Our in-the-moment feelings and thoughts are only the fleeting, transient layer of our experience. Anger is an emotion, like any other, with a story, a reason, and a function. Dig deep enough and we discover that anger is like a blanket, a protective shield, that guards more vulnerable, more sensitive emotions below like fear, loneliness, hunger, hurt, and anxiety.
Many in the addictions recovery community will be familiar with the acronym HALT, which stands for Hungry, Anxious, Lonely, and Tired. These are the roadside warnings telling us to halt and take notice. If left unnoticed these feelings will lead you heading towards the anger territory. When we are hungry, anxious, lonely or tired we are more predisposed to outbursts of anger. Remember the last time you came home from a stressful day at work, and someone cut you off in the traffic? If you are like me after a stressful day, you are more likely to scream JERK! than sigh and send peaceful thoughts: “I wish them well. They must be in a rush.”
Hunger can be understood as more than a physical desire for food. We can be hungry for emotional and spiritual nourishment. In fact, humans cannot live in a healthy way without the healthy functioning of all three aspects of who we are: body, mind, and spirit. In his book on the causes of depression, Lost Connections, Johann Hari sums up beautifully our many possible dimensions of need:
“You aren’t a machine with broken parts,” he says about the hunger for needs. “You need to have a community. You need to have meaningful values, not the junk values you’ve been pumped full of all your life, telling you happiness comes through money and buying objects. You need to have meaningful work. You need the natural world. You need to feel you are respected. You need a secure future. You need connections to all these things.”
For anxiety, anger holds the sweet promise for the release of tension—all that pent up stress and pressure.
And loneliness isn’t just a lack of friends or acquaintances. Have you ever found yourself in a room full of people and felt lonely? Somehow removed from the worlds of others?
“Loneliness isn’t the physical absence of other people… it’s the sense that you’re not sharing anything that matters with anyone else.”
For tiredness, anger is an effective wall against others—and their requests, expectations, and desires.
Simply put, our unmet needs can lead us to escalate to anger. And anger sometimes appears to satisfy those needs, on the surface.
So how do we get our needs met? Well, there is no quick answer. It’s life-long learning. Sometimes we don’t have families or cultures that teach us how to fill our own cups and this is where counselling helps. We stop, pause, learn to take off our anger-shield and see what our innermost selves are crying out for.
Questions to consider:
- How comfortable are you in acknowledging your needs to yourself? To someone else?
- What is the messaging you received from your family and your culture about having needs?
- Take a day. Notice when the feelings of Hunger, Anxiety, Loneliness, and Tiredness come up for you. Instead of ignoring or passing over them, ask yourself, what is this feeling trying to tell me? What do I need right now?
About The Author
Lena (she/her) is a therapist with Helps Counselling. She is a first-generation immigrant from Eastern Europe, now living and working on the ancestral lands of the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh. She loves her work, and she loves to connect.