Anger is actually a secondary emotion indicating that there’s something deeper going on below. And it might even be harder to face what those deeper feelings are than staying stuck in anger.

Anger is a – maybe the – dominant emotion in our culture today. It’s looked down upon if it seems “out of control,” but it’s one of the few feelings that men can express without anyone questioning their manhood because of it.

But both women and men, if they’re paying attention, can be seething underneath. And that anger bursts out at times in over-reactions to practically anything from being cut off in traffic to responding with the most negative possible interpretation of what someone has just said.

There are couples who actually stay together in anger. We sometimes notice them shopping together or bickering with each other. Neither partner looks happy.

There are other couples where one of the partners simmers continuously below the surface. That makes all the little things the other member does annoying, even activities that in the beginning of the relationship seemed cute and adorable.

Women have been taught that they’re not supposed to express anger. The names for angry women don’t credit them with being righteous, determined, focused, or decisive, as they do for angry men.

Yet, anger is an emotion human beings widely share. In itself there’s nothing “bad” about it. And it will first of all, then, have to be acknowledged, or it will manifest itself in numerous ways

Then again, anger itself is actually a secondary emotion. It indicates that there’s something deeper going on below. And it might even be harder to face what those deeper feelings are than staying stuck in anger.

One wonders how much anger is beneath other common psychological issues. One therapist said: “dependent people are angry people.” And still another claimed that: “under all depression is rage.”

One wonders what emotional issues are below that anger. Once one has faced the fact that they’ve gotten angry in reaction to some event, reaction, words, or issue, then it’s time to ask what feelings are being covered up with it.

Usually, there are three deeper emotions beneath anger – hurt, fear, and confusion – and these three often go hand in hand.

I might get angry about what someone says, but my real feeling is the hurt that they aren’t taking me seriously, or they’re treating me as a child, or they’re disrespecting me and my self-worth.

Maybe I’m afraid that they’ll leave me, cause trouble, challenge me, or abuse me.

Or maybe I don’t want people to know that I don’t have any answers, don’t know what to do, or don’t have solutions to the problem they’re posing, when I feel as if I should.

The only way to know what really needs to be dealt with in our lives is first to admit our anger and then ask what’s really going on below it. Most men have been taught that doing this isn’t manly at all.

We might even feel justified in being angry, and maybe we are. But, as the saying goes: “If I have stuff with somebody else’s stuff, that’s my stuff.”

Our issue is why their stuff matters so much to us. And if our goal is to break anger patterns in order to improve the quality of our life and all our relationships, to cut through the expressed or unexpressed anger in our relationships, and to let go of what imprisons us emotionally, we’ll need practice reflecting in every angry situation we find ourselves on what the hurt, fear, and confusion is that’s the real issue.

For some of us this might be so difficult that we’ll need to seek a therapist or supportive listener to help. But others will be able to count to ten and use that time to ask what’s really going on behind our anger.

Then, we’ll need to decide what we’re going to do about the basis for the primary feelings. Because they’re unlikely to really be anger at all.

Contributed by

Bob Minor

University of Kansas
Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies
A national resource for information on gender issues and gay/straight relationships for organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and media outlets such as NBC and USA Today, Bob Minor, Ph.D. …

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