Anger as a Secondary Emotion; Why are you really angry?
A few weeks ago, I was angry at someone. The person had no idea and still has no idea that I was mad at them. At first, I wasn’t exactly angry; I simply took what happened between us as part of life. I later realized that I was trying to deny the fact that I was angry, maybe admitting it would show that I really cared.
Eventually, I admitted to myself that I was angry; I was mad at this person for what they had done. I began to ask myself why I was really mad and I found out that the true emotion I felt was disappointment and hurt and that anger was simply an easier way to express myself; anger was in fact a secondary emotion.
What is a primary and secondary emotion?
‘Primary emotions are direct emotional reactions to a situation, and they are called primary because they come first. It is your very first reaction to a situation, and they alert you about your needs.
A secondary emotion is an emotional response to a primary emotion, thus an emotion about what you feel. You might experience unwanted feelings, or feelings that you have learned that are not ok to express. That is when you usually encounter your secondary emotions.’
- Emotion Compass
From my experience, you can tell that the primary emotions I felt were hurt and disappointment but I responded by being angry which is the secondary emotion.
So you might probably relate to all I’ve written so far. I’m sure there were times you felt angry but deep down, you felt some other emotions, maybe hurt, sadness, frustration or you even felt threatened, attacked, invalidated, disrespected and so on.
Anger is usually easier to express and feel because you don’t have to deal with the primary emotions involved. Sometimes the primary emotions are hard to admit. Perhaps, they are against your values, or they are ‘bad’ emotions or you simply think you can never feel that way. Imagine admitting you’re envious…
For instance, I never wanted to admit that someone could hurt me that way, I mean, hard girl like me and I also didn’t want to admit disappointment because I'm not supposed to expect anything from anyone. If I'm not supposed to expect anything from anyone, how then can I be disappointed right? Truth is, whether I wanted to admit it or not, I was and that’s okay. To feel better, you have to go through the emotion; sit with it. When you do that, though it’s painful, healing truly begins rather than suppressing it and it comes up again in the future, subtly causing problems for you.
The Anger Iceberg
Think about this, have you ever felt angry and you're not exactly sure why you're angry? Perhaps what you're angry about isn’t something that would evoke such response from you. Anger could simply be a secondary emotion to what you truly are feeling.
There’s something in psychology called the ‘anger iceberg’. Just like an iceberg, there’s a surface just above the water you can see and then there’s a whole lot of ice underneath the water that is bigger but you can’t see. Take a look at the diagram below
From the image above by the Gottman, what you see in the surface above is anger which is very much visible to you and to anyone. However, underneath the whole anger are other emotions that somehow fail to surface.
Why do I need to know all that?
Learning about anger and the true cause of anger can help you cope better with whatever primary emotions you feel and to further improve and truly heal for a healthier, emotionally and mentally sound you.
Anger isn’t all bad, in fact, it can be good. Naturally, it tells us to protect ourselves; to defend ourselves and be cautious also. This is why someone would make you mad and you can be triggered to respond aggressively (e.g. by hitting someone due to the intense adrenaline rush) or you simply set up boundaries to prevent such from happening again. This is when you find yourself saying something like ‘it’s not your fault, it’s me that messed up, I won’t let it happen again’.
Anger can also be a primary emotion but is mostly the emotion of an emotion; a secondary emotion. Knowing this can help us heal better and move on faster. Overall, it improves self-awareness and emotional well-being.