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 Management Activities


A quick look at Demystifying Emotions: Simple Powerful Tips to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence and Help You Stop Overreacting


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.


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 Management Activities

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


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  • Ann Silvers
Comments 6
  • 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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