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Anger and Fear


Explanations > Emotions > Anger and Fear

Control | Purpose | Conflict | Flipping | Regret | So what


Anger and fear are related, even though they may seem very different. Yet it is that difference that leads to them being an opposing pair.


Both anger and fear are related to our deep need for a sense of control. Anger enhances it, which is why some people are quick to anger and seem to enjoy the feelings. Much fear is related to loss of control, which can be indeed terrifying.


Both anger and fear are designed to keep us safe.

When we are threatened, fear pushes us out of harm's way, giving speed to our legs as we run away or freezes us, hopefully to avoid being detected our picked on by aggressors.

When we attack, anger gives us the strength and aggression that may yet let us beat a stronger enemy.


In conflict, anger seeks to cause fear. In the fight or flight reaction, anger leads to fighting while fear leads to flight or freezing.

If both parties are triggered to fight, then one or both may be harmed. All else being equal, this reduces the chance of direct conflict to 25%. Even then, a period of posturing may give time for anger to subside.


Anger can flip into fear when a person realizes that their aggression may well get them into deeper trouble. This can happen when they find initial aggression does not cause fear and flight. It can happen during conflict as they realize they are going to lose. And it can happen when they have won but realize there will be serious repercussions.

Fear can also flip into anger, particularly when a person feels cornered. It can also flip when they pick up courage and project their shame of being afraid onto the other person, reversing the aggressor-victim relationship. A fearful person who flips into rage can be far more dangerous than one in more dominant anger, who may underestimate their changed opponent.


Either reaction can lead to regret, on the harm done by anger or loss of dignity from a fear response.

When the angry person calms down, they may find that their relationship with both the other person and all the other person's family and friends will be soured. They may also feel bad that their values of civility have been compromised.

When the fearful person reflects on what happened, they may regret their cowardly thoughts and actions. While we all hope we would take brave and heroic action, in the face of danger, in the heat of the moment self preservation takes over as many of us conclude that discretion truly is the better part of valor.

So what?

Manage your own anger first. When you feel it rising, step back. Beware of becoming addicted to the sense of power it may give you. If you are in a fearful situation, getting angry can be a good way out, though still beware losing control.

Then manage their anger. Provoking them to anger may lead them to regret later, which can be done deliberately, though always beware when anger may be directed at you and take a long time to defuse. Also manage their fear. If you push them, do you know whether they will gain the anger of fight or fear of flight?

See also

Anger, Fear, Fight-or-Flight Reaction

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