Anger is a complex emotion, and it’s common to struggle with controlling it or finding productive outlets for your feelings.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman first came up with the term “anger iceberg" in his 2005 book Emotional Intelligence. It brings up a vivid visual: from above, the iceberg may look like a small chunk of ice. If you take a closer look, though, you can see the huge ice mass hidden below the surface.
There are plenty of options for managing your anger, and the anger iceberg is just one of them. A therapist Redondo Beach can help you find other helpful solutions to overwhelming emotions.
What is the Anger Iceberg?
Just like a real iceberg, the anger iceberg has a visible tip: it’s the angry behavior, which usually gets all the attention because it’s the most obvious. Beneath the surface, however, there are a lot of hidden emotions that may not be so easy to categorize. These emotions are usually things like self-doubt, fear, shame, and isolation.
There are a lot of unpleasant emotions that people may unconsciously cover up with anger. Some people find it easiest to show anger, but there’s not as much of a script for expressing feelings like anxiety, jealousy, sadness, and guilt. Often, these emotions come to the surface as anger, and it’s difficult to see them as anything else.
If you learn to work with your own anger iceberg, you can get started on a more productive relationship with your emotions.
The Purpose of Anger
Anger is a natural, healthy emotion that all humans experience. The goal of anger management is not to get rid of anger entirely: after all, anger can help you stand up for yourself and set important boundaries. When you recognize the feeling and address the root cause, it can actually improve your life and relationships.
If you often get angry at your partner, for example, you might want to look at the interactions that spark that anger. Do you feel disrespected? Are you feeling insecure about an aspect of the relationship? Instead of getting angry, you can try having a conversation where you bring up those feelings to your partner so the two of you can address weak spots in the relationship.
Anger is a useful feeling, and it can be a warning sign that things are going wrong. However, when this feeling has become a dominant emotion in your life, that’s a sign it might be time to examine your underlying feelings.
Anger as a Way To Avoid Vulnerability
Some people use this emotion to cover up their other feelings. It can be a way to avoid feeling vulnerable, and avoid dealing with difficult emotions. Keeping emotions hidden beneath your anger can be a way to protect yourself from emotions that take more time to work through.
If you feel hurt by something, for example, it may be easier to retaliate angrily than to let yourself feel hurt. Grief, shame, and fear can all be expressed as anger. Repressing them can have an effect on your mental health.
Admitting to those feelings can be scary, but it’ll allow you to deal with them and move on. Those feelings are useful because they let you identify unhealthy situations and make positive changes in your life.
How Can the Anger Iceberg Be Used in Situations of Conflict?
The anger iceberg concept can be useful when you’re arguing with someone like a partner or family member.
When you get angry, take a moment to try and see the underlying feelings. You can look for patterns in your behavior and then analyze your feelings as soon as you’re calmer. Anger can be an overwhelming emotion, so you may need to wait until you calm down before you can look at the situation with a level head.
Think about what other emotions come up in a situation that makes you angry. Do you feel frustrated, hopeless, or rejected? How can you communicate with the other person in the situation to create a better outcome?
You can also use the iceberg concept to get perspective on another person’s actions. Gather information before making a judgment or taking action.
If one of your friends gets angry at you, instead of returning the reaction, ask yourself why that person is angry. Questions like these can open your eyes to new ways to deal with conflict.
Ways To Make Anger More Productive
Anger is often associated with destruction and negativity, but it doesn’t have to be a destructive emotion. Once you learn more about it and where it comes from, you can start using it as a way to better understand your other feelings.
If you’re angry about a particular situation, try to break down what it is about that situation that makes you feel that way. It might even be helpful to look at past events instead and consider how you felt at the time, because the emotions aren’t as intense anymore.
Next, try figuring out what emotion your anger is masking. Once you identify that emotion, you can reckon with it and decide how to move forward.
At this point, you can try calming techniques to clear your head, and focus your negative energy into something else. Try channeling your energy into another task, such as a hobby or a chore.
How To Use the Anger Iceberg To Examine Your Anger
The anger iceberg can teach you how to deal with your emotions. Anger is easy to see, but grief, disgust, nervousness, and stress are subtler. Like an iceberg, they can go unnoticed.
There are plenty of example diagrams of the negative emotions that make up the iceberg. These are a useful starting point for digging deeper into the causes of your anger.
Try giving yourself prompts to think about your feelings from different angles. How do you think another person would feel in the same situation? What effect did you want to have when you expressed your anger?
The iceberg concept is helpful because it shows another way to think about your anger, where you can use it as a tool to better understand yourself.
Seek Out an Expert’s Advice
For those looking to understand their emotions and impulses, the anger iceberg is a great technique that can help manage your anger. However, this technique should be seen as a good starting point: for more help with this issue, you may want to get advice from an expert.
Professional help can give you more specific tools to cope with and understand your anger. A therapist can provide an outside perspective on your behavior and give tips on how to move forward productively.
Vonique Schmidt is a Redondo Beach anger management therapist with a license in clinical counseling. To schedule your consultation, please reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.