Mental health, Relationships

Ugly Truth 35: Anger is Actually Sadness

Anger is one letter short of danger. “ -Eleanor Roosevelt

Dear Readers,

In a society that encourages violence and diminishes heartfelt feelings, it is no wonder that most people forget to remember anger is a secondary emotion. Anger is our psychological kevlar. It is there to protect us from emotional anguish and discomfort, as well as to communicate with others in a social setting. Anger is necessary, but what I’m curious about is what people are doing to detect and manage their primary emotions in a way that is constructive.

Anger, while useful, can often derail and distract from the heart of the matter. When managed poorly, it can even cause more harm than good. So I asked myself, why on earth are we skipping the acknowledgement step?

The truth is, no one likes to be vulnerable. So rather than speak up and say those measly but meaningful sentences, we explode. Why is it so hard to say, “You hurt me.” or “I’m sorry.” Why is it easier to fling into a rage that will escalate your vitals, often leaving you feeling drained or embarrassed? I once heard anger described as the bodyguard to sadness. Perhaps too many of us are unwilling or unable to articulate our grief, and so we cling to anger because despite the physical discomfort, it remains an emotional sidestep.

I have struggled with depression most of my life. So often my symptoms manifested as anger or irritability, but I never made the distinction. All I knew for certain was I wanted to be sad in peace, and something as small as daily obligation would send me into a fit of frustration. Likewise, when confronted by the harsh words of friends and lovers, I was extremely defensive. I would deny, almost to the point of delusion. I would accuse and avoid to dodge the pain of an honest conversation. I’m not proud of this, but the truth is it taught me a few things.

1.) The ability to empathize with yourself is invaluable.

Often times we forget that the seat of all our relationships begins with the one we have with ourself. Much of my formative years in therapy involved developing my inner dialogue away from criticism and contempt toward self love. Think about it, what kinds of things are you saying to yourself on a daily basis? If you can’t be honest with yourself, you can’t be honest with others. Most importantly, the ability to comfort yourself alleviates that need from your friends and family who may go to frantic efforts to do so.

2.) It’s okay to be vulnerable.

As members of a pull-up-your-bootstraps society, you may find that others may be denying or dismissive when it comes to heartfelt subject matter. I encourage you not to let their discomfort be your own. These moments can teach us a great deal about ourselves if we actually address them instead of suppress them. When I find myself in these types of situations, I try to imagine the worst case scenario. Then I ask myself if I can live with that outcome. In most cases I can, therefore, I have nothing to lose in being vulnerable with others. The truth is, I have gained a great deal of healing and wisdom in these moments of genuine companionship. Scientific research continues to support the fact that we are social creatures, and a sense of connection to our community alleviates distress. The key is finding those who are worth suffering for.

3.) Accountability starts with communication.

Taking ownership of our emotions and the way others treat us is not always easy. However, the consequence of not doing so seems to be much greater. If you make a mistake, apologize. If you are wrong, say so. If someone hurts you, let them know. If someone tells you you are hurting them, modify your behavior. Communication seems like the simplest road to resolution, and yet we avoid it because it makes us vulnerable. Scroll back up if you still need help with that.

Most of us know by now that anger is a surface emotion, but it’s the knitty gritty of what’s underneath that is truly the most rewarding self work you can do. Next time you get angry, ask yourself why. Perhaps you’re struggling with fear, depression or inadequacy. Perhaps you deny, attack, and avoid because it’s just too painful. Perhaps you’re hungry, tired or lonely. Perhaps you’re like me, and you get angry the moment you feel like you’re stretching yourself too thin.

If you want to see improvement in your relationships and overall happiness, it begins with your sense of self. Ask yourself, do you know how to comfort yourself without behaving impulsively or unfairly burdening others? When was the last time you were truly vulnerable with someone? Are you communicating your needs to others, and responding to theirs in a mature and constructive way?

The truth is, anger is often sadness – we just don’t know it yet. While anger can be a useful vehicle, it requires a great deal of practice, self awareness, and willingness to change to truly examine and manage the whys. It’s not easy, but that which is truly worth it seldom ever is.

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!