Thursday, July 2, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought - Anger = Secondary Emotion

In therapeutic circles, anger is said to be a secondary emotion (this later came into pop psychology, so likely you've heard this before, but might not know specifics on what it actually means). Hopefully I can shed some light.


Poster courtesy of The Creative Therapy Store.

There is a great quote by Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, who wrote Man's Search for Meaning. It goes:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.

Sounds great...and is very accurate. So what's the problem? The problem lies with identifying the response. Anger is actually an immature response. Animals are programmed to act with anger (fight) when they feel any sort of threat. It could also be called a primitive response (because a different section of the brain is actually being used...the lower brain). The emotional need (which would be found on the perimeter of the poster) goes unmet when all you (or your character) can say is, "I feel angry."

The above picture is available as a poster and a magnet for therapists to use in session. And trust me...I've put a lot of miles on my magnet, using it with children and adults alike. I watch their face as they hold the magnet. Brows are furrowed and the cogs are turning as they figure out what prompted their angry outburst at school or what caused them to lay into their spouse after dinner. And WITHOUT FAIL they ALL can pinpoint WHY. They can indicate what emotional need went unmet and led to the angry response.

So our goal should be to increase the "space" between the stimulus and response. (To be less technical...the "space" would also roughly fit that same time period when you might "count to 10.") By doing this, we give ourselves more time to figure out what the primary emotion is (Hurt, Anxiety, Shame, Sadness, Fear, Frustration, Guilt, Disappointment, Worry, Jealousy,Embarrassment, etc.). Any character can show this kind of emotional growth and development simply by the author adding in some action beats during the "space" to show how the character is "counting to 10," so to speak. [And be CREATIVE. Don't just have them count to ten, people.]

Anger is a powerful tool of survival as well as a source of energy. We've all known people who get mad and then clean like a madwoman or run like a racehorse. There are productive ways to channel anger. But to repress our anger or hold onto it for prolonged lengths of time can be very damaging to our emotional well-being (and that of our characters!). But, alas, we do have to have some sort of ticking time bombs, right? *sigh* No doubt about it, this makes a good one. Stuffing and stuffing our emotions (whatever they are) will lead to an explosion (external) or implosion (internal) eventually.

As always, specific questions about your characters are welcomed.


Wordle: signature

9 comments:

Katie said...

I think this might be my favorite theur. thought for Thursday. Not only did it shed light on my OWN self, but on Bethany, which is SUPER helpful, as I revise Beneath a Velvet Sky. :)

Jeannie Campbell said...

awesome! i always knew you were cantankerous....now you'll have to tell me why! :)

sherrinda said...

I'm with Katie,this was great! A counselor at a church I was at had a seminar on anger and I learned alot about ME! Alot of times my anger stems from unmet expectations. I have learned to figure out if those expectations were realistic or totally selfish. It has really helped to dispel some of my anger moments! :)

sherrinda said...

I fogot to sign off.....
No Angry Ketchup Girl Here!!!!

Jeannie Campbell said...

ketchup girl - sounds like you had quite a bit of insight into yourself! i love it when that happens. :)

Cindy said...

Oooh, what an excellent and helpful post. I have a character that's very angry right now and I am trying to clearly identify why she's so angry and then write the appropriate response. I am already halfway through the novel and pretty soon I need to start revealing the source of some of this anger, letting the other MC get an idea, too! This is excellent!

Jeannie Campbell said...

cindy - i'm so glad! i love to hear that my posts help other authors. :)

Jessica said...

Oooh, I want one of those magnets! LOL
Interesting stuff. My hero is dealing with a lot of hurt and betrayal right now, and that comes out as anger. I think. LOL Still trying to figure out what works and what doesn't.
Thanks for the post :-)

Tess said...

Dealing w/ crazy extended family drama now (always happens around reunion time, sheesh!) so, this post is a little close to home -lol!!