a breath and sit in the situation for what it is.

Sit with that discomfort. Diving into it is the very place you will relax and find some peace.

About Andrew Tatusko

Secularization, critical pedagogy, sometimes agnostic, politics, and a ton of running. Penn State is definitely not responsible for what I say.

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