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Individual Therapy Tip: Anger is a Secondary Emotion
As a counselor offering individual therapy for nearly two decades, I have learned about emotions. I have noticed how well clients do that are able to properly recognize, feel and cope with their emotions (Related article: Emotions 101: How To Be Healthy). By doing this they are able to live a healthy life, where they can feel both comfortable and uncomfortable emotions (Related article: 3 Principles of Emotional Health). I have witnessed how crucial it is for clients to deal with emotions in a proper way. I have also witnessed how damaging it is when they don’t do emotions right.
Let me share with you about one of the more damaging emotions and what to do with it.
Enter, Anger. (Or frustration, upset, mad, irritated – they are all anger).
Anger Is A Secondary Emotion
Anger is a damaging, deceitful emotion. When it comes into your life, it is difficult to ignore. And, you think you are doing something about the situation when you embrace it. However, anger is a secondary emotion. That means that it is only present to cover up the primary emotion. It covers it up in a way that makes it difficult to recognize what is really going on emotionally.
For example, let’s say that your spouse says to you, “Why would you say that to our child? Sometimes I don’t think you know anything about parenting.” What would you feel? You might feel hurt, right? If so, it might be difficult to share that hurt. Because, in that moment it seems dangerous to be vulnerable and open up to him. Since he is hurting me now by saying that, he might hurt me more if I share my hurt with him.
Now, this doesn’t go through your head in that moment, but it might go through your heart quickly. And your reaction would be, then, to protect yourself. You do this by getting angry. Anger covers up the hurt and supposedly keeps you safe. It only gives you the illusion, though, that you are safe. You might then say to him, “Wow, like you are perfect!” Responding with anger.
What To Do About Anger
So, what do you do when you find yourself getting angry? Ask yourself this question – What am I really feeling? Get down past the secondary emotion of anger and identify your primary emotion. If you can do this, you will be in a position to address what is happening (i.e., your hurt) rather than reacting with anger. And no one has ever felt angry enough that afterwards they then felt better. Right? So, lets get past it.
Instead of picking up your anger, pick up your hurt. Then you will be able to do something about your situation. It makes you more vulnerable and helps you to move forward. Anger doesn’t do that. It just gets in the way. It puts the other person in a position where they are reacting with anger as well. And that never goes well. So, get past your anger and find your primary emotion.
Individual therapy is a great place to figure out what to do with your anger. It’s important to note that eventually you will do couples therapy as well – if you have a spouse. Your anger has impacted your relationship in ways that need mending, healing.