anger and fear

A spiritual guide sat with me yesterday and explained something which I had never previously understood.  Indeed, at 53 very little seems like it could surprise me and yet this did.  It was new information as a human and it shocked me that I was unaware of it, the way you suddenly find something on our phone or computer that you had no idea was there and which is really quite helpful.  I had no idea, for example that my phone had a gizmo on it that would type my texts and emails simply by listening to my voice.  Who knew?  Nobody told me.  Everyone seems to know about it because when I mention this new marvel, my friends look at me with a strange combination of wonder and petty as if not knowing this about my phone was like not being aware that caffeine at night troubles sleep. Which is another thing I keep forgetting.

She told me that often, we humans confuse anger and fear.  I guess everyone knows that except me but it was news to me.   Apparently the human brain often confuses them when they happen with people we believe love us.

It does not happen with strangers or acquaintances at all.  Apparently our reptilian brains read all “others” as potentially hostile, based, I suppose, on experience.  Who has not had someone turn on them and cause anger?  But apparently when someone we believe loves us, is close to us, is an intimate of ours – turns on us, we think we are angry. The emotion we are feeling is so visceral that it indeed does feel like anger – the flush, the lack of control, the fight and flight, the whoosh of attack or retreat – of domination or shame.  These feelings all seem like anger but in fact they are fear.

Why would we be afraid of someone we love when they hurt us?  Why not just be angry like we are at the things people do all around us every day?  We are angry when a driver cuts us off in the highway.  We are angry when a store clerk takes a call in the middle of a conversation about the location of corn muffins (I LOVE corn muffins!) We are angry when a not-so-close friend forgets an appointment for the third time, sending a subconscious message about their value of the relationship.  These things make us angry.

But when someone betrays us who is close to us – a lover, close friend, a perceived-close-friend, a parent when experienced by a small, defenseless child, a priest, a spouse – when one of these betrays us, there is a very slight migration in the brain from the centers for anger to the centers for fear and because they are so similar and next t the centers for sex, it is very hard to differentiate anger feelings from fear feelings until your untwine them, slowly, later.

When betrayed or hurt by someone close to us we feel fear because we are afraid of being hurt again.  betrayal is always a surprise – that’s how we know it is betrayal endnote just anger or grief or loss.

We are so stunned by being hurt by someone we loved and trusted, that our PTSD kicks into turbo drive and then, even the slighted encounter will shock us with the kind of fear we feel swimming with a shark…not fear as much as panic.  Were they the post man or the store clerk or the auditor or even a surly neighbor, we could just get angry and blow it off with a burst of expletives or a long run with a dog.  But when it is someone close to us who hurts us, the pain is so searing and touches us so deeply that we become afraid that it might happen again with a kind of terror.

It turns out that we are still afraid of those saber-toothed tigers and it also turns out that the reactions to pain and death are hard-wired into us over 200,000 years of DNA.  We can’t even help it.  Only those tortured over long periods of time can overcome this natural brain event.

So Jesus, who experienced this particular thing arrives to us.  Jesus takes our hand and kisses our forehead and says, “Look away. Turn to me. Come unto me all who are heavy laden with fear and I will give you rest.”

And it turns out, that works.  Which is a wonderful thing and every bit as good as knowing my phone types for me.

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