Anger is a Secondary Emotion

Anger is a Secondary Emotion

If you or someone around you has anger outbursts, is quick to anger or has other anger issues, you may be wondering what causes anger.

What really causes anger: other underlying painful emotions that aren't getting dealt with directly. 


What's in This Post

Anger is the Tip of the Iceberg
List of Negative Emotions
What To Do with Anger
Anger Turned Inward: Depression
 Anger Management Activities


Anger is the Tip of the Iceberg

With an actual iceberg, about one-third of it is visible and two-thirds 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.

Sadness can get turned into anger. Anxiety can be turned into anger. Rejection, shame, resentment, or any other uncomfortable, painful, "negative" emotion can show up as anger. 

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


anger meaning anger management activities


Learning to identify the particular emotions under specific incidents of anger will help you manage anger -- your own anger and other people's.


Anger Iceberg Poster Download Printable




List of Negative Emotions 

Emotions are meant to give us information. Not knowing how to label your emotions gets in the way of you understanding and using that information.

I developed a list of 101 emotion words to help people expand their vocabulary around emotions. I use the list in all my emotion skill-building books and products including A quick look at Demystifying Emotions: Simple Powerful Tips to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence and Help You Stop Overreacting and Emotional Intelligence Booster card set.

Here's the half of my 101 emotion word list that describes painful, uncomfortable, "negative" emotions. 

First a few words about the terms negative and positive emotions. These labels infer that some emotions are bad and some are good. From my perspective, emotions aren't bad or good; they are all information. Some emotions hurt and some feel good. I prefer terms like uncomfortable and painful and comfortable and feel-good rather than negative and positive.


negative emotions word list


What To Do 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 is/are the emotion(s) 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 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.” That can help relieve the parents pent up fear and give the child more understanding about why they shouldn't have wandered off. 

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


Anger Turned Inward: Depression

Depression is anger turned inwards. There is some emotional pain underneath that isn't being addressed and is getting turned into depression.

Depression can have a biochemical component, but it's a chicken and the egg thing: which came first. 

With depression, it's always wise to ask "What's underneath this depression?" As with outward anger, the underlying pain could be one emotion or many. 

For a description of depression in both men and women, check out my post:  Depression in Men: It Happens More Than You Think.


Anger Management Activities

I've created journal/workbooks to help people understand and label the emotions under their anger and process those emotions so they aren't bursting out as anger. 

For processing uncomfortable emotions, in general, check out Learn, Let Go, Lighten Up: Silver Lining Emotional Detox Journal & Workbook.  

If anxiety is driving your anxiety, Becoming Calm: Silver Lining Reduce Anxiety and Increase Stress Resilience Workbook and Journal is a great resource for you.


Learn, Let Go, Lighten Up: Silver Lining Emotional Detox Journal & Workbook, angry emotion expression management workbook



Becoming Calm: Silver Lining Reduce Anxiety and Increase Stress Resilience Workbook and Journal





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  • Ann Silvers
Comments 12
  • Ann Silvers
    Ann Silvers

    Hi Refina. Thanks for asking about the iceberg as a poster. I’ll look into the possibility of producing this as a poster. I’ll email you more information. -Ann

  • Refina

    Do you have a poster of the anger iceberg?

  • Ann Silvers
    Ann Silvers

    Hi Becky. Good to hear how much you appreciate my anger iceberg graphic. I’ll reach out to you via your email address. – Ann

  • Becky

    Hi Ann,
    I run an addiction recovery group and I’d like to use your graphic, the Anger Iceberg, in a PowerPoint I developed for my group, please?

  • Ann Silvers
    Ann Silvers

    Hi Wendy. Good to hear that you think your daughter would benefit from the anger iceberg. I’ll reach out to you via email to talk more. -Ann

  • Wendy Liu
    Wendy Liu

    May i use your iceberg image? I am working with my daughter who is exhibiting behavioral issues and lashes out but I know there are so many things underneath her anger. I think this would be a great visual to show her.

  • Ann Silvers
    Ann Silvers

    Hi Joanna. Glad that you like the anger iceberg graphic. Thanks for asking to use it for your workshop. I’ll reach out to you via email to talk more. -Ann

  • Joanna Baker
    Joanna Baker

    Hello Ann, May I use the iceberg image in a workshop I’ll be teaching? It’s a wonderful representation of anger as a secondary emotion.

  • Ann Silvers
    Ann Silvers

    Hi Ronda. I’ll reach out to you via your email address. – Ann

  • Ronda SHirley
    Ronda SHirley

    Hello, I’m a LMFT. I think that your anger iceberg is amazing! I would love to get this image and use it as an intervention. Would this be possible? I appreciate you taking the time to read my request.

  • Ann Silvers
    Ann Silvers

    Hi Erin. I’ll reach out to you using your email address. -Ann

  • Erin Holbrook
    Erin Holbrook

    May I use the image of the iceberg in a personal blog post? I can also quote your book (though I haven’t read it, yet, it is on my list).

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