"We become rigid in our pattern of behavior, hold back all hurt and deny all anger." Dr. David Viscott
Thought Experiment: Have you ever been so angry with another person that you become preoccupied with seeing them suffer for hurting you? The anger is so intense that the person’s presence rapidly unsettles your otherwise calm spirit. Even worst, the person is unaware of your anger; they have no idea you are still upset or clued into the depth of your anger.
Anger is a fascinating emotion. We sometimes struggle with our anger because we cannot tell if the person that triggered the anger did so intentionally or unintentionally. Besides, we do not want to seem emotionally reactive or unhinged to the people around us, so we nod and smile when it is painfully obvious we are not coping well with the anger-provoking situation. Therefore we reply with a measured response or not at all while seething below the surface.
Human behaviors are highly individualized; as it relates to anger, some of us inappropriately discharge our rage, others are open and honest about their feelings, then some internalize their anger.
It seems futile to conceal our anger because internalized anger has consequences physically, emotionally, and psychologically. For example, psychologically, we may struggle with distressing thoughts and images. We may consider ways to exact revenge on the person who hurt us. Physically, we need to be aware of our bodily sensations, such as increased heart rate, tightness in our chest, increased adrenalin, legs go weak, dizziness, and shaking or trembling. Emotionally, we become negative even at the possibility of finding a solution. We may feel guilty, sad or depressed, resentful, easily irritated, and punish ourselves.
Further, we can never tell when internalized anger will surface, especially if the vexation is simmering below the surface undisturbed and does not decrease with time.
Anger can make us feel guilty and ashamed of our actions. For instance, we unleash our frustrations on someone other than the person who hurt us. We then feel embarrassed for the way we treated the unsuspecting person. The internalized anger may also become a source of guilt and shame.
In anger-provoking situations, the desire to remain calm is commendable and often recommended. However, maintaining your composure should not be the only response. Therefore, we must decide when is the opportune time to respond in public or private. When responding, it can be challenging if the person that hurt us did so publicly, then the urge to respond publicly is strong. In this case, consider if having an audience would be helpful or unhelpful in resolving the problem.
Hidden anger can become overwhelming. Therefore it is crucial to explore,
What is preventing you from expressing your anger?
What is the underlying emotion that maintains the anger?
Are you underestimating there is an opportunity to resolve the conflict?
What are your distressing thoughts and feelings about the anger-provoking situation?
Have you made a serious attempt to resolve the conflict?
Is the maintenance of your anger based on a single incident?
Are you awfulizing the incident that resulted in the anger?
Are you justifying your anger with irrational thoughts and feelings?
Are you satisfied with being angry because it keeps the person away from you?
After exploring the reasons for maintaining your anger, you are still in a dilemma; it is time to seek professional advice.
Shut up and be quiet is not an anger management response. There is a link between unexpressed anger, anxiety, and depression. Rumination is a feature of anxiety and depression, and unexpressed anger becomes repetitive thoughts we cannot distance ourselves from, especially when bitterness remains unresolved. A crucial step in anger management is open and honest communication. Indeed, when we are upset with someone speaking to that person is the last thing on our minds. However, healthy communication will play a significant role in reducing anger.
Stay Naturally Curious
Bridewell, W. B., & Chang, E. C. (1997). Distinguishing between anxiety, depression, and hostility: Relations to anger-in, anger-out, and anger control. Personality and Individual Differences, 22(4), 587-590.
Hendricks, L., Bore, S., Aslinia, D., & Morriss, G. (2013). The effects of anger on the brain and body. In National Forum Journal of Counseling and Addiction, 2(1), 1-12.