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Panic Attacks, Anxiety, and Anger: The Dynamics of Defense (Part 2)

In part one of this three part series we poured a solid foundation by defining anger within the context of psychoanalytic and cognitive theory. Well, now it’s time to have a look at how anger directly impacts panic and anxiety.

As I focused upon recovering from my disorder, it didn’t take long before I realized I was a pretty angry guy. And my stealthy anger deeply impacted my day-to-day living. Now, I wasn’t one to have an explosive temper, or to be verbally or physically aggressive in expressing my anger. No, my anger was very much internalized and folks with whom I came in surface contact would probably never have known any sort of anger problem existed. Truly, all smiles and “I’m just fine” was my public persona.

I really doubt that most sufferers of chronic anger really even know it’s rumbling within them, much less believing there’s any sort of problem. Yes, in most cases you just can’t put a finger on exactly what’s causing you to feel so uncomfortable. I mean, it’s not like someone came up to you and busted you in the chops, it’s just sort of “there.”

Anger is a very real and appropriate emotion for all of us. But, anger retained for long periods of time, because it has no means of being managed or resolved, is an entirely different matter. And the reason it never goes away is because, in most cases, its source, even its very existence, is never identified and acknowledged. I’d be willing to bet that even sufferers of chronic anger who express it daily, and admit it’s a major problem, have no clue as to its foundation. And on they go through life with displaced anger, blowing off steam at inappropriate targets, including themselves, without giving a thought to the fact that their aim is tragically off-mark. This is a huge and totally avoidable case of mistaken identity.

So, why might a panic sufferer like me, or you, have anger issues? Well, how ‘bout these for starters: self-hate, self-punishment, poor self-esteem, not being able to relax, not being able to go out, not being able to initiate or manage a healthy relationship, not being able to plan for the future, just being saddled with this panic and anxiety mess, unresolved internal conflict, having social interaction problems, being the source of ridicule, believing we’re constantly letting people down, and on and on. Think those will get the job done?

My anger presented itself physically and psychologically in a variety of ways. Let’s see – stiff neck, short attention span, next to nothing patience, impulsive eating, smoking, drinking, general tension and anxiety, irritability, poor concentration, and all sorts of other methods of constantly beating-up on myself for “the screw-up du jour.” So many times I’ve likened my emotional and behavioral expressions of anger to those clinically associated with “self-injury.” One could even make the case for comparisons to suicidal ideation, gestures, and attempts. Really now, what’s the difference?

Well, fortunately, after mucho suffering I was finally able to put two and two together and identify the relationship between my thinking, feeling, and behavior, and the obvious presence of anger. And with that kind of insight, I was able to detect when my anger button was being pushed, as well as having a plausible explanation for some funky everyday symptoms that were making me downright uncomfortable. Now, I may not have known exactly what was making me angry, or what best to do about it, but I sure as heck knew when I was feeling that way, and that was a good start. By the way, a counselor shared an interesting observation with regard to the physical expression of anger and fear. She said tension in the neck generally points to anger, and a tight gut usually points toward fear. Hmmm, what do you think?

Well, let’s go ahead and close part two and look to part three for details regarding how I approached and managed my anger.