Anger is fear in armor.
When I ask kids to list emotions, the top 3 are: happy, sad and angry. It's interesting to wonder why these are the top 3 emotions kids (and I also think adults) identify. For one thing, they are commonly felt and easily identifiable on your standard Feelings Chart. But then, fear is also commonly felt and easily identifiable. However, fear comes with some baggage like shame for feeling it or guilt for not having dealt with it. It's an emotion we dislike feeling partly because it can make us the target of teasing or even harm.
Kids have fears of the dark, new places, new people, and new activities. They fear getting hurt, being left out, losing the game, getting the wrong answer, and missing the bus. Kids, at least those under 10, are more likely to express those fears explicitly. Many a parent has heard: "Don't leave yet, I'm scared of the dark." We've watched our kid jump up and down with his hand raised high with the hope of being chosen to speak next on Zoom only to be gutted when he's not.
Adults have fears of the unknown, the unfamiliar, and the uncertain. They fear getting bad news, becoming lost, and not knowing the answer. Adults are less likely to express their fears explicitly. We say things like: "I'm not going to think about that right now." Who hasn't watched the news during the last 10 weeks distractedly eating? Who hasn't surfed their phone desperate to escape reality?
What is it about fear that bugs us so? Powerlessness? We believe that whatever the thing is that lies in wait out in the future will undo any capacity we have to manage it or wrestle it to the ground. Of course, that's what anxiety is at the end of the day: fearing feeling scared because that feeling seems intolerable. Fear feels like it's devouring us.
Anger on the other hand feels powerful. Things happen when we're angry. Our voice grows, our senses heighten into focus on whatever the target of the anger might be, and we feel emboldened. We say and do things in anger that we not do at any other time.
Consider this: anger is often the secondary emotion to fear. Anger is fear in armor.
We fear the unknown so we compulsively busy, refuse help, and express frustration with waiting. We fear getting lost so we get adamant that we don't want to go in the first place or that our spouse, who made the plans, must drive. We fear uncertainty so we curse out our neighbor who isn't wearing his face mask.
Our kids feel anger in these ways too. They dump the game board when it becomes clear they are losing. They have a tantrum at bath time because they're anticipating being alone in bed. Or they snarkily reject participating in the Zoom activity because all those faces on the screen are way too intimidating.
Because of its power, anger can be easier to feel than fear and therefore more likely to be expressed. But in addressing that rage, as parents and adults, we need to consider the distinct possibility that it's shielding the feeler from primary fears. Let's help our kids own their fears and say to the kid who dumped the game: "I don't like losing either but this game can change so quickly. I hope we can try again another time." Or to the child having a bath time tantrum we can say: "I'm not going anywhere. I'm right here with you." Tell those fears they're welcome too and you (and your kids) just might find that by expressing them, we find out just how strong we are.