I read in the news today that the main emotion South Africans are feeling a few days into COVID-19 lockdown is anger. Surprising? No, not really. Here’s why…
I like to think of anger as “fear’s bodyguard” – because that’s usually what anger is protecting: the more vulnerable feeling of fear we don’t want to acknowledge. You see, anger (with all its Adrenalin-fueled pumping up of muscle and gushing of glucose around the body) just feels like a more powerful experience to us than the shaky, nauseous, achy state of fear. And who wouldn’t prefer to feel that?
I see it all the time in therapy: clients come in raging but when we explore further, they are really just scared and feeling powerless.
So, this national anger is not surprising. But it’s also not helpful. You see, unless we deal with the real problem (fear) we won’t heal. And we won’t help others heal either.
Instead of staying angry, let’s process this fear in 5 steps:
Step 1: Admit that we are really just scared.
We can’t heal what we are not honest about. We can’t process fear whilst insisting we aren’t afraid! So, admit to yourself, God and others what you are really feeling: scared, powerless, vulnerable, uncertain etc. Say it out loud. Write it in your journal. Pray it. But say it. Otherwise, the emotions we can’t express honestly can start to manifest in our physical, mental and relational health.
Step 2: Challenge the fearful beliefs
Now, allow those fearful thoughts and feelings to be challenged with questions like: Is this belief objectively true? Is it helpful to me to continue to believe this? Can I do anything constructive for others by believing this? If the answers to these questions are “NO” – move on to step 3. If not, check your responses with another person whose counsel you trust.
Step 3: Reject false fearful beliefs
Make a conscious choice to reject false fear-inducing beliefs. For example, those catastrophic beliefs where the outcomes are just not plausible. It can be helpful to say this out loud: “I reject this belief that…” – hearing yourself voice this amplifies the choice. Otherwise, every time the belief crops up – intentionally reject it again and replace it with a truthful one.
Step 4: Let go of fearful truths
This is an interesting one. Some of the beliefs feeding our fear are true (we are not denialists!). Here, an additional question might be: “Can I do anything about this?”. It addresses the powerless part of our fear. If something is true and making us afraid but we can’t do anything about it, then it is not helpful to dwell on it and it won’t help us or others to heal. So, we need to let it go. We can let it go in prayer, meditation and through the things we choose to say (or not say) and do (or not do). It’s during this kind of crisis that our words and actions are extra-powerful.
Step 5: Let yourself be loved
Love is the main antidote to fear (and, therefore, to anger!). Let yourself be loved by God and others. Meditate on love. Let the kind words of others wash over you. Sink into that warm hug from your family. Accept that generous gesture from a stranger. Receive love and give more back…
If we do this, soon we will find anger and fear losing ground in this lockdown.