The Anger Iceburg
The 1997 movie Titanic told a love story between an upper class woman, named Rose, and a lower class scoundrel, named Jack. This story took place on a cruise ship which would eventually sink due to a collision with an iceberg. One of the most iconic scenes of the movie involves the two jumping ship where Jack allows Rose to take refuge on a floating door while he –spoiler alert - passes away in the cold ocean temperatures. Upon first viewing as a teenager, it was clear to me the director wanted me to feel sad and heartbroken as I watched Rose bid farewell to her lover and the future they may have had together. However, my emotional reaction was quite different when I noticed that the floating door was big enough to support them both!
This was somewhat upsetting to me. I felt hope when I thought that Jack and Rose could both get to land safely and have a happy ending. I felt misled as I thought they were going to be a perfect example of how love is more important than money and class. When I realized that the director could have had both characters survive by just sharing the door, I pointed at the screen and exclaimed, “You’ve gotta be kidding me!”
This scene provides an opportunity to explain anger, a complex and widely misunderstood emotion. For illustration purposes, it’s helpful to compare anger to an iceberg. These floating mountains of ice only have 10% of their mass that protrude above water – the remaining 90% lie beneath the ocean’s surface. Just like an iceberg, the anger people express on the outside is often what shows “above the surface” when other emotions are too difficult to express.
As illustrated in my adolescent reaction to the movie, men (generally) are more likely than women to externally express anger when they internally feel vulnerable emotions like sadness, disappointment, loneliness and depression. This can be partially explained with how boys’ environment teaches them that anger is an acceptable emotion to express in place of other emotions. Movie male role models like James Bond and John Wick demonstrate this pattern as they typically take revenge whenever they experience sadness or loss. This can sometimes lead to boys growing up confused about how to express emotions without relying on anger.
Part of the emotional healing process for men who struggle with anger is to start asking, “What other emotions am I feeling right now?,” “Is there a deeper reason behind my anger?,” and “How can I separate my emotions from my behavior?”. Though these questions are sometimes easier to answer with the help of a therapist, here are some other helpful tips for managing feelings of anger:
Practice deep breathing when you feel angry – take long deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.
Pause for one minute before acting on feelings of anger, and then decide what to do.
Take a brief break when you feel overwhelmed, then return to deal with the issue that you are struggling with when you feel better.
Limit/eliminate your use of mood altering substances like alcohol and marijuana.
Take time out of the day to do activities that refresh you.
Brian Harrison, LSW, CADC
Counselor at Breaking Free