If you’ve ever come up against some really strong feelings – either your own or someone else’s – then you’ve probably felt yourself freaking out a little bit. Going into flight, fight or freeze mode! In Part 2, we talk about the fear of feelings and the fear of anger.
Fears of Intimacy
As we talked about last week, we all have the fear of intimacy to some degree. Which one (or ones), and the severity, is mostly due to what we experienced in our families of origin (FOO). But the exciting thing is these do not have to be perpetuated through the course of our marriages!
We can overcome fears by acknowledging them, identifying them, and talking about them with a safe, caring spouse. As we quoted last week, “Perfect love casts out fear”. We do not get perfect love from our spouse all the time, but at least a healthy, sincere love will do a great deal to uproot and disempower these fears.
As we jump into Fear #3, we again want to acknowledge the work and research of Dr. Gerald Weeks and Dr. Stephen Treat in identifying these fears of intimacy. Both of these individuals have extensive experience helping marriages and it is more of their hard work that we are unpacking in today’s episode.
Fear #3: Fear of Feelings
This fear has elements of the previous two fears (see OYF009), but this one is especially about feelings. Some spouses have learned to fear their feelings – all of them!
Rather than feel, these spouses would rather think. They hide behind rationality, denial, intellectualization, or just plain rigidity about what is “right”, and in so doing, stay detached in order to keep space between their spouse and their feelings.
Or, a person who fears their feelings may marry some histrionic, overly dramatic, to further take the pressure off them having to face their own feelings. If they have to deal with your junk, they don’t have to do the hard work of working through their own.
If you grew up in a home with alcoholism, depression, child abuse, manic depressive behavior, or just sheer emotional unpredictability, then feelings were likely overwhelming. What do you do then? You shut the feelings down.
Or, perhaps your parents denied or dismissed your feelings. Maybe you even got punished for having some feelings. This leads to the belief that your spouse will discount your feelings, so you ignore them, minimize them, and keep them hidden.
Fear #4: Fear of Anger
There are two sides to the fear of anger. One is the fear of my anger, and the other is the fear of your anger.
Fear of My Own Anger
Sometimes a spouse brings deep anger and resentment to the marriage. A classic example of this is in parentified children. These folks were asked to assume responsibility far beyond their capacity when they were children. Often they had to care for a parent – sometimes from very legitimate situations, or on the sadder end of the spectrum, a child with alcoholic parents having to be hyper-vigilant that a drunk, the smoking parent didn’t pass out with a half-smoked cigarette and set the house on fire.
These children typically either never had the opportunity, or were never allowed, to express feelings of anger and this builds up over time. In marriage, they become afraid of all that coming out uncontrollably so they keep their distance from others, including their spouse.
Or if a person has grown up in a very angry home and witnessed spousal abuse or experienced child abuse, this is also a common source of the fear of anger because they never want to repeat what they saw – being done in anger.
At the other end of the spectrum, a person may have grown up in a home devoid of anger so have the belief that anger is unacceptable or bad or destructive and so on.
And an example we can all relate to, regardless of our FOO: Maybe I just don’t have the skills to deal with anger so I just pent it up over time. Then BOOM it all comes out uncontrollably – and “Oh no, I have to make sure that never happens again.” So we stuff our anger inside and don’t deal with it… and then we have a perpetuating cycle based on, and reinforcing, fear of anger!
Fear of Your Anger
For individuals who grew up in homes with unpredictable, explosive anger, or in homes where anger was unacceptable, they may develop a fear of anger. Maybe they grew up in a state of constant fear about when the next anger episode would occur.
Put them in a marriage with someone who grew up in a home where it was safe to express anger safely, and all of the sudden normal anger is actually seen to be an incredible monster. This is not to normalize or justify abuse – remember, we’re talking about normal, healthy anger – but you can see how the angry spouse is not going to understand how the fear-of-anger spouse reacts so severely to what used to be his or her ‘normal’.
Again, this needs some ownership and a conversation about how anger was expressed and how you experienced it in your FOO.
In conclusion, we need to show the courage to move toward our fear. One great encouragement is the words of Paul to Timothy, for “God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and of love and of self-control.” (1 Timothy 1:7) He does not intend us to lead fearful lives or to have fear play a major role in how we relate to one another.
As we said last week, think about what fear or fears might be holding you back from close intimacy with your spouse. Acknowledging them, talking about those fears and sharing with our spouse can actually disempower the fear!
Try it today!
Just in from Christie: “Should you, as the wife, follow everything your husband desires/wants/chooses, etc for the family, even though you strongly are against it? How do you communicate to him that you strongly feel this is wrong for your family without making him feel inferior?”
List to episode #10 to hear how Caleb & Verlynda answered this relevant question!