For What It’s Worth…Anger as a Secondary Emotion
Therapy is way more than a toolbox of intervention. Information alone cannot replace professional help. However, information can be very powerful. So, for what it’s worth to you, here is the weekly post offering a therapeutic idea, concept, or intervention that you can try out in your own life or relationships.
Anger is sometimes called a secondary emotion…not because it is any less valid of an emotion than any other, but because it rarely stands alone. There is almost always another emotion that reinforces it.
The image that is often used to illustrate this idea is the iceberg. You know how an iceberg works. If from nothing else but from watching Titanic the movie you know that the wonder of the iceberg is that what you see on top of the surface of the water is only a fraction of what lays underneath. The unbelievable tragedy of the Titanic is that by the time they spotted the fraction of ice on the top it was too late to change their course in time to miss the monstrosity of ice underneath the surface.
When we experience a person’s anger (including our own) it is like the fraction of ice on top of the surface. It takes our focus. However, what is underneath the surface is much larger and more extensive. We would do well to reserve our attention and energy for this part of the iceberg. In fact, like with the physical phenomenon of the iceberg, if you are aware of what is underneath and focus on preparing for it then you are in a better position to avoid the deadly dangers of running into what is on top.
What is that ice underneath comprised of?
Fear. Insecurity. Depression. Anxiety.
Any variety of emotions that can make a person feel incredibly vulnerable.
For men and women alike, anger can feel more powerful and not as painful as the other options.
So, for what it’s worth, the next time you encounter someone who is angry (including yourself) I encourage you to remember the iceberg. Be still. Observe. Don’t react. Use some reflective listening. Be curious about what is underneath that anger. Like a balloon that has been deflated, identifying what is underneath the surface of the anger iceberg can let out some of the steam of what is on top.
In other situations, you might decide that the anger…or what is underneath…is not worth addressing. Perhaps, it is not a person you are close to…like the clerk at the store or a parent you see from time to time at functions or a classmate you sit next to in class. It could be that it is not safe to address it. In these scenarios just this information can be helpful in not letting another person’s anger to get the best of you.
Whenever I felt angry, it was because I felt sad or disappointed, or because I did not know how to handle a situation. Sometimes people are angry because they do not know how else to react. Sometimes anger is the result of many mized up emotions. But misplaced anger is always destructive and damaging.
One thing I learnt about emotions is that they are “neither right or wrong”. Many lump anger into a negative category, but it is a feeling just as much as any other emotion.
I find comfort in knowing that even Jesus got angry (probably more times than we realise).
The billion dollar question is what will we do WITH our anger, that but can be channel for good or bad.
I get angry when I am slated for not being good enough when I know the area under threat is actually my strength. The bit under the tip of the iceberg? Injustice!
Hi Emily, Thanks for your post – most helpful. I’m really interested in the Anger Iceberg concept and am wondering if you could please provide me with your reference(s) for this concept? I’m wishing to investigate its origins further, from a research perspective. Thank you in advance!