Anger: What Lies Underneath?

Anger is one of the most common secondary emotions we see in a relationship. In other words, anger is almost always a reaction to another feeling – a primary emotion. That means, if you dig deeper to understand what is fueling the anger, you will discover something more vulnerable. A hurt, a sadness, a feeling of being out of control, feeling scared, lonely, overwhelmed, misunderstood, unloved, guilty, exhausted, insecure…and the list can go on. Typically, these primary feelings get masked by anger because it is an easier emotion to express than sharing the pain underneath. However, it usually isn’t the effective emotion to express since it hardly ever achieves the desired outcome. Anger tends to spark a defensive reaction from your partner. Instead of being able to understand the feeling or need the anger masks, your partner will feel under attack by the display of anger and respond either by shutting down, walking away, or by fighting back.

So, next time you feel angry at your partner, try to become aware of what is fueling the anger. Once you’re able to identify what’s underneath, try to understand it. Once you can identify and understand, evaluate what your needs are. Ask yourself, “What need of mine is not being fulfilled?” From that place of rationality and vulnerability, communicate with your partner. When your partner doesn’t feel attacked by your anger, he/she will be much more likely to listen to you, understand your needs, and hopefully, respond in a helpful manner.

If you’re the person on the receiving end of anger, take a moment to step back from it. Before the anger is able to overwhelm you into responding to it with the fight, flight, or freeze response (our evolutionary instincts in the face of a perceived threat), try to understand that underneath all that anger, your partner is hurting in some way. Respond from that place of understanding. Listen to what he/she might be trying to say. If not in that moment, than later once you’re able to think and reflect, say to him/her, “I could see you were really angry, and I want to help. It sounds like you were saying ______. Did I understand that correctly? What can I do to help?”

I know what you’re thinking, this is easier said than done. I agree. It is not this easy or simple. It takes both people involved to have some level of patience, awareness, and understanding for it to be a meaningful conversation. This is where seeking professional help can be beneficial. It can foster insight and compassion that is needed to be able to not only understand your own needs and the needs of your partner, but also respond appropriately to those needs. Until then, practice developing awareness of your own primary emotions and needs, and developing patience and understanding towards the needs of your partner when faced with anger. As a result, you might just find yourself a more compassionate human, towards yourself and others!

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