STUMBLING UPON THE ANSWER
HOW THIS SYSTEM CAME TO BE:
In 1960 I was an intern in clinical psychology at the V.A. hospital in the Bronx, New York. The Bronx V.A. was, at that time, an imposing old red brick building dating from well before World War II. It was home to many excellent physicians and researchers, including at least one Nobel Prize winner.
It also had a surprisingly large medical library which, as a student working towards my doctorate, I visited periodically. The atmosphere was dour and I usually felt intimidated by the thick volumes filled with things I did not know and mostly, never would.
The place had long plain oak tables with hard straight backed oak chairs, evidently designed to make sure you did not fall asleep while there. As was customary, there were numerous books lying on the table opened or closed as their last user had left them.
On the particular day in question I had come in search of some information on schizophrenia which was a common diagnosis among the psychiatric patients in the hospital. I happened by chance to begin to read an article to which one of the bound journals was open. It was a journal of neurology.
The summary (if I remember correctly) indicated that the study was an attempt to differentiate neurologically between feelings of anxiety and those of anger or rage.
I could not begin to remember the reference except to say it was not a new article. The journal was over five years old at that time and, thus, the research would be nearly fifty years old today. The essential finding was that anxiety or fear on the one hand, and anger or rage could not be neurologically distinguished from each other. Perhaps today that is no longer true, but that single conclusion, came back to me repeatedly over the next ten or more years.
Although I should have seen it much earlier, the episode set in motion the chain of events which has culminated in this web site. The basic concept, which is the heart of this system of self help, gradually evolved and was successfully tested again and again.
As I grew up in the East Bronx during the late thirties and into the fifties, there were many times I was afraid. As a very distinct minority in my neighborhood I was often picked on and sometimes beaten up. On the other hand, I also fought back. When I did, I remembered, I was not afraid, only angry. It ultimately came to me thatyou can't be both angry and afraid at the same time. There might be a lot of alternating between fear and anger but only one could predominate at a given moment. Like the journal article had suggested, there seems to be a 'switch' in the brain that makes it possible to feel anger or fear but not both at once.
Years later, after I had earned my doctorate and had seen many people suffering from panic disorder,I came to the conclusion that most were actually experiencing (or rather had good reason to experience) anger and were simply ignoring or repressing it. They were also usually people who had learned not to deal with their anger.
The word repress means to unconsciously but purposefully forget or to consign into unawareness. Repressed anger does not even rise to the surface where it can be recognized. The person who has it does not know it and will normally deny it if asked. Some people find it hard to believe that they could be angry and not know it. But, ask yourself the following: Have you ever gotten angry with someone in your family 'for no reason' after a bad encounter with someone else that you just wanted to ignore and did not react to? That usually is an example of repressed anger and a process called displacement. The idea is simple. The anger which should have been felt for someone else is dis-(or mis-) placed onto a person close to you who is also not a threat.
With pressure building up, normally from some set of external circumstances, the energy generated by the anger producing event must go somewhere. Will it be anger or, in many cases, a panic attack. In persons for whom the anger is repressed, not only do panic reactions occur, but also depression, and sometimes migraines, stomach distress and other physical discomforts.
You are probably familiar with a hydraulic system. It is what stops your car if you press on the brake. If a piston presses down into liquid in an enclosed container and there are other pistons attached to the container, they will rise, because fluids are not compressible. Of course, humans are not containers and we do not have mechanical switches in our heads. These are simply analogies, but often such analogies are extremely descriptive of what actually happens.
You cannot compress anger, despite the current fashion of encouraging people to deny it, ignore it or just fight it. If you repress anger, it will ultimately show itself in other, often more destructive, ways.Anger is a feeling, not an action and it is as human an emotion as there is. I have heard ministers and rabbis say that we must convert our anger into something good. That is an excellent idea, but normally we can't do it. We feel blocked and to avoid the frustration associated with having no outlet, we 'forget about it.' The anger converts all by itself to fear, anxiety, depression or, panic attacks. Especially in these difficult days, there is a terrible rage in millions of people. To allow oneself to feel it is not destructive. To swallow it and deny its existence is!
A great many of us have been taught to fear our own anger. This sets up a special bind for a great proportion of persons suffering from panic disorders.
We have also recently heard that people who are easily angered have a high propensity for heart attacks. Thus, again, we are told, anger is bad and to be avoided. But we really can't. The persons who do have special problems because of excessive anger may, for several reasons, have learned to be angry about almost anything. Furthermore, they are often those who try to ignore and finally explode. We do not advocate being chronically angry as a positive thing. Rather, we are pointing out that we all do get angry fairly frequently. When we hide it from ourselves it becomes potentially dangerous.
This program is especially designed to help people who have panic disorders and who, once guided to self awareness, find that they have, indeed, been denying their own anger in numerous situations for much of their lives.
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Revised: March 14, 2002 .