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  • Robin Parry

The Role of Anger and Fear in Abusive Relationships


Anger and fear are two powerful emotions that have important and positive functions but they can also get us into a great deal of trouble. Anger can lead to impulsive actions with negative and unintended consequences. Fear affects our thinking, our general wellbeing and particularly our decision-making. In abusive relationships anger and fear are interconnected because anger in one person produces fear in the other.

Anger may be expressed to censor or control another person or to conceal feelings of vulnerability. It is often referred to as a secondary emotion as there is usually another distressing emotion underpinning it. When children are angry a wise parent steps away from the power struggle and seeks to understand what is behind their child’s rage. We are often surprised at what the problem turns out to be. For instance, a child reacted angrily when his teacher praised him for getting first in a test until it was revealed that he was feeling ashamed because a well-meaning adult had given him the answers. Insecurity and shame may hide behind an adult’s rage but learning to manage anger and to relate kindly is the responsibility of the abuser.

What do you think might happen if your fear was contained and you responded differently, possibly more assertively or indignantly? Would your abuser intensify his anger to make it more effective? If that were to happen you would know that fear is your friend, your warning signal to do whatever is required to keep yourself safe. But there may be situations where fear has grown so powerful that it controls your life, so that circumstances that are not life threatening will be responded to as if they were.

To work out how dangerous or otherwise is your partner you would need to shift out of your heart and into your head. No one can evaluate risk more effectively than you. If you can put your fear of the abuser in perspective you may discover options you never thought possible. Maybe its time for you to think about what you would like in your life and to think about what is stopping you from getting there.


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