Anger is perhaps the most debated emotion as to whether it is a primary or secondary emotion. Meaning do we lean into our anger because it’s a primary emotion or do we explore what emotions anger is covering and protecting because it’s a secondary emotion?
I think it is necessary to do both.
For a while, I leaned into the idea that anger was a secondary emotion, and when it came up we needed to be curious about what was underneath it. But, now I firmly believe that anger deserves its place, too. Anger needs to be felt. Yes, when I sit with my anger I often realize that sadness, grief, disappointment, fear, worry, anxiety and stress have seats at the table, too. But I don’t know that I would sit with these emotions like I do if I didn’t give space and attention to my anger first.
Now, while I believe what I said above to be true, it doesn’t mean it is easy for me to embrace my anger. There are only a few emotions I am comfortable leaning all the way into. Most cause a sense of overwhelm and fear that if I lean into it, I may never come back out. Anger falls into the latter category. Anger is a consuming emotion for me, meaning I feel it all throughout my body. And when I lean into it and feel the consumption starting, I worry if I’ll make it through to the other side.
This is when I remind myself that anger, like all emotions, is like a wave. Yes, when we lean into it, there will initially be a swelling that will grow and grow. But it will peak, and it will drop back down. When we get stuck at the peak of an emotion is when mental illness is likely present. Otherwise, no emotion, good or bad, stays stuck at its highest point.
So if anger comes up for you, welcome it, lean into it and sit with it. It may not be easy, but if you can work through the fear and discomfort, you will likely find that your anger has much to say if you listen and give it its space to talk and have your attention.
Kylie Larson, MA, LPC