Ruminating Anger, Anticipating Intense Fear: How to Embrace Mentalities to Flourish?
By ILA • October 13, 2021 • 19 min read
This paper explores the emotions of anger and intense fear in the contemporary social and personal relationships context. This paper will pave way for an understanding of sustaining factors of these emotions and how this could detrimentally affect the wellbeing and coexistence of people. In the end, the paper will present ways to embrace mentalities and flourish.
With its characteristics, emotion is defined as “Emotions are short-lived, feeling–purposive–expressive–bodily responses that help us adapt to the opportunities and challenges we face during important life events” (Reeve, 2014, p. 340). This definition indicates that emotions have reasons, they are reactions to what is going on around and reflections of what is going on inside the body. We may at times experience sadness, fear, anger and at other times joy, excitement and the like. However, the important thing here is that we can choose how we want to interpret our emotions. Therefore, the emotions we experience be it negative or positive are not wrong or inappropriate, but the way we interpret our emotions and behaviours consequences of emotions experienced may need considerations. It is also worthy to know that feelings are not personality traits. Some people say, “That’s how I am, I am just like that” and put emotions they experience into personality envelopes, tending not to take responsibility for their behaviours. In the end, such an approach to interpreting emotions might create serious problems in close relationships.
Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. It is part of the basic biological reaction to danger, the fight or flight response. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems—problems at work, in your personal relationships, and in the overall quality of your life. People who are easily angered generally have what some psychologists call a low tolerance for frustration, they feel that they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance (APA, 2017). They can’t take things in stride, and they become less able to negotiate, take a new perspective, or effectively handle a provocation.
Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger—if we didn’t feel it, we couldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats. It is also considered normal and healthy and is simply the activation of your fight or flight response — a response designed to inform us when encountering danger and prepare our body for fighting or running away. But often we fear situations that are far from life-or-death and thus hang back for no good reason. If we control it, we can use it to our benefit and it could play an important role in our survival. If fear controls us, it will render us unable to accomplish anything, paralyze our ability for a flourishing life. The intensity of which we question— “what if?” in the absence of real danger could be detrimental to flourish and reach our purposes in life. It becomes an anxiety disorder when that fear appears to occur all the time with no apparent cause. That’s when you have an anxiety problem – when the fight or flight system malfunctions, causing the fear response when no rational fear is present.
Fears experienced could be realistic (there is a real danger) or symbolic (perceptual). For instance, a group may experience this threat if it is concerned that another group might annihilate it; when its culture, symbols, and beliefs are threatened to the point that the group might transform and change into another unrecognizable entity (Hirschberger et al., 2016). What is worthy to mention here is, the worry or concern experienced could be perceptual and more intense. Sometimes hate might emerge from a feeling of intense threat. When people are concerned about what they consider threats to their values, culture, beliefs and their worldviews, they may take a defensive stance, view people they consider ‘different’ in a stereotypic way. They may try to dismiss ideas of the ‘other’, argue against them (instead of integrating them), focus on their limitations (instead of strengths). This may fuel violence and conflicts. So, here what is important is, sometimes anticipated fears might limit genuine communications because of the distorted thoughts we might possess. This means in other words, people might take less flexible ways to solve concerns and prefer rigidity in thoughts.
What Factors Sustain Anger and Fear that could be Threat Well-being?
Both anger and fear are emotions related to how we react to perceived or real danger. These emotional experiences could be threatening when kept in focal attention for an extended time. Keeping anger in focal attention for an extended time is named as anger rumination. Ruminating anger is the tendency to repetitively thinking about an angering event in mind for a prolonged time. The same is true for fear too. If a person keeps on anticipating intense fear in the absence of real danger/threat, then the fight or flight system malfunctions, causing the fear response when no rational fear is present. Therefore, in this part, possible factors that could fuel fear and anger will be presented.
Distorted Thoughts (Incomplete cognitive processing)
Distorted thoughts are thoughts in our mind that convinces us of something not true. It was Beck (1979) who proposed the theory of cognitive distortion. When having distorted thoughts, we tend to portion of the evidence or engage in some distorted interpretations of evidence about ourselves and others to reach conclusion. They are incomplete thinking processes in that the whole portion of the evidence. People whose thoughts are possibly trapped in these distorted thoughts might experience passivity, helplessness and discouragement to initiate actions. Hence, these thinking patterns tend to discourage positive communications and likely reinforce negative thoughts or emotions. They may also have tendencies of avoiding interaction with others, difficulties of viewing an event from different angles, and accordingly, have difficulties coming up with alternatives thoughts to solve problems.
All or nothing (Polarized thinking): For people having this kind of distorted thought, things are either good or bad, right or wrong. They either see one extreme or another — there is no middle ground or shades of grey for people having this distorted thought. An example of this could be thinking as if things are different as black and white as if there are no greys in between. Eastern culture or Western culture, An ally or enemy, nationalist or separatist. This is an unhelpful way of categorically thinking about things for reality is not devoid of greys always.
Sometimes this kind of thoughts could be more pathologic and a person might have negative thinking about himself- “People must go the way I want them to go and must never be frustrating, otherwise, life is terrible and I cannot bear it”; others – “other people must always treat me kindly and fairly or I can’t stand it and they are terrible, evil people who should be punished for mistreating me”, and also towards the world- “the conditions or the world around me must give me exactly what I want or else it is a horrible place and I can’t stand it. Such beliefs often result in inaction, low frustration tolerance, anger, and depression” (Ellis, 1994).
Labelling and mislabeling is another form of distorted ways of thinking. According to this form of thinking imperfections and mistakes made in the past can serve as a stereotype of all future behaviours. Rather than assuming the behaviour to be accidental or extrinsic, the person with this distorted thought assigns a label to someone or something that implies the character of that person or a thing. Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that has a strong connotation of a person’s evaluation of the event. This is just like defensive ways of coping where people wouldn’t take time to listen to you, learn about you and do the labelling.
Mental Filtering: It is a cognitive distortion where we tend to filter things out of our conscious awareness. People who tend to have mental filtering forms of distortion tend to focus on the negatives rather than on the positives when making conclusions about others. Or in other words, people of this sort of thinking may choose to focus on what’s not working, rather than on what is working. Therefore, the reality is interpreted in a flawed negative perspective that that in the end could prevent seeing things clearly and realistically. To successfully work through this cognitive distortion, you must get into the habit of persistently looking for the good within every situation. The three blessings exercise can help to be more optimistic in interpreting events in life (Seligman et al., 2005). This is important because we tend to focus on what isn’t good – it’s called the “negativity bias.” So, the three blessings exercise discovered by Seligman and others was: “Write down three things that went well each day and their causes every night for one week. In addition, provide a causal explanation for each good thing.” Seligman, et al. (2005) reported that Seligman, people who wrote down three good things they had experienced during the day before going to bed every day for a week exhibited significantly greater happiness and less depression. Moreover, this effect persisted for half a year.
Jumping to conclusions is another cognitive distortion form were people of this thought tend to make irrational assumptions about other people and circumstances. We, for instance, assume that something will happen in the future (predictive thinking), or assume that we know what someone else is thinking (mind-reading). The problem is that these conclusions are rarely if ever based on facts or concrete evidence, but rather based on personal feelings and opinions. To successfully work through this cognitive distortion, a person may start to question whether other explanations or possibilities exist. This can be done by proving your thoughts false with evidence, thinking optimistically, and putting the situation in perspective. These ways of fighting with distorted thought are named real-time resilience. Real-time Resilience is the skill of fighting back against counterproductive thoughts as soon as they occur, so you remain task-focused and motivated (Reivich & Shatte, 2003).
For each counterproductive thought, one of the strategies listed down can help to generate a real-time resilience response. The sentence starters can help you to formulate the response. They are:
Evidence: That’s not true because…..
Reframe A more helpful way to see this is……
Plan: If x happens, I will y…….
A person who experiences fear and anxiety in social situations for instance might have torturing thoughts when being in social situations. Fear of being rejected or fear of being judged if involved in doing something could be predominant. The intrusive thoughts could be “you don’t fit in, you don’t belong to this social situation.” During these times real-time resilience response could be used. For instance, a person who uses social media might experience fear for posting a picture. During this time real-time resilience responses could be generated against counterproductive (distorted) thoughts.
Counterproductive thought: “You are bothering people by writing things less important to them. You should do this in your own notebook.”
Response using evidence: That’s not true because writing on social media could give me a platform to express my ideas and get feedback from the people interested in what I wrote.
Response using optimism (reframing): A better way to see this is that people join social media to share ideas. As far as I keep on trying to share my ideas and get feedback on them, I could get more interested people in what I write.
Response using ‘Put It in Perspective’ or plan: If people are not interested in what I post, then they can unfollow my posts. I don’t have to stop trying to express my ideas for they are important to the development of my writing skill.
To summarize, distorted thoughts might lead to wrong interpretations of events happening in daily life. This, in turn, might pave the way to negative feelings like anger, fear, frustrations, and sadness. When distorted thoughts are at collective societal levels they might be related to fear of danger to their survival. Societal groups could also anticipate fears about dangers to their values, culture, religion, and worldviews. This is termed an existential threat and it is survival related fear, which is natural and normal. What is worth mentioning is these distorted thoughts might be shared as a group. These counterproductive thoughts might fuel the fears of people of different worldviews, cultures, religions and the like. If these fears are not expressed in civilized ways, the existential threats which were normal would turn into extreme forms of hate speeches, intense rage, anger in the form of violence and crimes against people considered to be threats to worldviews. The case of Myanmar against Rohingya could be a recent example (Aljazeera News, October 18, 2017).
In contemporary times of human life, how we communicate our frustrations, concerns, ideas, worldviews and the like to others matter a lot. Communicating that could bridge different mentalities needs skills and ways of communicating. We can have control over our anger and fear if we are able to communicate them successfully. For persons to be able to control the consequences of their emotions, they first need to recognize and label their emotions. Being able to accurately name emotions, identify the reasons for the feelings experienced, and communicate emotions in a skilled way is very important to manage emotions effectively. It is not only specific to emotions, the way people communicate their ideas to people of a different worldview, culture, values and the like is very important.
To protect their worldviews and express their thoughts people may debate. There could also be people who could engage in discussion. While there could also be people who prefer to use dialogue. According to Gerzon (2006) unlike dialogue, discussions and everyday conversation assume shared worldviews, mindsets, or a set of common beliefs. These two approaches may not have enough room to bridge people having different worldviews. In these situations, one group might feel that their perspectives were not valued or respected. For instance, in the discussion, the goal is to come up with a common understanding over an issue, while debating aims at defending own idea to win so that the other would lose. Hence, debate and discussion might not be a better way to communicate to bring people of different worldviews together. To better understand the other person’s perspective and bridge differences in communications is to engage in dialogue.
Dialogue is a way of communicating that recognizes that people may approach and think about an issue in ways that are different from yours. Dialogue acknowledges that these different viewpoints may all have value, inspires more honesty and forthrightness avoids superficiality and increases the likelihood that everyone will be “heard” (Gerzon, 2006). With dialogue, people are expected to engage in active listening, empathic understanding and respect to others idea while expressing own worldviews. This way people can have a better understanding to correct misconceptions, biases, and stereotypes. In summary, our communication skills affect how we solve problems, how we resolve conflict, and the level of trust we generate in our relationships. A lack of communication may result in confusion, misunderstandings, and we fail to bridge different mentalities that would have the potential to make the world a better place to live.
When communicating emotions, individuals need to have awareness of their emotions, non-blameful description of behaviour found unacceptable, and the concrete effect of the unacceptable behaviour. ‘I’ statements and ‘you’ statements were coined by Thomas Gordon, a student of Carl Rogers (Johnson, 2012). “I” statements, when used correctly, can enable individuals to speak up for themselves while respecting the right of others. In that, “I” statements can help foster positive communication in relationships and may help share feelings and thoughts in an honest and open manner.
However, we could find people communicating their feelings by blaming listeners for the negative feelings and making them responsible for that. While doing so, they commonly use ‘you’ statements in a way that the person communicated to is made responsible for the negative emotions experienced. ‘You’ statements are phrases that begin with the pronoun “you” and imply that the listener is personally responsible for the feelings experienced by the speaking. Blaming wouldn’t let the speaker transfer messages clearly. And it is less likely to result in positive communication and fail to bridge mentalities.
Here is one of the examples used to show ‘I’ statement in communicating feelings: ‘I feel sad [feelings] for you failed to respond to requirements of the project in time [behaviour] because that means I have to leave my work give time to incorporate your lately submitted work [Effect].”
How could we flourish?
I think everybody living in this world looks for ways to flourish in life, to be successful, to be happy. To achieve this end, there could be people trying to invest time in avoiding what they don’t want, just like taking medications to cure disease. This group of people might spend a majority of their time and energy experiencing how painful are the things they did not want in life. There could also be people who prefer to invest in what they want to see in their life, as there could also be people who try to consider both ways. Seligman, founder of positive psychology explained these five core elements to flourishing, in his PERMA model: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment (Seligman, 2011). You can also watch Seligman’s video on PERMA Model using this link (https://youtu.be/iK6K_N2qe9Y). According to Seligman, to flourish positive emotions are very important. People who are an optimist and experience positive emotions, can be creative, productive in what we engage, have meaningful relationships with others, and they can accomplish challenging experiences and strive to better ourselves.
Every human being wants to experience positive emotions like joy, hope, love, pride, gratitude and the like. On the other contemporary life also involves concerns about economic crisis, political instabilities, injustices, refugee crisis. Within this context, people could feel frustrations, fear, anger, sadness and the like. As human beings, we need to have the ability to keep on growing through good times and through life struggles. There could be frustrations, losses and unpredictable actions, sometimes we might not change some of the things happening in life; however, as psychologists used to emphasize, we can learn to change the way we let such events affect us. Learning to shift our focus away from what we think we would lose toward what we want to gain, would change our perceptions of the situation. As we keep on being optimistic about our future, engage in action, establish positive relationships with others and see positive things in them, then we could every time get to a better position to make this world a better place to live.
American Psychological Association, APA (2017) Controlling anger before it controls you [Web log post]. Retrieved October 6, 2017, from http://www.apa.org
Amnesty: Myanmar committed crimes against humanity (2017, October 18), Aljazeera News. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com.
Beck, A. T. (1976). Cognitive therapies and emotional disorders. New York: New American Library.
Ellis, A. (1994). Reason and emotion in psychotherapy (re. ed.). Secaucus, NJ: Birch Lane.
Gerzon, M. (2006) “Moving Beyond Debate: Start a Dialogue,” HBS Working Knowledge, May 22, 2006.
Hirschberger, G., Ein-Dor, T., Leidner, B., & Saguy, T. (2016). How Is Existential Threat Related to Intergroup Conflict? Introducing the Multidimensional Existential Threat (MET) Model. Front Psychol, 7, 1877. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01877
Johnson, J. A. (2012) Are ‘I’ Statements Better than ‘You’ Statements? Psychology Today, November 30, 2012.
Reeve, J. (2014). Understanding motivation and emotion. John Wiley & Sons.
Reivich, K., & Shatte, A. (2003). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles. New York, NY: Broadway Books.
Seligman, M. E. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being (1st Free Press hardcover ed.). New York, NY: Free Press.
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410