Anger is a Symptom
rom a young age most of us were taught about the primary colors: red, yellow and blue. This basic knowledge may have been built upon in art classes when we learned how to make sense of the other colors excluded from those three. Colors are easy to conceptualize because we can SEE them. If someone tells us yellow + blue = green, we don’t have to believe them. But, if we mix yellow and blue, we will undoubtedly watch the color green almost magically appear before our eyes.
These simple equations make up the color wheel. Have you heard of it? Probably.
Though humans tend to complicate things, something as concrete as the color wheel is hard to confuse if you study it. There aren’t a lot of emotions involved.
Today, we're talking about a different wheel where emotions are ingrained in its entirety: The feelings wheel.
Unlike the push to learn colors from a young age, people (specifically men) aren’t always asked about their feelings. Some households ignore the need to educate or talk about emotions at all.
Yes, emotions are intuitive by nature. However, to truly become adept at addressing all of our feelings, we must study how they work.
I didn’t begin “studying” how to identify my feelings correctly until my early thirties. Use me as an example! It’s never too late to start. When I first learned of the feelings wheel, primary and secondary emotions, I couldn’t get enough. I even made a similar image to the one above the screensaver on my phone. After working hard to get to the bottom of emotions that caused reactions in my daily life, I stopped thinking about the wheel as often. That is until recently.
As you might know by now, I commonly use coffee as a way to relate to someone intentionally. The other morning, I sat across the coffee table from a man I consider a mentee. He was sharing about reading in Matthew and brought up the topic of processing anger. Man to man, I knew what he was going through. Over time, I’ve become aware of how men use anger as a shield.
Quickly, I flashed back to when I first learned of the feelings wheel.
Like many people, this young man had never stepped into the thought that anger could really be something else. As kids, anger is one of the first expressions of ourselves that anyone sees. If we sat down to list emotions, anger would probably be close to the top. It’s used as a safety mechanism to avoid vulnerability.
While anger IS on the feelings wheel: It is always secondary to something else.
ANGER is a SYMPTOM. When we treat is as a primary emotion, we miss the solution. It’s as if we are putting a bucket under a leak, but constantly replacing the bucket instead of repairing the ceiling.
In my life, I’ve realized that my anger usually spurs from one of these two primary emotions: hurt or fear.
On the personal side of things, hurt is more common for me. I’m an organized person and when I get into a cadence of something (specifically of relationship) I don’t like when that rhythm is broken.
If I regularly get drinks, dinner or coffee with a friend and then their schedule abruptly changes breaking that rhythm, it could likely cause me to be angry. If all I show that person is anger, they won’t fully understand why I’m upset. They might even get angry through lack of understanding one another.
When I’m angry in this way, it would be easy to say, “I give up” and walk away still heated with no resolve. OR, I could address the second I feel angry before I allow that anger to dictate my actions and see it for what it truly is: hurt.
Saying that someone hurt your feelings can feel juvenile or unnecessary. In my opinion, that is what society has placed on us, and acting out of anger is actually the juvenile solution. Saying “Hey, that hurt me” and having open conversation from there is the productive way to resolve this source of anger.
Professionally, I sometimes notice anger that is rooted in fear. Simple stated: I am wired with a high-achiever mentality. I have always needed to execute well without making mistakes. I definitely struggle with perfectionism.
In a working environment, perfectionism leads directly to the fear of failure. It’s easy for the fear of failure to present itself as anger.
When the deal doesn’t go through, when someone forgets part of the presentation, when I don’t live up to the expectations I set for myself, I get angry. That anger is really just fear that the customer thinks I did a bad job or will fire us. Unless I address anger as fear in this situation, I will only continue adding to my own unrest.
How does this help?
It is not reasonable or helpful to put the weight of your relationship with someone on a single interaction. Often times, anger makes us feel like this is necessary.
Correctly identifying all feelings as the emotions that they are will develop a deeper understanding of yourself and your actions. After identifying, learning how to get to the root of problems happens more quickly (this is not to say it won’t take a lot of work). Learning the history of your feelings and where they repeat themselves is the key to emotional intelligence.