I was watching The Newsroom this week, the show that is quickly becoming one of my favorites. (Actually, if you throw Sam Waterston into any show that pretty much guarantees that I'll watch it. I've been faithful to him starting with I'll Fly Away all the way through Law & Order. And now he has me hooked again.)
The episode this week was a fictional re-cap of what a newsroom might have gone through the night the U.S. announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. At one point one of the characters said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "The more fearful we are, the more hostile we become."
If you've ever been through therapy, chances are your counselor has mentioned that anger is a secondary emotion. That is, anger doesn't evolve on its own - its foundation is made of something else. And anger grows from that. Here's a handy picture:
Even though I've talked about that at length with my therapist, I don't know if I ever really got it until hearing it on a random TV show about 9/11 (which, when you really think about it, is the very definition of what we're talking about). But I suddenly thought of all of these moments in my life where fear was the seed - and anger was the blossom.
Irritability when people don't act the way I want them to.
Fighting with anyone who might stand still after my husband died.
Events that are different than I think they should be.
Pushing people away when life gets complicated.
You may not see it right away, but fear is the underlying theme here. When people behave differently than I want them to, they're an unknown quantity and are, therefore, infuriating. When my husband died, I had no idea what had happened or what was going to happen next and instead of facing that fear, I immediately switched to anger and frustration. When something happens that I'm not expecting, I'm irritated.
And when life gets complicated, I'd rather blame outside influences rather than take the chance of looking inside at what's really happening.
Facing a fear is a fearful thing. It's so much easier to pass right through that and move on to anger. Because anger, for the most part, isn't solitary. It's easy to identify who and what we're angry with and then they become partners with us in that emotion, whether they know it or not. To face a fear - mainly the fear of the unknown - is work that we ultimately have to do alone.
And that can sometimes look like a deep chasm before us.
(By the way, when I looked up pictures for this blog and just typed the word "anger," a whole bunch of pictures of Charlie Sheen popped up. That should be a wake up call to us all. Look inward before jumping to the next emotion. Just ask yourself, in that moment of anger...do I want to be like Charlie Sheen? And then dig deep and really work with what is wrong.
Widow Chick (aka, Catherine Tidd) is the owner of www.theWiddahood.com and the author of the upcoming memoir Confessions of a Mediocre Widow (Jan. 2014). She is also a writer for The Denver Post's Mile High Mamas and a contributor to several books on grief and renewal.