It’s normal for emotions to work together
One big misunderstanding happens regularly with anger – which many people misidentify as a “second-hand emotion.”
People have a lot of mistaken ideas about anger, but this is one of the most unfortunate.
This second-hand mistake is a very easy one to make if you don’t understand how anger will arise to protect you and your other emotions (and especially sadness and fear).
When your anger steps up to protect your sadness and fear
Think about this behavior in terms of the self-protective gifts anger brings you: Anger helps you set boundaries around the things you value.
In many cases, openly expressing your sadness or your fear is actually socially dangerous. Openly displaying sadness (and tears) can cause you to lose face, while openly displaying fear can make other people think you’re a coward!
When you’re in unsafe places, neither of these displays are good for your standpoint, or your self image – and in these instances, your anger will be activated, not because it’s a misplaced or second-hand emotion, but because it’s necessary.
We’ve all had the experience of feeling sadness – of feeling as if we’re going to cry – and then suddenly getting angry and cranky at someone instead.
Or with fear, we’ve all had someone jump out and scare the wits out of us, and right after we jump back, we snap angrily, “Cut it OUT!”
In these situations, the supposedly “real” emotions are being protected by expressive outbursts of anger.
But that’s anger’s job; it’s a protective emotion!
Anger is not a second-hand emotion in instances where it jumps out in front of the “real” emotions you’re feeling. Anger is real, too!
Anger is doing its job. It’s protecting your sense of self, your position, and your standpoint.
And anger isn’t the only emotion that does this
In both of these situations, happiness can also jump out in front of your “real” emotions: If you’re about to cry but it’s not safe to do so, you might smile or laugh.
Or, if someone jumps out and scares the heck out of you, you might laugh after you jump back. In both instances, the smiling and laughing will cover your sadness and your fear – but no one calls happiness a second-hand emotion!
In fact, if you laugh when someone scares you, you’ll probably be seen as a really good sport.
Yet it’s the exact same mechanism – where one emotion jumps out to protect you, because displaying the “real” emotion might be socially unwise.
However, when anger is involved, it’s suddenly a big problem.
Emotional flow is the key
Now, there can be problems when emotions step out in front of the “real” ones. Empathically speaking, when I see someone who uses anger (or happiness, or sadness, or anxiety, or any other emotion) in front of pretty much every other emotion they have, then yes, I want to ask what’s going on.
You don’t want to see the same exact emotion arising in every possible situation – because that’s not how emotions work in an emotionally flexible person. But this is a pretty rare situation.
For most of us, emotions arise in pairs, groups, and clusters – and your job as an aware person is to understand how to listen to and work with your emotions.
When you can successfully work with your emotions, new and different emotions will arise, at many different levels of nuance and intensity. And in many cases, there will be more than one emotion active at any given time.
That’s natural; that’s how emotions work!
There’s no such thing as a second-hand emotion.