What Anger Really Means

Individual Therapy in Bethesda, MD

I’ve started individual therapy to deal with my anger. Too many times, I find myself yelling at my husband and or yelling at my kids. I don’t want to be an angry person–just like my mom was when I was growing up. What does my anger really mean? 

We’re so glad that you found your way into individual therapy to help with your anger. It can be scary to realize how often you are yelling at the people in your life who are important to you. It hurts them, and it ends up hurting you.

One of the ways individual therapists at Emily Cook Therapy talk about emotions, especially anger, is in terms of primary and secondary emotions. Primary emotions make us feel vulnerable and they’re usually harder to express to another person–they include fear, hurt, shame, sadness, disappointment. Secondary emotions– like anger, frustration, defensiveness, or apathy– cover up primary emotions and distort them.

Here’s an example: when a kid steps into the street without looking as a car is approaching, the parent is going to quickly reach out, pull the kid back, and yell “Don’t Do That!” Ask the parent how he/she feels, and the answer will likely be angry because “My kid didn’t pay attention! My kid knows better! My kid didn’t listen to me!” But anger is just the secondary emotion– the primary emotion is fear. “I was so worried my kid would get hurt. I was so afraid the driver wouldn’t see my kid.”

So what does anger really mean? When we express anger by yelling instead of expressing the primary emotion, our true message is lost. Shouting our anger means the other person stops listening, it means the other person shuts down or becomes defensive, it means the other person will likely shout back, and then we ourselves will stop listening.

Of course, anger isn’t just how we’re communicating but also what we’re communicating. The words you use are just as important as your volume and tone, and others can know you’re angry even if you didn’t raise your voice. In her book called Talk to Me Like I’m Someone You Love, Nancy Dreyfus offers suggestions for phrases that convey the primary feelings underneath the primary emotion of anger. Instead of, “You never listen to me!” or “I’m finished talking to someone who doesn’t care about what I have to say!” she offers softer, alternative messages like “You don’t have to agree with me, but it hurts when you don’t take me seriously.”

Through your individual therapy, you’re going to learn the difference it makes when you match both your message and your tone to the primary emotions that underlie the secondary ones– empathy instead of judgement, sadness instead of frustration, fear instead of anger. Through your individual therapy, you’re going to learn the difference it makes when your anger subsides.

Would you like to learn more about what anger really means? Would you like to rid your life of anger? Does someone you know need help finding the emotions the underlie anger? Emily Cook Therapy offers individual counseling in Bethesda, MD. Call us today, we can help.