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Anger is Like an Iceberg

Buck Black, LCSW

icebergAnger is what we all see. When someone is angry, it is obvious by the look in the person's eyes, the clinched fists, sweat on the brow, and loud voice...

Upon closer inspection, anger is like an iceberg. The tip represents the anger, which everyone sees. However, there is 90% more of that iceberg hidden below the surface of the water. This tip of the iceberg is actually the symptom. The more complex feelings responsible for this symptomatic anger varies widely from person to person. Generally, anger icebergs often include fears, insecurities, frustrations, hurt pride, feelings of disrespect, and various other emotions.

Given that it is usually quite easy to see a person's anger, but difficult to see the underlying issues, the task of helping a person reduce his or her anger often takes a bit of detective work. The best way to control anger is to ask, "What is making me feel this way?" When the person examines his or her feelings that cause the anger, then the problem can be addressed. If there is simply a focus on deep breathing, counting to ten, and meditation, this will only treat the symptom and is doomed to fail in the long run.

The anger iceberg is great to use to control your own anger. However, it is also helpful to control your reactions to others. For instance, lets assume that you see someone's angry actions and you then become angry. By using the anger iceberg, it will quickly become apparent the other person has feelings causing him or her to behave in this irrational manner. It is much more difficult to become angry with someone when you recognize they are showing anger out of fear, insecurity, jealously, or hurt. When one recognizes this, it is much easier to use empathy to understand their situation. This will then enable you to help that person deal with their anger, or at least help you to stay calm in this situation.

My last point I want to make is that many people, especially men, subscribe to the notion that it is okay to show anger by being violent. However, it is not okay to show other emotions, such as sadness, guilt, fear, shame, and inferiority. It is no mistake that many of these feelings fit the part of the anger iceberg that is hidden below in the water's depths and do not surface because of societal expectations. I challenge everyone to discuss their true feelings, instead of taking the "macho" route and only express the symptomatic anger.

Remember to look beneath the anger and deal with the true emotions. Ask yourself, "What am I feeling other than anger?" This will certainly increase the chances of reducing one's anger, while helping to change how our society treats emotions.

Start analyzing the emotions below the tip of your anger iceberg by completing this handout: Anger Iceberg