Today I want to talk about something we all experience. Anger. Anger is a normal human emotion, and it’s one that seems to come up often in our lives. Anger, frustration, irritation, annoyance, rage, resentment, aggravation, and exasperation. These emotions are all members of the anger family, and I’m here to share that there is a lot more to these emotions than you might think. Let’s chat.
Anger (and all the emotions in the anger family) are described as a “secondary emotions,” and what we mean by this is that these emotions are a reaction to other emotions, which we call primary emotions. Primary emotions include hurt, disappointment, rejection, betrayal, abandonment, judgment, loneliness, and a whole list of other emotions. We feel primary emotions first, and then because these emotions are too scary, too painful, or too vulnerable, we quickly categorize the emotions as something in the anger family.
Let’s look at a few examples.
You recently had some tests run at the doctor. They told you they’d call by Monday. It’s Thursday, and you haven’t heard from them. You are frustrated, angry, and irritated, but I bet if you slow down and notice, you’re probably feeling ignored, helpless, scared, and vulnerable.
Your close friend hasn’t really been there when you needed her lately, and you can feel your anger and resentment building. In reality, you’re likely feeling disappointed, forgotten, and hurt.
You tell your significant other about something exciting that happened during your day, and when they respond with a half-hearted “hmm,” you lash out in anger, claiming that they never pay attention. My guess is you’re feeling minimized, unimportant, and insignificant.
This flipping of primary to secondary emotions isn’t conscious or intentional, but we do it. For most humans, it is “safer” and less vulnerable to express frustration, anger, irritation, or annoyance than acknowledging the hurt and deep disappointment we feel.
The problem with this pattern is that we are left trying to deal with our anger, when in reality, anger isn’t the primary emotion; it isn’t what we are really feeling!
Consider the image of an iceberg: a tip of ice appearing above the surface, with a giant mass of ice below the surface. A novice boat captain might see an iceberg and think it’s nothing more than what appears on the surface. But a seasoned captain knows better. They know the tip of the iceberg is just a piece of a much larger issue, prompting cautious reflection and maneuvering. Anger is quite similar. Anger is what shows up, but it’s not the whole picture. Something is underneath the anger, and that something needs to be addressed.
This isn’t to suggest that anger should be ignored or stifled; anger absolutely has a place in our lives. This is an encouragement, however, to let anger and frustration serve as a cue, a reminder to slow down and reflect on what emotions are underneath the anger. Because you can deal with the anger, or you can deal the emotions underneath the anger. Any guess on which will lead to more impactful and helpful healing?
Think about a recent time when you felt angry. Remember what was going on, what you expressed, and how you felt in the moment. Notice the anger words you used and then prompt yourself to slow down, rewind, and acknowledge the primary emotions you felt in that moment. Were you hurt, invalidated, disappointed, or hopeless? Did you feel used, ignored, manipulated, or rejected? Were you overwhelmed, insecure, or lonely? Challenge yourself to use anger a cue, looking below the surface and acknowledging deeper, primary emotions.
This ability to dig deeper and acknowledge what lies beneath the anger is an important step towards powerful healing. Are you ready to start using anger a cue?