Anger: The emotion defender

In previous post I called anger a secondary emotion. Today I am going to go a bit further and call anger the, “emotion defender”.  What I am suggesting is that when anger arises it is in fact present in the defense of some other set of emotions. Therefore I contend that when anger arises it is present because the individual is unable or unwilling to express some set of primary emotions. Anger then is that emotion that is much easier to express and is a temporary defense until the individual learns the skill to express the real emotions that are being defended by anger.

When one ignores or is ignorant of their own emotions and the needs they represent anger is that emotion that seeks to make a last effort to protect the self from further erosion of its beliefs and values. Anger is a secondary emotion that is always preceded by some set of primary emotions.   Our primary emotions give us signals regarding who we feel. For example if we value a hard day’s work and others at work appear to be less that productive the presence of what appears to be non-productive coworkers may evoke an emotional response. The individual who sees his nonproductive coworkers may over a long period of time feel taken advantage of, ignored, slighted and over time if that individual does not find a way to deal with those emotions they may respond in anger towards their coworkers. While the response is inappropriate the person’s angry response is a way to defend the values that they hold dear. In that sense anger is the defender of the other emotions-a primal response that can take over if the individual does not attend to the needs that initially caused the primary emotions to arise.

In the same way that each country has a diplomatic wing that favors talking thought a situation and a military wing that will fight its way to a solution. Consider that your primary emotions represent your diplomacy and anger represents your military. I content that it is more efficient to respond to the primary emotions by finding diplomatic solutions to our problems. Overuse of anger to defend other emotions will have damaging effects to the self and other. Ultimately the best approach will be to be in tuned with your primary emotions and appropriately met the needs associated with these emotions.

A good way to build an emotional vocabulary is to consider anger management classes that included emotional competence.

Carlos Todd, PhD


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Anger Management: Different from Domestic Violence

I often get calls from women and men seeking anger management classes but on further investigation I determine that these individuals need domestic violence (DV) interventions. Callers are often confused by my referral to DV interventions which leads to an explanation of the difference between anger management and domestic violence. Here are the three most significant differences I have observed individuals with anger management issues and domestic batterers:

  1. Unlike the angry individual the domestic batterer often presents with a Jekyll and Hyde personality where the rest of the world views him as a nice guy while he terrorizes his intimate partners.
  2. While angry individuals way present with the same aggression and violence as a domestic batterer the person who only needs anger management will tend not to discriminate with their expression. In other words they are angry with everyone.
  3. Chronically angry individuals tend to express their anger as a response to perceived threats to values, beliefs or way of life. Domestic batterers however are continually seeking to exercise power and control over intimate partners through a series of actions that isolate, intimidate and manipulate their victims.

A word of warning to anger management providers: be careful not to inadvertently enroll domestic batterers into anger management classes because sometimes courts don’t know the difference and will sometimes order anger management when DV classes are warranted. Furthermore, domestic batterers are characteristically manipulative therefore teaching them anger management skills can further arm the batterer with knowledge that increases their ability to manipulate their victims—this obviously can be very dangerous.

More work is needed to sensitize the public and professionals that anger management and domestic violence are not the same. To my professional mental health colleagues what are some other quick distinctions between anger management and domestic violence?

Carlos Todd, PhD


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The Crying Game: Babies’ Crying and Anger

Societies across the world invest billions in formal education. Unfortunately very little of that money is spent on teaching children to perceive, identify, and meet their need (PIM) while expressing their emotions. The fallout is that there are masses of emotionally illiterate individuals who, when confronted with their own emotions, resort to anger as opposed to meeting the real need that anger may be masking.

For at least the first several months of life babies have one form of verbal communication—crying. However, that cry has to be interpreted by the caregiver as a need for sleep, food, nurturing or diaper change. That’s because babies lack the ability to reflectively perceive, interpret and precisely communicate their own needs. When they cry they are engaging in a primal activity that is largely instinctive. This crying is the only mode of verbal communication that the baby has but because it lacks specificity it is up to those around the baby to interpret what this crying means. The guesswork involved and the possibility of doing so wrongly makes it all a game. It is a crying game.

In interacting with many individuals who struggle with anger it struck me the other day that it too is all a crying game. Let me explain. The baby cries and the caregiver has to guess the need. Many adults are still crying. They lack the emotional awareness and the emotional vocabulary to effectively, and with precision, communicate their needs hence the crying game never really stops. The problem is that as we get older our needs become more complex and differentiated and therefore there is need for a greater degree of language sophistication so that our emotional needs are clearly understood and have a greater chance of being met. Without these language skills anger is the instinctive response.

The person who needs anger management classes have something to say but the mode of angry communication is almost never effective in meeting the individual’s needs. At the root of the anger problem is a lack of awareness of and the ability to clearly communicate their emotional needs. The result is a primal response that is so unclear that it can only be described as adult crying.

The goal therefore is breathtakingly simple but not easy: learn how to communicate emotional needs with clarity and precision. In the same way that a baby’s cry is secondary to the real need—that is, food or nurturing, anger too is secondary to the real emotion. Therefore until the individual is able to perceive, identify and meet the need (PIM) associated with the emotion the preverbal crying, aka anger, will continue.

I intend to raise awareness on this issue and hopefully make a difference. Follow me on this journey if you like.

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Is Anger Really all that Bad?

I am often asked, “is anger really so bad?” To this I give a surprising answer-it depends. I go on to make the following statement: A person without anger is like a country without a military. A military is a source of protection but constant offensive or even defensive actions by that military will eventually  drain it resources, destroy the military and the country that host it. The same is true for anger. If managed anger can serve to defend an individual’s values and beliefs. Mismanagement however is destructive to self and others.

Follow me on Facebook or twitter as I share more thoughts, ideas, intellectual ramblings and more regarding anger management classes, anger, conflict and related topics.

Carlos Todd, PhD


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Welcome to the new blog of Conflict Coaching and Consulting, PLLC and Please come back soon as I share thought, ideas and ramblings on anger and conflict management.

Posted in anger management, anger management classes, conflict management | Leave a comment

Welcome to the new blog of Conflict Coaching and Consulting, PLLC and Please come back soon as I share thought, ideas and ramblings on anger and conflict management.