Sometimes I will use a temperament/personality assessment when I work with an individual or with a couple. The one I use is a very simple instrument that looks at things like depressed mood, anxiety, sympathy or care towards people, passivity and submissiveness or aggressiveness and competition. It looks at impulsivity, how outgoing the person is, as well as how affectionate or expressive. It is meant to be a snapshot of a person on a given day in time…not a means of diagnosis.
There are certain patterns that I am used to seeing. If a person scores as being more depressed or anxious, they will probably score low on being social and outgoing as well as being expressive. Which comes first? Who knows, but people who are anxious and depressed are often less likely to go out with friends and less likely to talk or express themselves in any way including with affection. Does a person get anxious or feel down BECAUSE they don’t get out and express themselves or do they not get out or express themselves because they are down and anxious? Probably a little of both.
This pattern does not usually surprise them that much. What does often catch them off guard is another pattern I usually see. People who score more depressed or anxious often score low on sympathy or care towards others and high on anger.
“What? I’m not a mean, angry person. I DO care about people.” Of course, the assessment is not meant to be an authoritative voice and a person is free to disagree with the results, but after we talk about it further, I usually hear: “Oh, well, yeah, I guess that’s true.”
Depressed, anxious people are often very angry.
They often have things to be angry about.
And, when you have been wrestling with depression or anxiety you are often tired…overwhelmed with your own “stuff”…so maybe you aren’t as “caring” towards others and their hurt.
You just don’t have the energy.
Depressed, anxious people are often very angry…and very tired.
But, this logic can work the other way around, too.
Angry people are often very depressed and anxious.
My two daughters can both get to a point where they lash out at each other or, AHEM, at their parents. I have learned to do something when one of them gets this way.
“Eloise, you seem really edgy right now. I am wondering what is going on underneath that anger. I am wondering if you are actually very nervous about what you are about to go do.”
(ok, ok, so this is what my kids get for having a therapist for a mom! Don’t laugh too hard!)
Often these episodes happen before a new event or something they really care about…a time where they want everything to go just right.
They end up getting angry and lashing out, but really, they are very nervous little girls who don’t know what to do with their emotions.
There is ALWAYS something under the anger.
Like an iceberg.
Adults are NO different. Including myself.
You know what an iceberg is. You’ve seen Titanic.
An iceberg is dangerous because all you can see is the top and that top part is typically a tiny portion of a much larger section underneath.
Icebergs are dangerous because you rarely realize how big the chunk of ice is underneath the surface until you have been snagged by it.
The use of the iceberg as an analogy to human behavior or nature is nothing new, but I think we forget about the dangers of not addressing what is underneath.
And, really as adults it is our job to learn to recognize it in ourselves. And, I am working on that.
I am working on recognizing when I am edgy…angry and taking it out on those around me when really there is so much more going on underneath.
I am learning that when I become that iceberg my world does turn very, very, very cold. Isolated. Scary. Lonely.
I am learning to say to myself, like I do to Eloise or Lillian: “You seem really edgy right now. I am wondering what is under that anger.”
Insecurity, hurt, fear, anxiety, sadness.
There is ALWAYS something underneath the anger.
Anger is a very real and legitimate emotion AND it is a secondary emotion.
There is (almost) always something that goes along with it. Something underneath it.
And, when I gently, kindly say those words to my daughters it is amazing what will happen. They soften. Sometimes they cry and let out the anxiety they were feeling. They usually agree and we talk about it. Then we move on.
So, I am challenging you to first learn to recognize and tend to your own icebergs…and then learn to recognize and offer grace to the icebergs in the people you encounter every day….whether it is a close family member…or the angry lady at the doctor’s office check out desk…or the inpatient, edgy clerk at the bank.
Watch what happens when you say something simple like: “Wow, I bet this is a tough job.” or “tough day?”
There is always something underneath the anger.
What is underneath your iceberg?