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longgone's avatar

What's the difference between primary and secondary emotions?

Asked by longgone (7489 points ) 2 months ago

I just read an article claiming that “anger” is a “secondary emotion”, whatever that means. I’ve found a few definitions, but none that really cleared things up. Does it simply refer to how we show our emotions? As in, the basic emotion may be irritation, but it is expressed through anger?

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7 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Interesting question, made me stop for a bit and think. I’d guess it’s because something happened, and you responded by getting angry. There was a trigger, and then there was the anger. But then what would love be? Or any of the other feelings?

janbb's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe I would imagine there’s a more technical distinction than that. Perhaps it has to do with how the part of the brain – is that the amadyglia? – processes emotions? Would have to do some research but I’m off to the gym.

Bill1939's avatar

“So why is anger a secondary emotion? Because we learn it as a response to other emotions. Humans are born with a protective “fight or flight” instinct. We respond to fear by either running away (emotionally or physically), or standing our ground and fighting back. At a very early age, we realize that we can fight any emotion that we don’t like, for example, sadness and frustration.”

“So why do some people have a terrible time dealing with anger? Either they didn’t learn to address anger appropriately growing up, or at some point, the rewards for feeling anger seemed better than dealing with depression or anxiety. If you are one of these people, your anger is still protecting you. Nobody likes to feel sad or lonely or frustrated, and anger often feels like a good substitute for the pain, until it grows out of control.” (see)

rojo's avatar

A quick check seems to indicate that there is some question as to whether anger is a primary or secondary emotion. Here is an article which would show anger as a component of one of the six primary emotions.Here (from the same article) is a chart showing the origins of said emotions.

From this article I get the following definitions:

What Are Primary Emotions?
Primary emotions are the immediate emotions felt in response to any given situation. They are felt first, and reflect your true feelings regarding the situation. They are unthinking, instinctive responses. An obvious example is feeling fear when confronted by something intimidating. These emotions often last for only a few moments.

What are Secondary Emotions?
Secondary emotions, as their name suggests, follow after primary emotions. They can sometimes confuse your perception of how you truly feel about a situation. This is because initial emotions may only be experienced for a split second, after which they are replaced with secondary emotions that linger. Secondary emotions are often more complex, and they may be mixed (for example, you may be happy your daughter has got married, and yet you are sad that she has finally grown up and “flown the nest”). These emotions tend to be less primal, and often involve intellect and reasoning.

Is anger an immediate unthinking emotional response (to me it certainly could be) or is it less primal, more thoughtful reaction and the result of some other emotion (again, could be)?

I think I can see why there is a debate.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I guess like, “I felt really, really angry, but then I just felt sad.” ? Anger-primary, sad-secondary?

rojo's avatar

Or sadness (primary) expressed through anger (secondary). This is where it gets confusing.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Wait, you know what? When ever my husbands makes a mistake, and it’s all his own fault, his response is to get mad at me, even if I had absolutely nothing to do with it. He’ll get mad at me for completely unrelated things. I’ve learned to recognize it and say, “OK. What did you do?” Eventually it will come out, but still, almost as though whatever it is, is still my fault.

So I think his primary emotion is guilt and shame, but his secondary emotion is anger.

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