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Anger is a secondary emotion

Anger is a secondary emotion

I see anger as a secondary emotion.

It is the tip of the iceberg.

With an actual iceberg, about 1/3rd of it is visible and 2/3rds of it is hidden under the surface.

With anger, anger is the visible response, and some sort of emotional pain is hidden under the surface. Instead of dealing with that pain directly, we turn it into anger as a way to release it or redirect it.

It is much healthier to learn how to identify and process directly the pain that’s underneath the anger.

That emotional pain under the anger could be many things: fear, rejection, shame, resentment . . . . There are many possibilities.

A single incident of anger might have one underlying emotion, or it might have many different contributing emotions.

Learning to identify the specific emotions under the anger is an important step in dealing with anger.

Anger can become a useful tool, helping you understand what’s going on for you.

When you feel anger rising, ask yourself “What’s really going on for me? What’s the emotion under this anger?”

With the answers to those questions, you can make decisions about what you might do to deal with the situation. You can then ask yourself what would be helpful to change--in yourself or the conditions you find yourself in.

I’ll use the example of a parent losing a child in a store to demonstrate:

The parent is afraid that the child is lost and fear mounts about all the horrible possibilities of terrible things that might have happened to the child.

Instead of expressing the fear to the child when he or she is found, the parent expresses anger, possibly shouting at, berating, or even hitting the found child. 

It would be better for the parent to express his or her fear to the child in a verbally direct message. For example: “I was really scared that you were lost or taken by somebody.”

You can get to a place of experiencing a lot less anger when you learn how to deal with emotions directly.

For more about anger and the underlying emotions, check out my book:


Demystifying Emotions Book

A quick look at Demystifying Emotions





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  • Ann Silvers
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