I, m 41, have had panic attacks for several years and as a result I have an increasing fear of situations in which the panic attacks could occur. I no longer go to crowds or to the cinema, I no longer take the S-Bahn, I don't fly, and recently I've also been scared when driving, especially in tunnels and on the freeway, because then I can't get out anymore.
I already have a place in therapy and can start behavioral therapy in a few weeks. But I'm wondering why I'm so scared. I am also afraid of conflicts and try to do everything right. When other people annoy me or hurt me, I often say nothing or try to calm the situation down by giving in and reasoning. After that I lay awake for hours with my heart racing and imagining all the things I could have said.
My partner and friends have often told me that I avoid conflict and inhibit aggression. I also know why that is. My mother died young and I grew up with my father and his new wife. My father is a choleric who freaked out out of the blue about little things. There were also bad arguments between him and his new wife (including physical violence). I often noticed that as a child and didn't know what to do.
As a child, I myself sometimes got angry at my father and told him that he was unfair. Once I also threw my bag on the floor. My father then became extremely aggressive and told me to stop it immediately, otherwise an accident would happen. He yelled at me and hit me.
Later, I secretly expressed my anger so that he didn't notice. I kicked trees in the forest or ripped off branches. I ripped pages out of books and tore them into scraps. Or I ran until I couldn't anymore.
I would be really interested to know if the suppressed anger is the cause of my panic attacks. What do you mean?
Dear Claas Z,
I imagine you are spot on with your guess that the fear and panic is related to suppressed anger.
Please imagine an emotion tree that has different branches: the bottom two branches are pleasure (with branches like joy, fun, excitement, enthusiasm, curiosity, etc.) and displeasure. The thick branch of unpleasure divides in turn into three further branches, namely in
Ideally, the emotional energy flows freely in all directions and the person can feel and appropriately express the appropriate feelings depending on the situation.
Quite often, however, certain branches are not enlivened, and as a result the energy that should actually flow into a certain branch flows all the more strongly into the other branches.
I work as a behavioral therapist and love coach in private practice in Hamburg-Blankenese and St. Pauli. In my PhD, I researched the connection between relationship personality and happiness in love and then wrote two books about love.
Information about my therapeutic work can be found at www.julia-peirano.info.
Do you have questions, problems or lovesickness? Please write to me (maximum one A4 page). I would like to point out that inquiries and answers can be published anonymously on stern.de.
Often people have trouble feeling sadness or anger because their life history has forbidden them to express those feelings. Or a child has learned that there is simply no point in feeling certain feelings because nobody responds to them. And then the child replaced those feelings with others because it hurt less.
Your sad story is an example of why a child learns to shut down certain emotional branches. For one, your father punished and threatened you when you showed anger. And on the other hand, your father showed you how destructive dealing with anger wrongly can be. That, too, must have led to you forbidding yourself from feeling angry. We will come to an appropriate and good handling of anger later.
When a person's feeling branch for sadness (a subset of pain) is shut down, that person often becomes unduly angry when they should be sad. For example, he stalks and threatens his ex-wife's new partner or picks fights with the ex-wife instead of mourning that the relationship is over.
And for people (like you) who don't feel anger, pain and fear show up in situations where anger is appropriate. For example, a woman on a date is insulted by a man, and instead of setting a boundary and distance himself (that would be part of anger), she cries and criticizes herself and her body. So she goes into the pain because she doesn't show anger.
It is very important to learn how to activate the whole feeling tree and have all feelings available, otherwise there will be shifts. On the one hand, these are uncomfortable for oneself and, on the other hand, they send the wrong signals to the environment and cause further problems.
An important step is to redefine anger and aggression for yourself. Anger often has negative connotations, especially when we had relatives in our childhood who harmed other people with their anger, didn't have control over themselves and overshot the mark.
However, anger and aggression are very important feelings for setting boundaries and pursuing goals. The word "aggression" comes from Latin and means: to tackle something. So if I'm training for a marathon every day, I also need aggression for that! Nothing succeeds without aggression.
Setting boundaries can also keep the peace. Because I have put a fence around my property, my neighbors and passers-by know that they are not allowed to enter my area or only with my permission. If the area were freely accessible and strangers would camp in my garden, make fires or play football in my flower beds, arguments would quickly break out.
This also affects my inner limits: If I indicate where my limit is, I save myself and other people trouble in the long term and there is much more clarity.
In order to find a suitable and positive image for dealing with anger and aggression, I recommend that you look around in your private and professional environment, but also in books, films and celebrities (e.g. politicians). What do you think of Annalena Baerbock's self-confidence? What of Donald Trump's conflict behavior? Who else can you think of and how do you rate him or her? Which style do you like?
Who do you know who you think is a role model and can set boundaries, respect other people's boundaries, criticize without destroying and hurting, address disruptive things, etc?
Once you have found a role model, ask yourself how this person would solve certain problems you have and what advice he or she would give you.
For example, I have a very self-assured colleague who keeps repeating the mantra: say it. So I plucked up courage and reported back to a patient that he smelled like sweat. That was uncomfortable for me! But afterwards I felt relieved, and besides, my patient received the feedback very positively!
I often ask people who don't understand me or who I find unfair: "How would you feel if it were the other way around? If you were in my position?" Usually the penny drops.
And if something really annoys me and a situation is very complex, I first write my anger unfiltered from the soul, with strong language, untherapeutic first-name messages and no censorship. That feels really good!
At the same time, I realize that this version of events will NEVER get out to the public, but to the trash.
Then I write further versions, which become more and more differentiated and balanced, until they are finally worded respectfully and calmly. However, the message is still clear. I name what bothers me and suggest a solution (e.g. a conversation, a clarification, a balance).
And sometimes what happened is so serious that this last letter explains why the relationship (be it a business relationship with a craftsman, a colleague, etc.) ended.
And then I decide whether I send the letter or just act accordingly because the situation is clear for me (and I hire a new handyman).
It has been your experience that when you show anger or when your father showed anger, it always ends in drama. This makes you very tense and agitated (and anxious) when it comes to situations where anger is appropriate.
If you practice expressing your anger clearly and calmly and the situation improves (at least for you) and you don't do any harm, then the arousal in such situations also decreases. Then the anger branch activates in your tree and the energy stops flowing into fear.
I'm also a lot less tense myself when I follow my colleague's mantra: "Speak up". Because I've done it many times before and it's always been good for me and in most cases also constructive for the other person.
Exactly such things are also practiced in therapies, e.g. in role plays, in searching for solutions together and in other exercises.
I wish you a lot of knowledge and learning success in your therapy and a living anger branch in your tree of feelings!
Herzlich GrüßeJulia Peirano