Infectious Anger: Seeing Anger as a Secondary Emotion By: Gabrielle Anderson, lmft
Understanding anger can sometimes be a difficult task. Anger is what therapists call a secondary emotion, meaning there are usually if not always, other emotions or conditions underneath anger. One can feel disappointed and nothing else, just disappointment. Sadness is another example of a possible primary emotion, or confusion.
Anger as a secondary emotion often has a goal in mind. It can be a vehicle and can help give strength and direction to a task or cause. It can also be used as a tool to keep people at a distance, to disguise how one really feels about something or maybe even to protect oneself from the real driving emotions. But sometimes anger is not about protecting or supporting a primary emotion at all. Sometimes the primary piece of the anger puzzle is INFECTION.
The Angry Face of Bartonella
As a therapist I always say if something doesn’t make sense in the therapy room, I probably do not understand the whole picture. There have been times over the years that I have looked for the primary emotion underneath anger and have found nothing. This is not how anger works. I remember seeing a couple for marriage therapy a few years ago. The wife’s anger and level of reactivity did not make sense to me. I tried and tried to understand the angle from which she would speak, but could not understand the primary emotion. Finally I suggested that I meet individually with the husband and the wife to determine what pieces of the puzzle I was missing. It became quite clear to me within 10 minutes of speaking alone with the wife that she had many symptoms of Lyme Disease and Bartonella. After talking, she agreed to obtain an assessment from a Lyme Literate Doctor and was told that yes in fact she did have both of these infections. This was the missing link. Bartonella was the primary factor in her anger. I did not have to do many sessions after this discovery because the cause of her anger was coming from infection.
How many times do we miss this very important piece? When my children were being treated for Bartonella, the rages were significant. When I was being treated for Bartonella, I was edgier and more snappish and rude than I have ever behaved in my 20 years of marriage. Learning that an infection can absolutely create edginess, anger and rage is extremely important information to know. Understanding the origin of anger is crucial in knowing then how to respond to it.
Blood Sugar Rages: Feed me Protein…Now!
The majority of the children I see in my office with Lyme Disease struggle to keep their blood sugar regulated. These children require small tiny meals throughout the day or three big meals with small tiny protein laden snacks in between meals. All food is not the same when you have Lyme Disease. The child with Lyme Disease must have their carbohydrates balanced with protein. Pretzels, dry cereal and goldfish snacks can initiate an imbalance in blood sugar unless balanced with protein. Cheese sticks, nuts, milk, edamame, peanut butter and meat are examples of foods that will help the child stay balanced. Blood sugar rages are like no other temper tantrums. Small children often times experience these rages with kicking, screaming, hitting, scratching and “I hate you”s and can rarely de-escalated in the moment. Balancing the blood sugar seems to be the only true answer.
The Thursday and Friday Fatigue Phenomena
Many times parents come to me feeling bewildered; confused as to why school sees such a different child than they see at home. Parents report that while their child is labile, emotional, scattered and even rageful at home, somehow the teacher sees them as being an angel in the classroom. As a professional, the quick and easy response might be to blame mom and dad by assuming their parenting techniques or family atmosphere must be at fault. Quite often this is not at all what is happening.
When children have a chronic illness, they will often learn to compartmentalize the severity of symptoms and will save them for their safe place, which typically is home. Sometimes children fatigue by Thursday and Friday and have more anger and more rageful episodes towards the end of the week primarily because they have been holding it together in other environments and can no longer suppress all of the symptoms. Having Lyme disease or PANDAS can be tiring in and of itself. School is a child’s workplace and can be exhausting. When parents can help minimize afterschool activities and can create spaces for rest and recuperation, children can have the opportunity to not be fatigued at such a scary level.
Putting the Pieces of the Anger Puzzle Together
What are the pieces of your anger puzzle or the puzzle of your child's? Maybe you can relate to one or more of the above explanations for anger. Understanding that anger is secondary to something else bigger can make sifting through emotional information much more efficient. Remember the secret therapists all know: If something does not make sense or seems bigger that it ought to be, dig a little deeper.
Gabrielle Anderson is the Director and a Therapist at the Family Therapy Center of Northern Virginia, llc
She and the other team members can be contacted directly from the Center's Meet the Team page.
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Unless specified, Gabrielle Anderson, lmft is the author of these posts. Gabrielle is a Therapist and the Director at FTC. She is a married mother of 2 and has experienced chronic infection in the practice, herself and in her family.
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