“Angry” Is Not What You’re Feeling

So many of us go through our lives feeling so. darn. angry. When someone asks what’s wrong, the answer is so often “I’m mad.” But what is anger? What is really going on when we feel “mad”?


One book used in a relationships class I took for college, Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon,  proposed that anger is a “secondary emotion.” In other words, anger is what we see in a person (or even in ourselves) but it isn’t how we feel. Anger stems from all kinds of other, primary emotions. That book had a diagram of an iceberg (representing how what we see is small compared to what lurks beneath) similar to this which I’ve made:


Basically, things like worry, sadness, hurt, embarrassment, and fear are what a person is feeling when he or she says “I’m angry.”

Why does this matter? Here are a few reasons:

  1. It makes it easier to resolve bad behavior. This can be especially true for kids. Their angry outbursts could come from a place of fear or frustration. Solving the actual problem (helping to ease their fears or reach the goal they’re frustrated with) will then reduce the “anger” that you see.
  2. It helps to understand yourself. The next time you feel mad, ask yourself, “what am I really feeling?” This can help you self-reflect and learn a lot about yourself. It can also help you to get to the root of your feelings and make lasting changes. You’re angry at your spouse for making that offhand comment about you in public. Recognizing that it’s embarrassment that you’re feeling, not anger, can help you to approach the situation more wisely.
  3. Your speech becomes more specific. Instead of telling your friend that you’re “Just so mad!” that you didn’t get the position, you can explain that you were hurt because you felt you deserved it. Speaking in these specific terms can lead to real healing and solutions instead of complaining.

This concept can revolutionize the way you view anger. Anger is what you see, but beneath the surface, you’ll find bigger causes. The next time you find yourself feeling angry, allow a little time to recognize the underlying emotion. It will help you gain a better understanding of others, of the situation, and of yourself.


What primary emotion usually leads to your anger? Share in the comments below!


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