When someone feels angry, is he or she really angry deep down?
One of my clients told me that she had an intense temper outburst after knowing her boyfriend lied to her about going out with another girl. She was so angry at him and broke the TV at their home. She also shouted loudly at him for a while and found herself cannot calm down. Later, her boyfriend told her that he had no romantic connection with that girl and he lied to her because of worrying she would feel very upset and not let him go. Is the anger my client experienced in this incident the core emotion deep down inside her?
After some therapy sessions, my client and I found out that her anger in this incident was secondary emotion result from her more primary cognitive and emotional processes. She told me that her boyfriend had chatted on her once in the past and she found out that he had frequently lied to her during that period of chatting. She felt hurt and sad for being betrayed by her boyfriend as she dedicated herself so much to him all along. In fact, this incident triggered her hurtful feeling of being betrayed deep down. As she was hurt, her anger followed her sadness and hurt due to her self-protective mechanism and expression of extreme frustration and disappointment after her boyfriend had promised not lying to her anymore.
It is normal for all of us to have emotional reactions to different situations. Our immediate emotional responses are adaptive to mobilize our healthy resources and actions. For instance, I felt angry when being treated unfairly by a restaurant staff and complained about it in serious voice. Feeling angry in this situation is my primary emotion towards unfair treatment. This primary emotionn mobilized my action to complain to fight for fairness.
Secondary emotions follow or result from more primary emotional processes. It sometimes covers up our primary emotions and makes ourselves and others confused. For example, the boyfriend of my client might feel very shocked for her intense anger outburst and thought about leaving her due to her unstable emotions. In fact, without proper processing, it is easy to miss out the primary emotion being covered up deep down. In some occassions, the secondary emotion also prevents ones to get in touch with the primary emotions and to deal with the core issues effectively. For instance, a client of mine felt very guilty for feeling angry at her abusive mother and acted resistantly in the therapy session when I tried to help her to deal with her possible anger. This is very typical for people with childhood trauma. Sometimes, their anger towards their parents might transform into anger towards themselves.
In intimate relationships, it is easy for us to get hurt sometimes. When our significant others showed their anger out of proportion in some instances, it is important for us to calm them down first without conflicting with them. After they calm down, we need to explore whether there are underlying core emotions deep down in them. It is quite common that anger masks primary emotions, such as sadness and hurt. In this way, we can prevent bigger rupture between us and our significant others. It is not easy to be in intimate relationships, but it is possible to grow and learn from each other for cultivating a meaningful and fruitful one.