Secondary Emotions

posted in: David Flavin Therapy, REBT | 0

Have you ever felt bad because you felt bad? The answer is almost certainly yes, although initially the concept might sound odd and be difficult to grasp.

overlayed image showing a person with different emotions

Secondary emotions are a part of everyday life, and people are often more disturbed by the secondary emotion than the first. Let’s take a fictional couple Leslie and Chris having an argument. Attempting to win a losing argument, Leslie driven by their primary anger emotion, shouts at Chris bringing up an unrelated misdemeanor from the past. This triggers a primary emotion of hurt in Chris. The argument ends and they go their separate ways.

Leslie realises that they said some hurtful things in the heat of the moment and guilt (secondary emotion) sets in. The anger has subsided, but they are now feeling guilty because they couldn’t control their anger at the time.

Meanwhile, Chris ruminates on the argument and the hurtful things that were said. Chris thinks that they’d be better off without Leslie, and blaming themself for allowing the relationship to start in the first place. Worried about being alone, and this cycle of hurt potentially repeating over and over again, depression sets in with the feeling of hopelessness. Although Leslie’s anger and Chris’s hurt have subsided, they are left with their secondary emotions, guilt and depression.

These are just two examples of secondary emotions, but we all experience secondary emotions. We can feel anxious about getting angry. Angry about being hurt. Depressed about being anxious. Anxious about being depressed, or even (bear with me) depressed about being anxious about being angry. It’s no wonder we struggle to put our finger on the emotional problem we are facing. Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy along with a good therapist, is great for recognising and working with secondary emotions.

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