Anger is an easy emotion to see - it is often big, loud, and expressive. But, it's a bit like the tip of an iceberg. Below the surface we will often find many others emotions - ones that it doesn't always feel as safe or accepted to express to the world. Taking time to understand that anger is often a protector of these raw emotions can be a powerful tool leading to healing conversations with ourselves and others.
The emotions lying beneath the surface that we don't always see can include: frustration, jealousy, hopelessness, disappointment, pain, hurt, loneliness, fear, insecurity, embarrassment, stress, guilt, shame.
The Gottman Institute created this useful image that helps illustrate some of the emotions that might be under the surface of the anger we let the world see.
Anger is a Natural Emotion
Anger is a natural and protective emotion. Imagine you have worked hard on a project at work and you hear a co-worker criticizing it in the break room. Anger swoops in to protect you from the disappointment and hurt you feel in being criticized for something you have really invested in. Allowing yourself to open up and express the hurt you feel probably doesn't feel very safe, but expressing anger can allow your to release your feelings quickly. The problem is not feeling anger, it is most often what we do with it/how we express it.
Whether you are the one feeling the anger, or you are experiencing the anger of another person. It can be helpful to remember the anger iceberg and recognize that beneath the anger there is always a reason. When we can tune into the reason or the painful experience and validate that feeling for ourselves or someone else, it can strengthen relationships and self-awareness.
Working on Anger
Learning to slow down our own thoughts and reactions and thinking through our own anger icebergs can be challenging. Feelings like resentment, disappointment, guilt and shame can be difficult to unpack on our own. If anger is something you find you are struggling with often, a therapist can help you slow down and examine the connections between emotions and reactions and get to know some of the root causes of anger, while building new strategies for expressing yourself in ways that isn't harmful to yourself and your relationships.
Building a list of healthy activities that we can easily turn to can be a good strategy in learning to manage anger.
going for a walk
gardening (or doing a physical chore that you enjoy)
Using 'I' statements when you need to speak
Using the Anger Iceberg to bring awareness to other emotions
About the Author
Brittany Rickett, Bachelor of Education, MA in Counselling Psychology, CCC, LCT-C
Brittany has her Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology from Yorkville University. She worked as a teacher for 13 years before becoming a school counsellor and opening a private practice for virtual and in-person therapy in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. Brittany is passionate about ACT in therapy, and also draws on solution-focused and somatic approaches in her work. Brittany is a certified yoga instructor and Social Emotional Wellness coach offering online workshops and professional development on resilience, mental health, and mind body connection.