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Primary and Secondary Emotions

Sara Fay is an acting teacher at the Maggie Flanigan Studio who teaches movement for actors. In this blog post, Sara explains the difference between the primary and the secondary emotion.

sara fay working with students in movement for actors class at Maggie Flanigan Studio

Movement Classes for Actors – Maggie Flanigan Studio – Call (917) 794-3878

Primary and Secondary Emotions: Movement for Actors with Sara Fay

Emotions are an integral part of our shared humanity and as artists, the entire spectrum of human experience is our raw, creative material. The word emotion comes from the Latin term “emovere” meaning moving. When we allow our experiences to manifest without psychological or physical blocking, we see that emotions are flowing and constantly changing. Just as a wave crests and falls, each moment brings a new experience to life. In heightened circumstances, we can become overwhelmed with many emotions that seem to be in conflict with one another. In such cases, it can become difficult to accurately articulate what one is feeling.


Beneath social norms and mental constructs lies the truth of our authenticity. This work is a layered and multi-faceted process that takes time, but along the way, we discover the truth of who we really are.

Sara FayStudio Faculty, Movement for Actors

In our work and in our lives, it is important to distinguish is the difference between primary and secondary emotions. A primary emotion is our initial reaction to an event. It is instantaneous, primal, raw, and reveals the truth of how we really feel. Our work in the studio is to allow that truth to be expressed fully, without inhibition or extraneous tension. Now, secondary emotions are a mental response to the primary emotion. Secondary emotions are informed by our beliefs and are formed by our caregivers, societal expectations, personal history, and past experiences.  These beliefs and mental constructs subsequently manifest as “feelings about our feelings.”

Perhaps you had a family member that was aggressive or easily angered and this taught you to fear your own rage. Now, instead of owning that primary emotion, you experience guilt or shame that manifests in nervous laughter or disassociation. Due to social stigmas, some people believe their vulnerability is a sign of weakness. Perhaps someone early in life told you “Don’t cry, be strong, toughen up” and now when experiences of sadness surface so do these thoughts, which trigger secondary emotions. We scream, rage, blame, as a way of protecting ourselves from the vulnerable core that is feeling sad, hurt, alone, disappointed or abandoned.

These secondary emotions are often a disservice to us because they obscure the truth of a situation and make it impossible to properly experience and work through the primary emotion. The question we then we need to ask ourselves is “What is beneath our feelings?”

Why is this so difficult to achieve? Why do we sometimes feel locked in our own bodies? How can we set ourselves free? This work is a layered and multi-faceted process that takes time, but along the way, we discover the truth of who we really are. The more we inquire, the more we discover. Beneath social norms and mental constructs lies the truth of our authenticity.

Sometimes it can feel like a herculean feat to undo these blocks. How do we undo a lifetime of conditioning? The answer is “one moment at a time.” It is a matter of forming a habit and every time we make the conscious choice to allow our primary emotions, a new neural pathway is created and each time that choice is repeated, that pathway is reinforced and making the choice becomes easier. The first step in Awareness. By observing these patterns we are no longer subject to them. We have the choice to accept our primary emotions and begin to allow them to surface and be expressed without judgment.

movement classes for actors - maggie studio - briana-packen-07

Movement for Actors – Sara Fay Acting Teacher – Maggie Flanigan Studio – (917) 794-3878

Learn More About Movement for Actors with Sara Fay at Maggie Flanigan Studio

Learn more about Movement for Actors and the acting programs at the Maggie Flanigan Studio by visiting the acting programs page on the studio website or by calling (917) 794-3878 during business hours.

Movement for Actors

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