Understanding Anger as a Secondary Emotion
Anger is a very complex emotion that can direct your behavior. When you feel angry, it can significantly affect you and even the people around you. Because it is so potent and sometimes even primal, anger may seem like a primary emotion. However, it is more accurate to view anger as a secondary emotion.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to recover from a burst of anger that you were unable to control. It may feel as if anger takes over a lot of the time, but fortunately, there are ways to manage and control it by first understanding the emotion. Here, we’ll explore why anger is a secondary emotion and how you can use this knowledge to your advantage.
Anger as a Secondary Emotion
Each individual feels anger differently. They may experience it under different circumstances to varying degrees. Feeling angry may be unpleasant, but it is simply part of the human experience.
Anger can emerge in different contexts. You might hear unfair criticism, experience unjust treatment, or simply not get what you want. All of these can trigger an angry response. Even the levels of anger can vary from person to person. It can range from mild irritation to frustration and even rage.
It is important to view anger as just another emotion that a human can experience on a wide spectrum. Anger is not always necessarily negative; in fact, sometimes it can be helpful. Without anger, we would not be able to stand up for unfair situations. After all, anger is a signal that something isn’t quite right — this is why it is considered a secondary emotion.
Anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion because it happens when we try to protect our vulnerable selves. Primary feelings are felt right before we experience anger. Almost always, we feel something else before we get angry.
So where does anger come from? Next, we’ll explore the emotions behind anger.
Emotions Behind Anger
Although primary emotions vary depending on several theorists’ models, they often include fear, sadness, disgust, and anger [*]. The reason anger is also considered a secondary emotion is that other primary emotions like fear or sadness are underlying emotions of anger and can cause a response.
Fear may include anxiety and worry while one might feel sadness from loss or disappointment. All of these feelings are uncomfortable and can make one feel exposed or vulnerable. This can lead to a subconscious shift into feeling angry. Anger allows us to have a surge of energy and feel more in control of our situation, dispelling feelings of helplessness or uncertainty. In other words, it can make us feel safe in the moment.
Understanding anger is crucial, especially in anger management for kids. A common technique is comparing anger to an iceberg. When we are angry, only some emotions are visible, when in fact, other more complex emotions exist underneath where they are not immediately apparent to other people. An anger iceberg worksheet can help anybody explore the deeper feelings they have when they feel angry and may not know why.
Overcoming anger is challenging for adults and children alike. It may be especially difficult in anger management for teens because they are dealing with such intense emotions all the time. When one has trouble controlling their anger, it may be because they don’t know the skills or steps needed to de-escalate. Some studies have also shown that people with poor impulse control experience anger and aggression differently [*].
Fortunately, there are healthier ways to release negative and angry energy. For instance, physical activity such as exercise can help one expend tension and energy from feeling angry. There are also other anger management activities you can do, such as identifying where anger manifests in the body, breathing activities, and spending time in a calm-down space.
It also helps to visualize the anger and, as mentioned earlier, all the other more complex feelings that trigger it. Anger infographics work especially well for kids, who may not be able to fully express how they feel when they are angry. And while tools like worksheets and infographics are usually designed for children, they can also help adults who are having difficulty understanding their own emotions. By understanding how and why you feel, you can react accordingly. This makes it possible to prevent anger from being elevated to the next level, which is often harder to manage.
Mindfulness skills are also helpful in building skills that will help you prevent anger from overpowering you. These skills decrease anger’s influence on your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. To manage your anger, try belly breathing or urge surfing. You can also take part in self-care activities such as yoga and other hobbies to turn negative feelings into a positive energy output.
The Bottom Line
Anger is a truly complex emotion that often masks deeper feelings. Whether you are triggered by fear, sadness, jealousy, or unfairness, it is normal to feel angry. By understanding it as a secondary emotion, it becomes easier to figure out what other feelings lie underneath. This allows you to deal with your anger in a healthy way, leading to better well-being and relationships.
However, if you are struggling with your anger, then it may be best to consult a licensed professional. They can help you manage these strong emotions so that you can a continue to live your daily life to the fullest.
- American Psychological Association. Primary Emotion. 2023.
- Deming A and Lochman J. The Relation of Locus of Control, Anger, and Impulsivity to Boys’ Aggressive Behavior. 20 June 2019.