The Connection Between Sadness and Anger

As we work through Chapter 7 of Onward, we take a dive into sadness and Elena Aguilar shares the following caution: When anger is present, look carefully, because sadness often lurks below. Sometimes we stay on the level of anger because it has energy: Anger can be galvanizing and mobilizing, propelling us onto our feet and into alliances with others; it makes our heart beat and our legs move, and sometimes our speech is smarter when we’re angry. But we all know there is danger in spending too long in anger. And there can be power and freedom in uncovering sadness.

So how to we uncover that sadness? I am always on the search for practical approaches and strategies to share and I like the step-by-step approach shared in From Sad to Mad: How Suppressing Your Sadness Invites Anger. The suggested steps shared in the article are as follows:

  1. When you get angry, sit down and begin to feel the energy in your body. Rather than ranting and raving, start taking stock of your bodily tension. (Yes, this is very difficult at first. With practice you’ll get better, I promise.) Once some of the energy has subsided, ask yourself what you’re sad about. Usually something specific—and quite often completely unrelated to the thing that caused you to be angry in the first place—pops in.
  2. Once you’ve accessed the trigger of your sadness, it’s time to feel sad. I can already hear you grumbling. I know, feeling sadness isn’t pleasant, and that’s why so many of us avoid the sensation. A little trick I learned, and teach, is to say “yes” or nod your head when the sensation of sadness is felt. Acknowledging our emotion in this way makes it easier to access. Now, fully feel the sadness without judging or commenting. (This part is a bit difficult as well. It takes much practice to learn to feel our physical sensations without any accompanying thoughts.)
  3. Once the sadness has subsided—and it will subside—you can begin the process of inquiry. Ask yourself what was lost. If it’s not obvious, look to core values that you prize, such as kindness, fairness, support, etc. Often, we get angry when these core values aren’t experienced in ourselves or in our relationships.
  4. Patience and honesty in this process will often lead you to the missing value. Now that you’ve found it, it’s simply a matter of going out into the world and cultivating the very quality that went missing in the first place. This might look like being kind to coworkers, patience with your children, or being gentle with yourself when you make a mistake. Regardless of the quality expressed, your sense of power and accomplishment will increase.

Try it and notice your sense of power within. And for those of you that are learning how to coach emotions, look for anger in your conversations and see if there is possible sadness to uncover.