Angry Woman

Understanding The Psychology of Anger And Secondary Emotions

Anger is a powerful emotion that we are all familiar with, having experienced it at one point in our lives or another. Whether it’s the minor irritation of not being able to find out keys or a raging torrent borne out of some real or perceived injustice, it can be a powerful force. Anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion, which may make it seem as though it is somehow less important than other emotions. Instead, it means that anger never arrives in a vacuum but is instead a response to other emotions that we may be feeling.

So What Is Anger?

Anger is typically thought of as being a social emotion, meaning that there is generally someone who is the target of the emotion. Your friend, your dog, your parents, even yourself can be the target of the feeling of anger. It is also known as a second-hand emotion, as mentioned above. Anger arrives in response to some outside element, at the core of which is always emotional pain. This emotional pain typically won’t trigger an anger response on its own. Instead, there’s an accompanying anger-triggering thought that comes with it. Some examples of a triggering thought include:

  • Assumptions of the motivations of others
  • Interpretations of a given situation
  • Evaluations of the preceding actions
  • Feelings of helplessness or frustration
  • Assessments of ourselves, others, or the situation
  • Perceptions that someone or thing is “out to get us.”

This list is by no means complete. Everyone responds to situations, and even these thoughts, differently. However, it does represent a common set of factors that are often found to trigger anger when combined with emotional pain.

Why Do We Get Angry? 

Anger rarely feels good and often has a destructive element to it as well. We can say things we don’t mean when we’re angry or take actions that we later regret. But it isn’t always bad. Anger can also be an important motivator, driving us to make changes, hold others accountable for their actions, or help us get out of a situation that is emotionally painful. Some of the underlying reasons we may get angry include:

  • Anger can be a way of not directly experiencing the pain that caused us to react, and doing so can be done consciously or unconsciously.
  • It can distract us from the pain we’re feeling by shifting from self-focus (pain) to other-focus (what caused it)
  • Anger can also help keep us from feeling vulnerable or scared by getting angry instead.

As you can probably imagine, these aren’t always healthy behaviors. In fact, not properly learning how to manage our anger can get us into a significant amount of trouble and lead us to cause greater harm to ourselves or others. That being said, anger can be a beneficial and healthy way of handling our pain, provided we do it productively and are aware of what we’re doing.

If you want help learning healthy methods of managing your anger and fully experiencing your other emotions, reach out to your mental health provider today. Anger is a natural part of the human experience; learning how to experience it in a healthy way is an important part of an emotionally healthy life.

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Helene A. Miller / And Other Providers
Family Psychiatry and Therapy brings compassion, understanding, and skilled care to patients throughout New Jersey. Our team of mental health professionals focuses on providing a positive and uplifting experience that aids our patients in facing life’s toughest challenges.