Therapy Thoughts – Anger Iceberg

Content Warning: I am not a licensed counselor or therapist – I am just sharing my experience with this simple concept.

Concept: Someone betrays you. You lash out at someone at work. You say something you didn’t mean. You lose control of your emotions during a tense situation. You use blame and finger-pointing as a weapon against people. You’re “angry”. But are you really angry?

Personal Experience: Before I started therapy again in September 2020, I would describe myself as a very positive, upbeat, and happy person…. until I went to work. At the office I worked at, the stress of a global pandemic while serving a role in the senior living industry was burning me out – quickly. Not only did I reach “burnout”, but my communication skills were completely off the rails. Most days, I would describe myself as “angry”. I communicated with co-workers as if I was angry. At all times. It became so exhausting, and I even started to wonder if I’ve always had an “anger problem”, that had not been explored before. Most of the time, I couldn’t even pin-point why I was angry. As I started to open up to my therapist, she set me up with a worksheet, including the illustration above. After I was introduced to this concept, my thinking has completely shifted. I sometimes wonder if the reason I can be classified as “moody” has any connection with that fact that I could only switch between happy/normal and angry at the drop of a hat.

Within Your History: It’s easy for us as humans to identify with communication styles we’re familiar with. It’s important to understand what communication style was most practiced within your household as a child. Did your parents lash out with anger? Sadness? Guilt? In my personal experience, I’ve found it’s easy to choose the route of anger more than other emotions, due to the observations I made as a child. My dad, more of a silent and observant type – encouraged behavior of thoughtfulness. My mother on the other hand, who I spent the majority of childhood with, was quick to jump on the “anger train”, especially during teenage conflict with my sister and I. Anger to me, seemed normal, and the most acceptable form of communication, aside from being happy. By naming and claiming my emotion as anger, not only am I comforting myself through understanding where to “put it” (how to express it), but, I’m cheating myself from feeling other emotions that may validate my feelings more. In my opinion, there is an astronomical difference between someone expressing their anger to another person, and someone expressing guilt, shame, embarrassment, etc., to another person.

Anger (in general): Anger is such an exhausting emotion, and one of the worst types of communication styles if you’re trying to “win friends and influence people”. Most of the time, no one is capable of understanding why you might be angry, without a proper conversation to begin with. In addition to that, the person you are most angry with, will usually never receive a proper conversation from the upset person to begin with. The victims of someone’s anger typically have nothing to do with the conflict to begin with – they are simply by-standers, being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Anger shows itself in harsh words, vengeful actions, and even violence – none of which help the anger to subside.

Other Emotions Exist: Within the illustrated picture above, you can see that anger is just the “tip of the iceberg”. But, underneath, there’s a whole list of emotions to choose from, that is often more appropriate to express and comprehend. I’ve learned how to take a step back and ask myself, “Am I really angry?”, and the majority of the time, I can say “no”. I am insecure sometimes. I hold myself in a cycle of shame and guilt sometimes. I am disappointed by people’s expectations or lack of follow through. I am anxious sometimes. I am jealous of others sometimes. Sometimes, I’m honestly just hungry. Gaining the skill to assess my uncomfortability and break from the chains of anger has given me so much insight into the other emotions that drive me. Emotions like sadness, isolation, insecurity, jealous, stress, etc., all serve a purpose and express themselves very different from anger.

Ditching Anger: Getting to know yourself and your routes of expression is so important, and just one step while going through any counseling or ongoing therapy. When chosen too frequently, anger can and will take an emotional and physical toll on the individual. Why choose to be angry, when you can choose so many other emotions that are genuine to your situation? Although finding new outlets of communication can be frightening for anyone, I encourage everyone to take a step off the “tip of the iceberg” and dig a little deeper.

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