Addressing Emotional Pain #4 – Secondary Emotions

Knowing others is wisdom; Knowing the self is enlightenment; Mastering the self is true power.  ~ Lao Tzu

Recognizing our primary and secondary emotions helps us understand what our core emotions and issues are.  I talked a little about core issues in my previous post on body awareness.  Simply, secondary emotions occur in response to a primary emotion.  Eventually we may unknowingly bury our primary emotions until they are unrecognizable.  The problem with this is that we may think our secondary emotions are what we are really feeling, and address those, rather than addressing the true and primary emotions.

Anger is a good example of a secondary emotion.  Anger is usually a response to a primary emotion or situation.  When we get behind our anger, we may discover that there is a different emotion at the core, such as shame, fear, worry, guilt, embarrassment, regret, sadness, loneliness, etc.  Anger, although an intense emotion, is more acceptable and easier to admit to than showing vulnerability.  If a primary emotion is shame, people usually don’t want to admit to shame, so they may respond with anger instead.  Some will want to push back for safety, and get away from the true emotion with a few sharp words of anger.

Irritability can be a similar response to anger.  It is usually a secondary emotion (other than hormonal).  What about anxiety?  It could be a secondary emotion to fear.

If we don’t address our primary emotions, they likely won’t go away.  We may not express them for a variety of reasons, such as habit, upbringing, social situations, etc.  Therefore, secondary emotions may end up hindering us because we are not addressing the real issue, nor are we expressing them appropriately.  Also, we probably won’t be able to understand what our primary emotions are without understanding how to use self-awareness tools, some of which I have talked about in this blog.  Tools such as body awareness, mindfulness meditation, emotion focus therapy, guided imagery, downward arrow exercise, and so on, really help us listen to our bodies and feelings.  You may have a different tool that you have found to be effective for you.  Something to keep in mind is to keep asking yourself, “what am I feeling…what else am I feeling…what else…what else?”

It’s like deconstructing a recipe.  When you taste something, there is an interplay of ingredients that make up the overall taste.  But savor the flavors and notice the individual tastes and sensations.  What’s making up the taste?  For example, you may find that you taste cinnamon, pepper, lemon, etc.  So..…what’s really making up your emotions?  Try to deconstruct it and see what you find.

Don’t always be comfortable with your first emotion.  Try to find out what it is really about.  Recognizing deeper emotions can be very helpful part of a healing process!

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mcolmo
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 18:10:00

    Thank you for blogging about this!


  2. TBM
    Feb 24, 2012 @ 02:20:28

    Great points. I am often amazed by recognizing what I really feel and what is really upsetting me. Sometimes though, it is hard to step back and take a deeper look inside. Thanks for reminding me.


  3. granbee
    Feb 24, 2012 @ 12:25:03

    And think how much safety for oneself and others lies in dealing with the cause of the anger, rather than just lashing out! This approach of stepping back, reassessing, and discovering the primary emotion allows much room for healing, reconciliation, and maintains the peace to leave the “settling” room all in one piece to provide shelter in future storms.


  4. Pocket Perspectives
    Mar 02, 2012 @ 22:42:20

    For the past few weeks, I’ve/we’ve been studying “the mind and mental factors” and 8 Worldly Concerns from various texts and from a book called “Buddhist Psychology” ….studying emotions and the dynamics of how they arise…and learning how to let go of those dynamics and to have/develop a calmer mind. Studying it in the books is the easier part….watching the dynamics in everyday reactions… whew….interesting but hard. I’m working on a creating a page for myself that has helpful steps: notice, stop, step back, reflect, evaluate, reasoning and use “antidotes”=opposite…for using in everyday life. My friend Jampa is giving me lots of support in developing a deeper understanding of the ideas and learning to shift……so many helpful ideas for learning…lots of good similar ideas here in your post too…thanks!….kathy


  5. aleafinspringtime
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 05:07:28

    Looks like I’ll be coming back for more catching up to do. Thank you again. Sharon


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