Sadness and Anger
Anger and sadness have an alliance. One emotion often stands in for the other in situations where consciously experiencing the proper one feels threatening. This ability we have to shift away from the authentic emotion in order to protect ourselves can lead to a lot of problems in general functioning and in our human relationships. It’s worth delving into what each of these emotions has in common as well as thinking about their individual natures to gain greater clarity about why we often substitute one for the other.
In a global sense, anger and sadness are usually both reactions to a negative experience where you, someone you care about, or something important to you are hurt or wronged. This is why it’s easy for one emotion to take the place of the other. Both give you the chance to make sense of a bad situation. But the routes are very different.
Where anger is active sadness is passive. Anger gets you fired up, ready to defend yourself or go on the attack. Sadness leaves you exposed, feeling the full pain of the hurt you have endured. Sadness leaves you feeling vulnerable, where when you are angry you feel invincible, donning your armor, shield, and sword to go do battle. Sadness accepts the situation for what it is, while anger rallies you to do something to change it.
We said that people substitute one emotion for the other when the authentic response feels threatening. It’s important to recognize that what is threatening to one person is safe to another. Some feel threatened by vulnerability while others feel threatened by the prospect of standing up for themselves. Some feel threatened by the consequences of expressing their anger while others feel threatened by letting themselves feel the full pain of a negative experience.
The reason to mindfully consider which emotion tends to be your default reaction is that turning your sadness into anger can unnecessarily hurt you and the people you care about as you aggressively attack when what you really need is comfort and time to process, while turning your anger into sadness can unnecessarily hurt you and the people you care about by causing inaction when what you really need is focused, burning energy to right a wrong.