Have you ever been so angry that you said something that you later regret? Have you ever been so angry that you punched or kicked something? Have you ever been so angry that after you have calmed down, you don’t even remember what happened, almost like you blacked out?
Well, I have, and, that’s why today we are going to talk about the Anger Iceberg.
This article is part two of another article on emotions and how that affects our human psychology. In that article, we discussed some of the deep rooted struggles I have had in controlling my emotions.
Since my profession is day trading, I am going to be speaking from that perspective, but I believe this is a topic that relates to everyone.
In day trading, there’s a thing called Revenge Trading, where after you just lost a lot of money, you try to punish the stock for the injustice it caused you. In Poker, it’s called being On-Tilt. The moment you start revenge trading and over trading is the moment you lose a lot of money. Yes, that has cost me tens of thousands of dollars before.
Those kinds of losses made me reevaluate my life, and I had to realize I could not keep on taking those kinds of losses, or pretty soon I would be living in a van down by the river.
This struggle with emotions sent me down a journey of therapy and anger management for the last 5 years. Initially, I entered therapy in order to become a better trader, but instead, I ended up becoming a better person. That is far more valuable than anything I could gain in the stock market.
Before we start, full disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, or a health professional. If you think you may have serious emotional and mental struggles, then please go seek help from a professional. I am here to simply share my own personal experiences and what I learned along the way of my own personal journey, as well as share some bad jokes along the way.
I don’t know if he is fully responsible for the concept of the Anger Iceberg, but I first learned about anger from some of the books by John Gottman of the Gottman Institute.
He explains that our anger is actually a secondary emotion and not the primary emotion that we are feeling. Does that sound a bit confusing? Yeah, I felt the same way too, but it gets more interesting.
John explains that “when we feel angry or rage, that’s usually triggered by another emotion underneath the surface, one that we’re not aware of, one that's hidden… the primary emotion.”
Visualize this like an iceberg. Picture it in your mind. Imagine you are riding on a cruise and passing an iceberg.
What you see is this mountain of ice surrounded by water. Did you ever ask yourself, what is really underneath the tip of this iceberg? Is the entire iceberg above water, or could it be that there is something else below it?
What if I told you that usually, we only see 10% of the entire iceberg, just the tip. And that we are not aware of the 90% that’s underneath the water.
The same comparison can be made when we feel angry. The anger we feel, that strong sense of displeasure and hostility, even though it's overwhelming, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the 90% of our emotions is hidden below the surface.
Back in summer of 2021, I was trading MRNA stock. I had been trading this stock since the beginning of COVID when it was $20. Due to the pandemic and need for vaccine production increase and the MRNA name became a well known household name, the stock had doubled, quadrupled and went as high as $200 and eventually almost $500.
Until then, MRNA had been a consistent money maker for me, and this time was no different. I knew for a fact that as soon as I got into this trade to buy the dip, it was going to not only go to the Moon, but to Mars in a Tesla Roadster. It was going to make me so rich that I was going to buy out Twitter and take it private.
Well, I think we all know what happened next… clearly Elon outbid me by exactly $43 billion dollars.
No. Instead, what happened is that MRNA stock tanked huge from $500 to $370 in two days. This is a crash of more than 30%. That is a penny stock level of a dump, and I was staring at my screen for a whole lot of big loss.
I was definitely very very angry; this trade wasn’t supposed to go this way. There are so many reasons that this resulted in a huge loss. My slip up of risk management, breaking my own rule of revisiting a trade after 3 losses, and trading mid day. I just broke so many rules that had kept me safe for so many years.
But, due to the rage and the hostile state of mind I was in, I blamed the stupid stock market. The market is rigged. It's the greedy Market Makers and the institutional selling.
I resorted to eating a carton of ice cream, and I wanted to slap someone right across the face.
While the anger iceberg we talked about earlier clearly indicated that yes, I was extremely angry, that was really only 10% of it. What were the other 90% of the feelings I had that led me to feeling such rage?
In this case, I definitely felt stupid that I was wrong, when I was so sure my plan could not go wrong. I was embarrassed that I let myself lose that much of my hard earned money. I mean, this is someone's entire year’s salary that I had just lost in one day.
I also felt regret that I made a mistake that I had not made in a long time, and I knew that I had learned better than to take on this kind of risk. If I really felt all these emotions I just mentioned deep down, why was I mostly connecting with this overwhelming sense of rage instead?
Looking back now, I think it's because, as ridiculous as this sounds, anger is really there to protect us. It’s our brain’s way of keeping us safe from feeling all of those other raw emotions I just mentioned.
I didn’t want to feel stupid, embarrassed, or full of regrets from that one losing MRNA trade. Those were awful feelings, and they were the same emotions I felt years ago during my struggles in my younger years, which is the root of all of these intense feelings.
All of these emotions together can feel very overwhelming and bring back unpleasant memories or trauma. Instead of feeling all of them combined, I chose to feel anger.
Did I consciously choose to feel anger at that moment? No, of course not. Anger is so ingrained in our psyche that it’s the first thing I felt.
However, my mind did subconsciously choose anger, because this secondary emotion can often act as a convenient way to cover up our primary feelings, which is feeling vulnerable.
The truth is, this career of day trading full time does not guarantee me a paycheck at the end of every week like other professions. It’s maybe one of the only jobs where you could work 40 hours a week and actually lose money if you don’t know what you’re doing. However, this is the trade off I was willing to make when I quit my miserable 9-7 job.
At the end of the day, as a trader, I am always vulnerable in the ever changing market volatility, and of course, I am vulnerable to my own emotions and how I might act in the market. MRNA reminded me how vulnerable I am every moment of every trading day, and that felt awful.
Choosing anger could act as a convenient escape from feeling vulnerable. Feeling anger feels more powerful and ironically, more in control at the moment. As weird as this sounds, rage, and hostility were the opposite of feeling vulnerable.
Feeling angry is not always a bad thing. It’s a negative emotion but it’s natural for us humans. Anger does have a purpose to protect our raw feelings, but we just have to be careful in recognizing that the feeling of power we get from anger is only temporary and at the end of our rage, we might be feeling worse off than before.
We really owe it to ourselves, our loved ones, and also, our trading accounts’ sake to recognize that anger is just the tip of the iceberg and that there is a whole lot of other stuff going on in there.
Like we mentioned in the other emotions article, you have to allow yourself to feel all of these emotions and recognize them as they come. Aways using anger to mask off our true feeling of vulnerability inside is a never ending negative cycle that could often spill into our daily actions.
It could lead to lashing out at innocent people, substance abuse, and of course… revenge trading and losing money, which then would restart that anger cycle.
If you’ve had similar experiences when it comes to feeling a deep-rooted anger like I did or even just uncontrollable emotion, a good starting point to this is to recognize that there is a cycle to all of the emotions. Anger management professionals refer to it as The Aggression Cycle.
Remember, the bad feelings have to come out, before the good feelings can come in. The best way to start that process is to attempt to understand yourself and know what you are truly feeling. You can write it down in a journal like I did. Talking to friends or loved ones that you can trust is also a good starting point. If you don’t have one of those in your inner circle, there are support groups for that as well.
If you’re struggling out there, just know that you’re not alone, and remember to take these steps one day at a time. Feel free to share your stories with me in the comments below if you’re comfortable. I hope that my story somehow made a positive impact on your journey. Thank you.