My Mad is a Sad.
Updated: Oct 4, 2022
Anger - The Scratch and Win Ticket of Emotions - By Lorelei Hoyt
Anger is a strange emotion. It can encompass a whole range of experiences from slight irritation to overwhelming rage. But when we are angry is that the true root of our feelings or is something else at play?
Anger is defined in the Oxford American Dictionary “as a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility” with an “Middle English Origin: from Old Norse angr ‘grief’, angra ‘vex’”.
So, if the origin of the term anger is based on a grief that vexes, might the origin of the emotion itself be related to these concepts too?
Anger is sometimes described as an iceberg with the ‘mad’ part of the emotion represented by the tip of the iceberg. While the underlying, causal, emotions that gives rise to the anger are represented by the bulk of the iceberg. Just like the larger portion of the iceberg rests unseen under the surface of the water so too do the core, basis of our feelings beneath the surface of our anger.
This isn’t a bad analogy but….
I prefer to think of anger as a scratch and win ticket.
The ‘mad’ part of the emotion is the little silver circle you see on the surface of the ticket. But when you scratch that thinly attached layer off there is an underlying emotion that is firmly printed on the paper itself. These firmly imprinted emotions are the root, or core, causes of our anger.
It is those pesky underlying emotions that are our primary emotions. Even though we aren’t always aware of them at first, they do in fact come before, and are the cause of the secondary emotion of anger.
So back to those Middle English Origins of the word Anger. There is something that causes us grief and therefore vexes us resulting in anger. But what are those emotions that cause us such grief and vex us?
Well that could be any number of emotional experiences. These feelings could range from fear, disappointment, disrespect, hurt, embarrassment, and obligation, to shame, inadequacy, and jealousy or a whole host of other feelings. You may feel one or several emotions in combination when you look at what is hidden underneath your anger.
Most commonly I find that my mad is a sad.
What I mean is that when I scratch off the mad of my anger lottery ticket, I often find what I am actually feeling is sad.
For instance I was very mad that COVID restrictions were preventing me from visiting my elderly parent. When I scratched off the surface of that anger I found I was really sad that I was missing time with my mom.
So why do these underling emotions matter you ask?
Afterall you are angry and that is what matters to you in the heat of the moment. Well, it turns out that being simply angry usually isn’t very healthy or helpful. Being angry isn’t very good for our own physical or mental health. I can contribute to anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, suppress our immune systems, raise our blood pressure and blood glucose, lead to headaches and many other negative health impacts. *
Meanwhile, when we approach someone with anger, they may feel threatened and become defensive. This is a natural response to the experience of sensing you are under threat, or may be attacked, even if it is just with angry words. So this leaves an angry person and a defensive person.
Hmmm doesn’t sound like a recipe for conflict resolution, does it?
In this situation both parties lose. The angry person doesn’t get to express the true core of their emotional experience.
Meanwhile the recipient of their anger doesn’t have the opportunity to understand and address that underlying primary emotion.
However, if you scratch off the surface of your anger lottery ticket you may both win.
When you take the time identify those pesky underlying primary emotions that are precipitating your anger you can address them directly. This leads to better results for all parties involved.
So let's try.
Think of a time when you were angry.
Then scratch off your anger lottery ticket and consider what your underling feelings were. Perhaps when you scratch off our anger circle you may find something surprising.
Were you disappointed about the situation? Were you hurt? Maybe you were embarrassed of ashamed. Go deeper than that thin silver scratch off circle and see what you discover. Here is a short list of some possibilities:
Sad Disappointed Overwhelmed Abandoned Embarrassed Hurt Helpless Lonely
Ill Insecure Frustrated Anxious Jealous Ashamed Exhausted Rejected
Aggravated Disrespected Manipulated Conflicted
Afraid Deceived Ridiculed Disrespected
Confused Vulnerable Worried Hungry Obligated Inadequate Pressured Devastated
Exhausted Attacked Violated Betrayed
There are many more, but this demonstrates how widely the primary underlying emotions behind our anger can vary.
Take a moment to explore the emotion you find under your anger. Consider it and how you experienced it.
Recall how you handled your anger in that situation.
Then take a moment to reframe the following statement.
Instead of “I was angry when ____ happened”….try….
“I was (insert the underlying emotion you find under your anger scratch and win ticket) when ______ happened”.
What about if you had approached it with an “I feel statement” instead?
Something like, “I feel overwhelmed when I come home and the house is a mess.”
Explaining your experience with an I statement, not based on anger, reduces the sense of threat to the person you are approaching. This allows them to consider your experience with less defensiveness, and creates an opportunity for a constructive conversation and collaborative problem solving.
When you identify the underlying primary emotion that leads to your experience of anger you can address the real heart of a problem. This allows you the opportunity to approach the situation from a calmer perspective and address the root, or core, of your emotional experience.
So next time you feel angry take a moment and see what emotions are underneath that anger. Scratch the surface of your mad and see what emotions are causing it.
Maybe your mad is really a sad after all.
*For more information on the negative impacts of anger on your health see https://www.nicabm.com/how-anger-affects-the-brain-and-body-infographic/