By Philip Holder PhD.
Copyright Philip Holder PhD 2013


Anger is not a root emotion. Anger is symptomatic of fear (most frequently), and/or frustration. Anger can be a fear of losing face with colleagues, fear of losing a job, or simply fear of loss of pride, acceptance, identity or self-esteem.

We live in a fast paced and demanding society. This is especially true for those of us living in the densely populated hubs of commerce on the east and west coast of the US. In fact in many ways, we are denied the ability to live in a way that is consistent with our human nature. One very significant example of this incongruence with our human nature shows in our natural “Fight or Flight” instinct that occurs when we feel challenged or threatened. In cave man days, if someone felt threatened they would likely attack, or run as fast as possible in the other direction. Today if someone feels threatened or challenged it is often socially unacceptable to fight or to take flight. For example, if someone feels threatened (physically or emotionally) by an overbearing boss and they were to make the choice to attack (physically or verbally) their boss they would likely end up in jail, fired, or both. As well, if that person were to flee the building and run home to avoid their boss, they will also likely be fired. Instead it is likely that the person will suppress those feelings causing the feelings to fester and grow. The result of the underling fear and/or frustration and the internal conflict will likely escalate and present itself as anger. Consider this example… With teenagers it is not terribly uncommon to see two boys in an argument or possibly even a fistfight over a young lady they are both interested in. Although the boys, on the surface, present their emotions as anger, there is a deeper underlying root cause of the anger… The cause is fear. It may be fear of physical harm, fear of looking like a coward to friends, fear of losing face, or fear of losing the young lady but nevertheless, it is fear that fuels the anger.


In the vast majority of cases addressing first the fear and/or frustration issue is the most effective way to resolve the anger issue. Attempting to address the anger directly results in merely putting a band aid over the symptom without affecting the cause. For actual change to take place the root cause must be acknowledged and resolved. This being said it is also important to consider that because people do not like to perceive themselves as fearful, they often cannot acknowledge the root cause of their anger. The key to success is in being brutally honest with one’s self. In virtually every case where anger is present “fear” is the true culprit. If a person accepts responsibility for their anger and begins to understand its true source, then and only then can real change begin. If they are focused on the anger, and deny their fear, success in overcoming the anger will be minimal at best.

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