Understanding Fear & Anger
Over the years, a combination of factors, including my studies in psychology and rehabilitation as well as my experience as a police officer, injury management consultant and HR professional, has led me to the view that we do not teach our children key “vital behavioural skills.”
More specifically how to take control of our thoughts, because without doing that, it can lead to a significant number of issues later in life.
There are certain key behaviours which involve enhancing self-awareness, and how an individual then chooses to deal with situations as they arise. If parents and schools were more aware of physiological and social psychology, they could help them to grow up and deal with life in a much more robust way.
I am going to cover off some basic psychology for ease of explanation, but acknowledge that there is a greater complexity involved, which includes neurotransmitters and hormones among other things. In this context however, we do not need to go into that detail.
Blue Brain vs Red Brain
I will focus broadly on 2 areas of the brain:
1. The Cerebral Cortex (which I will refer to as BLUE BRAIN)
2. The Amygdala (which I will refer to as RED BRAIN)
Blue Brain is quite a large part of the brain. It is:
• The reflective part of the brain.
• Linked to where we do our conscious thinking and analysing.
• It involves our imagination, creativity and labels our emotional state
• The blue brain requires a lot of blood to function.
Red Brain on the other hand is:
• Linked with the primary emotion of fear and the secondary emotion of anger
• Responsible for the emotional component of a memory.
• Activates body’s response to danger.
• Involved in emotional learning.
• Memories of emotional experiences are imprinted in synapses in this area
While the emotions themselves are not bad, they can be extremely limiting and dangerous if we allow it. As a police officer I have seen many angry people who have done things in anger that have left their lives and others destroyed because of their actions.
Fear is another component that can be limiting and dangerous. Fear at its extreme can lead to phobias and high levels of anxiety that prevent people from even venturing out of the house in some instances, or have such irrational thoughts and worries it affects their lives in very detrimental ways.
As we grow up, this “fight or flight” instinct (Red Brain) can become a big component of unconscious learning and this forms an undercurrent of the type of lens that we look at the world through.
How we learn
The way we are wired affects how we learn when we are young. it is important to understand that there are 4 parts involved in what we learn and how we make decisions over time in terms of what we have learned and “how” we have learnt them in the past.
The 4 components are:
1. Conscious Thoughts (Blue Brain)
2. Unconscious Thoughts (Includes various parts of the Brain)
3. Body (Physical)
4. Emotions (Feeling/Physical)
As a baby most of what we take in is quite passive and because we are not able to “consciously” make sense of the world from our experiences and surroundings, we are mainly taking things in unconsciously, even the physical experiences, although tangible, are processed on an unconscious level.
Young children don’t yet have an analytical mind to edit and make sense of what happens to them, so most information they absorb comes in at a subconscious level. As children we are more highly suggestible so if something happens with high emotion, on a subconscious level we build a subconscious association with whatever caused that emotion, which is how early childhood experiences become subconscious states of being.
It is also important to understand what actually happens when we have a thought and how the body, brain and emotions all become involved. According to Dr. Joe Dispenza in his book You are the Placebo, when we have a thought, the brain creates a neurotransmitter which then creates a neuropeptide that sends a message to the body. The body then reacts by having a “feeling.” The brain then generates a thought matched to that exact feeling that will create chemical messages that allow you to think the way you were just feeling. As we complete this process for the first time as babies, we are greatly affected by what is happening around us.
If you are unfortunate enough to be born in a violent or angry environment you make sense of the world through the experiences you have, and you have thoughts and “feelings” that go with those experiences. Ultimately the more you repeat the pattern of thoughts, and go through the same process described above, it becomes hardwired and eventually the body subconsciously becomes conditioned to become its own mind or decision maker.
The effects on our decisions
We have this view that we make decisions with our conscious and rational brain (Blue Brain) but in reality, we make it with how we “feel” and how it has been hardwired into our body through the experiences and emotions we have attached to it. How we react in situations is also dependent on the others around us. The social aspect of us as humans plays a huge part in our behaviour.
To illustrate, I would use the following example. If I fall over in front of my group of friends, they will laugh and point at me, and more than likely I will laugh too and probably not worry about it too much. But let’s say the same thing happens in front of a girl I really like or complete strangers? Suddenly the context is different even though the event is the same. Now there might be an element of embarrassment or shame. This can turn into something if I “choose” it to.
As we grow up and interact with others, we constantly get feedback on how we should behave, and we learn the rules of the society or culture that we live in. Often, we use fear as a way to get people to comply. The laws of the land often have penalties associated with any breaking of those laws. This is intended to create a fear of punishment to create law abiding citizens.
In a smaller way and at the family level, parents and other family members will also use fear to get their children to be obedient and conform to what that society considers acceptable behaviour. This can be subtle but is intended to make the person fearful. Comments about body image or not being good enough or wearing the wrong clothes from a parent can have lasting effects and the child has those thought patterns hardwired and will feel an emotion associated with that thought in the body.
This is also not a bad thing, as we want our children to be accepted within society and follow the rules and become strong citizens that contribute to the world in meaningful ways, but sometimes the intention causes negative patterns. So, if someone is continually “feeling” fear, they can develop that undercurrent of fear and then they develop that fearful lens. Fear and anger do go hand in hand as the survival instinct is either Fight or Flight, so over time some people can develop an anger pattern, which plays out in them being bullies or just aggressive as their undercurrent.
In my roles in HR I have come across patterns of behaviour that show the impact of this undercurrent of Red Brain. The Human Synergistics research gives some insight on this, as it compares managers across the world based on 3 styles. One, which is the constructive style (Blue) and the other 2, which are based on an Aggressive Defensive style (Red) and a Passive Defensive style (Green). Those with high scores in these latter 2 styles tend to be less effective. Those with the aggressive styles in short have more people related issues, while those who are highly passive, and defensive tend to be highly compliant and people pleasers and tend to worry more.
How this applies to mental health and resilience
I believe that the reason a lot of people don’t ask for help if they are struggling with mental health issues is because there is a fear factor attached to them discussing the issue. Possibly the fear that they will be considered weak or of being laughed at or many other fears, but ultimately it is our home life and society that has instilled that “pattern” in us, so we don’t talk about these issues in constructive ways.
The reason people don’t raise issues at work is for the same reason. There is a fear factor about discussing poor behaviour with a colleague. There are common factors in a lot of these social interactions, but it is actually the mental struggle and the understanding Fear and Anger – how it can dominate how we interact with others, and how we can either choose to act or choose not to act. Making a decision to not do something is also an action.
Understanding Fear and Anger and how it shapes the individual, especially in a social context is the key to helping children to grow up into healthy, mentally and socially strong individuals.
Featured Image credit: Marina Vitale
Blue Brain Red Brain & How We Make Decisions Image credit: Clint Adams