Fear + Anger = Suffering


Suffering is the reason people begin therapy. Even though there are various reasons and various degrees of which we suffer, we can agree, suffering is universal.

As the greatest science fiction philosopher1 of all time once said:

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Are there forms of suffering which don’t take this path from fear to anger to suffering? Maybe, but not many. At first blush you might think the loss of a loved one is a form of suffering which does not take this path.

But as we know, the first stage of loss and grief is Denial and Isolation followed by the second stage, Anger. I would argue Denial and Isolation is a stand in for Fear.

Fear is a universal notion we all understand. We each face fear many times a day. What’s important to me in this equation is the emotion of Anger.

I often find myself attempting to simplify emotions. Not in the sense that I undervalue emotions, but as an attempt to reduce the noise which often accompanies them. We are predictably irrational in our emotional reactions. We create stories in our minds to support our irrational beliefs. This helps us feel in control, feel less “crazy” and adheres to our deep seeded need to be correct.

I believe the act of simplifying emotions allows for easier processing and helps us see patterns emerge in how we interact with the world. Breaking down an emotion to it’s essence is crucial for our mental health.

When I address anger I make a point to simplify and discuss anger as a secondary emotion. I believe, to my core, that anger is a reaction to primary emotion which comes just milliseconds before we experience anger.

An easy example of this is the “almost accident”. You’ve been there before, you’re driving and out of nowhere another car comes careening at you. You slam on your brakes, avoiding the accident, as your heart attempts to climb out of your throat.

As you come back to your senses you may feel a short stint of gratitude for your safety but it doesn’t take long until the anger rears it’s head. It might come out in the form of a yell, a curse word or a even the ascension of a particular finger2.

Anyone who witnesses your reaction will only see the secondary emotion, anger. But what kick started the anger was the primary emotion of fear.

To succeed in life it’s important to learn how to simplify, identify and regulate our emotions. Only then can we address the primary emotion of fear and reduce our suffering.

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Indeed it does Yoda.

  1. Yup, you guessed it, Yoda. 

  2. That is the nicest way I’ve ever described someone flipping the bird. :) 

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