If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk,
if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do,
you have to keep moving forward.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Anger is such a powerful and raw emotion. According to psychologist Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence, he describes anger causes blood to flow to our extremities, making it easier for humans to strike out and run. Our heart rate speeds up and we experience a rush of hormones that create a surge of energy strong enough to jump into fight and protect mode. Anger is the human’s natural protective impulse.
According to Paul Ekman’s research, anger is one of the six “basic emotions” identified in the Atlas of Emotions along with disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise. Anger is felt by everyone at one point or another and it’s completely valid as its own emotion.
However, there are times when other emotions are spurring the anger. Anger is both a primary, basic emotion, as well as a secondary emotions that we use to protect the hurtful, raw primary feelings beneath it. For example, Richard believed he had an anger problem. When his wife makes a request of him, he immediately criticizes her. He does not like his reaction, but he can’t seem to help it.
As he worked on investigating the source of his anger, he began to notice there was “a space between” his anger and his actions. He came to the profound realization that underneath his anger was pure exhaustion and a feeling that he wasn’t good enough for his wife. So his anger was formed to protect him from disappointment with himself, as well as protect him from the deeply painful shame and fear that he was not acting as the best husband and man he could be.
Richard didn’t have an anger problem, per say. Rather, he felt that his wife was placing impossibly high demands on him. By seeking to understand and accept his anger, rather than fix or suppress it, he began to improve his marriage by recognizing his anger as a signal for a need—a need to set healthy boundaries for what he could and could not do.
Learning to recognize anger as not only a basic, valid emotion, but also as a protector of our raw feelings, can be incredibly powerful. It can lead to healing conversations that allow couples, as well as children and parents, to understand each other better.
Below is what Gottman calls the Anger Iceberg. It shows other emotions and feelings that may lurk below the surface of anger. Sometimes it’s embarrassment, loneliness, depression, or fear. Other times, it’s a combination of several feelings.
The bottom line is that there is always motivating factor beneath anger. While this feeling is a valid emotion on its own, remember that anger can also indicate other emotions that need to be addressed or validated. Happy soul searching!
This article is a summarized re-post of The Anger Iceberg from the Gottman Institute blog - https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-anger-iceberg/.
Hi! I'm Dr. Linda Abdelsayed. These are just some articles I've created on various life topics. Hope you find them helpful! Check me out on the About and Contact tabs above!