The All New Anger Iceberg PDF Worksheet For Adults, Kids, Teens
The Anger Iceberg is a concept that we use in psychology and therapy to help understand the complexity of this emotion. It's an obvious but totally helpful metaphor when you think about an actual iceberg in the ocean, with the majority of its mass being hidden under of the surface. The visible tip of the iceberg doesn't necessarily have any correlation to the submerged part, but there's always something there. Anger is the part of the iceberg above the surface of the water and underneath, are much deeper emotions that are correlated to underlying issues.
As a licensed therapist, I thought it was time that the old Anger Iceberg gets a 'cool' revamp for 2023. I've paired this great tool in a free PDF download along with the Anger Iceberg Worksheet to create an awesome therapist aid around anger... and a therapy tool for anyone else interested in understanding more about these difficult feelings. You can also get a copy of our free feelings wheel hereGet The PDF
Working With Rage In Therapy
The Anger Iceberg PDF Worksheet for Adults & Teens
Let's start off by talking about why understanding anger is so important for therapists to understand in order to help our clients. It's often experienced as one of those raw feelings that can be intimidating to clinicians and clients. As Susan David, PhD says in her book Emotional Agility:
“Anger is a secondary emotion — one that arises as a result of other underlying primary emotions. It masks, and often hides, the true source of our distress."
(I've also heard people say that anger is one of the primary feelings because you feel it first - I think both explanations make sense, just as long as you know why you're labeling it that way and not as a secondary emotion.)
Either way, we know as therapists, that anger can often cover up other, often vulnerable feelings and underlying emotions like fear or sadness. This is why the anger iceberg image is such an effective tool, as it can demonstrate to your clients how interconnected various emotions are.
The Iceberg Image Fillable Poster
Every iceberg needs to be filled in with all kinds of creativity.
The Therapy Activity To Use Now
It's a safe, contained, and experiential activity that helps clients delve into emotions.
The Spectrum Explained:
I want to help everyone understand how anger works and to clarify that anger is not necessarily a bad thing; it can actually be helpful and productive if used in the right way.
An important concept to consider when talking about anger is our family of origin, family dynamics and culture. Both play an important role in our personal growth and the range of emotions we have access to today. I refer to this as emotional literacy, think of it as another of our communication skills - most of us know as adults know our basic emotions, "mad, sad or glad", but we don't think about how that was influenced by our upbringing. Consider what feelings were 'not permitted' while you were growing up "We are a happy family" or cultural messages like "boys don't cry" Messages like these are internalized and impact how versatile we are with our feelings. Anger, is perhaps universally not approved of, and that could be a reason why it's so hard for us.
Let's make an important distinction here - anger as a feeling is not the same as expressions of anger like outbursts and the behaviors people take when they have overwhelming feelings of anger. When someone slams doors, throws things, calls you names, that's essentially ‘acting out' on the feeling- those are angry actions, not angry feelings.
When I think of this complex feeling in this way, it helped me to think of patterns of anger as being on a spectrum of emotions with the healthiest form of anger at one end and everything else moving further away. This is based on the work of Aaron Black, an incredible group therapist and teacher who I've had the pleasure of learning from.
The Purpose Of Anger
The purpose of anger is complicated -
- you can think of it as a part of the fight or flight response; anger makes us puff up and get bigger as a natural response to ward of threats.
- Healthy and perhaps a gentle form of anger is forward momentum, it's drive, ambition and going and getting something.
- Similar to that we need some anger when we're stuck, it's protective in that if gives us a rush of hormones to open that door that's jammed.
- Anger is informational, it's the feeling we get when a boundary has been crossed,
- So we use and need anger to set healthy boundaries, you need a little bit of 'grrrr' to say 'NO! I don't like your .' to someone.
Anger Kept Inside:
Unexpressed emotions like anger are common and while we might try and convince ourselves, it's for the best. But anger kept inside is like any other unexpressed emotion, and it's not healthy or helpful. Anger turned inward usually sounds like an inner dialogue or verbal battle of self-attacks, criticism, or a relentless list of self-imposed impossible demands. This results in self-blame guilt and can even go as far as self-harm. This type of rage is like a boomerang that we throw at others, but it comes back to hit us in the ass. It's a form of self-punishment that doesn't usually lead anywhere good. In my private practice, I consider it a bit of a win when a client can move from keeping their anger from bouncing back in on themselves and start directing it outwards.
Anger Towards Others:
While it's somewhat of an improvement when someone can express anger towards others rather than keep it in, it's still particularly unhealthy if that is expressed in a way that is verbally abusive or has any element of physical aggression.
Anger expressed without any concern for others is ACTING OUT - and that is what kids who are having temper tantrums are doing. Kids have a pass from me because they are still learning what their feelings are and don't know how to use their words effectively. As an adult when your own anger boils up, we have to have an effective way to deal with that surge of energy, in a healthy manner.
It's one of the most difficult things to master, because that buildup of anger can be overwhelming and it's hard to not act out, especially when that feeling is coming up as a reaction to perceived threats or injustices. I remind clients that it's a defense mechanism, a way to protect ourselves by puffing up and getting into a really primitive fight response. This type of anger scares others and can lead to a heated verbal battle or worse. The bottom line is that when it's expressed without awareness of its impact, it can damage relationships and escalate conflicts and actually can end us up in jail or in trouble with the law or employees. There's also so much research on how anger impacts relationships, so learning to work with it in healthy ways is vital.
Anger Expressed With Awareness:
As we continue our journey, we reach a point where anger is expressed with awareness of how it's impacting others. When we understand or begin to understand the impact of our anger on others, It's a step towards healthier expressions of anger.
It's less narcissistic because when there's awareness of others, it means that SELF is not just the be-all and end-all - we have some awareness of Others, which is healthy progression.
When you've got some awareness of how your anger impacts others, you're less likely to be mean or vindictive, which would be hurtful. You might be quicker to apologize. You might be more remorseful if you slam that door.
Healthy expression of anger is our end goal. This is when we express our anger in a way that is respectful to ourselves and others, and it's when we communicate our feelings of anger rather than act out on them. Hopefully, we can communicate our needs too. When anger is a tool for communication, we are able to express our needs and boundaries. It's when we channel the energy of our anger into positive actions, like standing up for ourselves or advocating for change.
If you're living with someone or are concerned about someone who has an anger problem that has come on suddenly or out of the blue, please seek mental health treatment from a clinical psychologist or medical doctor to rule out an underlying cause.
An Aid To Therapists
The Anger Iceberg worksheet is designed to help you uncover the hidden depths beneath your anger. This pdf is a veritable arsenal of anger management tools, I give a detailed breakdown of the anger spectrum, two versions of the anger iceberg to color in or fill in, and a seven-step anger management worksheet.
Related Therapy Activities
I've used the therapy tools in this PDF and the anger iceberg worksheet while being the Clinical Director and Lead Therapist of an Adolescent Treatment center and in my private practice. It's suitable for teens, adults, groups and individuals.
I also like to recommend books on the topic, so will add to this list as I think of more.
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