Anger serves an important function, we know this because we all feel it, suggesting that we have evolved to feel it. Anger alerts us to mistreatment of others but principally ourselves, it signal to us when our needs are not being met, needs that have to be met to ensure our physical and psychological well being. Without anger our species would not have been so successful or have survived so long.
However, sometimes we feel angry in the absence of mistreatment, when our needs are not being neglected. Frequently anger becomes the ‘go to’ when we are experiencing less tolerable emotions for example anxiety, depression and sadness.
Anger can become the ‘cover story’ for emotions with more complex origins and so instead of enhancing our experience and ability to function it undermines us by masking the true emotions and the problems at their source.
To work out if you are really angry or if in fact you are feeling something else, follow the steps before:
1. Identify the source of your anger, ask yourself if your needs are being met or if you are being abused or mistreated.
2. If you find that you are not being neglected identify the thoughts that directly preceded your anger. Then ask yourself whether these thoughts match your feelings, could they trigger anger, or should they trigger another emotion (e.g. anxiety, depression/sadness).
3. If the thoughts that preceded your anger combine an overestimation of some future disaster with an underestimation of your ability to cope with this, your anger is a cover for anxiety.
4. If the thoughts that precede your anger involve self criticism, negative self evaluation or negative comparison with others, your anger is a cover for depression/sadness.
Anger is a powerful and consuming emotion, it is designed that way to ensure essential needs are met, but when it is used as a cover for other emotions it hinders rather than helps us. If you suspect that your anger is a cover story for anxiety or depression you may need professional help to disentangle your feelings, the team at The British CBT & Counselling Service will be able to help you consider this option further.