In my introductory article on anger management, I introduced you to the notion that anger management per se often misses the mark. Spending all our time and energy handling our anger in more productive, pro-social ways can get tiring if we constantly have anger bubbling up that needs to be managed. Wouldn’t it be nice, for once, to be able to sit back and enjoy yourself rather than constantly spin inside your managerial role? It’s not too good to be true, but you must know going in that getting to this place will take considerable effort at first. Perseverance, patience, and kindness will serve you well in this endeavor.
To begin, we must understand the nature of anger. When not experienced as a secondary emotion (more on this shortly), anger occurs as a result of being a part of or witnessing a wrong. If we or a loved one are in harm’s way, the energy we call anger wells up, leading to two things: (1) an often laser-like focus on the wrong occurring and (2) increased energy to do something about it. We can view anger in this sense as organically pro-social. It occurs in relation to harm that we think must be prevented or averted. Barring any illegal, immoral, or self-harming act, expression of this type of anger can generally be viewed favorably. Sometimes called “righteous anger,” imagine Jesus routing out the bankers from the temple to get an image of what I’m referring to here.
As you may have already guessed, the vast majority of the anger we experience on a regular basis does not fit into the first category described above. Rather, the anger we generally need to “manage” falls into the category described as a secondary emotion. In brief, a secondary emotion is one that emanates from a judgment about a primary emotion. They generally occur due to our unwillingness to fully accept and feel the primary emotion. The primary emotion is usually one that feels physically uncomfortable and might also have a social stigma attached that reinforces the tendency to keep it held in. Sadness, guilt, anxiety, and fear are most often the primary emotions that get transformed into anger. As a result of judging and therefore suppressing their full expression, their energy “becomes” anger.
In my next article, I will cover in greater detail how to work with fear and anxiety. In this article, I wish to focus on sadness. Sadness occurs when we have lost something significant. Losing a job or the death of a loved one are obvious causes of sadness, but all too often we do not catch the more subtle triggers. At its core, we experience sadness when we’ve lost something that supports our self-identity. The reason sadness hurts is because we’re experiencing the absence of a psychological part of ourselves, not unlike losing a limb.
Feeling our sadness is important because it sanctifies the thing lost. Sadness fully expressed allows us to honor the missing aspect in our lives. This process reinforces the importance of reengaging in life so that we may begin cultivating the missing value. Not feeling our sadness prevents us from accessing the importance of the thing lost. Once we inquire into our sadness with kind curiosity, we will find that some value or quality is missing.
So how do you put all of this information into practical use? We’re all fond of steps, and I’m not here to disappoint:
- When you get angry, sit down and begin to feel the energy in your body. Rather than ranting and raving, start taking stock of your bodily tension. (Yes, this is very difficult at first. With practice you’ll get better, I promise.) Once some of the energy has subsided, ask yourself what you’re sad about. Usually something specific—and quite often completely unrelated to the thing that caused you to be angry in the first place—pops in.
- Once you’ve accessed the trigger of your sadness, it’s time to feel sad. I can already hear you grumbling. I know, feeling sadness isn’t pleasant, and that’s why so many of us avoid the sensation. A little trick I learned, and teach, is to say “yes” or nod your head when the sensation of sadness is felt. Acknowledging our emotion in this way makes it easier to access. Now, fully feel the sadness without judging or commenting. (This part is a bit difficult as well. It takes much practice to learn to feel our physical sensations without any accompanying thoughts.)
- Once the sadness has subsided—and it will subside—you can begin the process of inquiry. Ask yourself what was lost. If it’s not obvious, look to core values that you prize, such as kindness, fairness, support, etc. Often, we get angry when these core values aren’t experienced in ourselves or in our relationships.
- Patience and honesty in this process will often lead you to the missing value. Now that you’ve found it, it’s simply a matter of going out into the world and cultivating the very quality that went missing in the first place. This might look like being kind to coworkers, patience with your children, or being gentle with yourself when you make a mistake. Regardless of the quality expressed, your sense of power and accomplishment will increase.
Although the above steps are simply laid out, it will take you a few goes before you really get a handle on the entire process. We’ve come a long way from talking about anger. To bring that aspect back, recognize now that underneath much of our anger is a sense of powerlessness in the face of losing something sacred. When we re-access that missing component, we reclaim our power and, ultimately, our sense of peace.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.