Many people resort to managing their anger through “suppression” of anger versus “expression” of anger. People tend often shy away from conflict and don’t like to be around “anger” and so a natural tendency is to go towards ‘suppression” of anger in an effort to just not deal with the feeling of anger at all.
Suppression of anger is the opposite of expression. It is the act of NOT expressing, of putting it away for a while – a conscious decision to forget or put the feeling out of your mind. It may look like it is put away, but it seeps out in other ways – I call it “sideways” instead of direct. It may look as if everything is fine and that person smiles and goes about life as if nothing is wrong. Women, more than men, tend to suppress their anger as they have been taught that “good girls don’t act like that”. They have been taught to hide their tempers. The feelings are there; they just stay and fester in the body. In our July-August edition, I wrote that expressing anger in an uncontrolled way has health consequences. The opposite, suppressing anger, also has health consequences. Research is showing that suppression of anger often comes out in in depression, heart disease or earlier death or other mind-body issues. (Foltz-Gray, 2014)
Young women are comfortable with being assertive but when it comes to expressing anger in their relationships, they still struggle for fear of losing the relationship. Last year’s findings from a decade-long study showed that married women who suppress feelings of any kind during conflicts with their husband were more likely to die of all causes during the 10-year follow up than those who spoke up. (Foltz-Gray, 2014)
Other studies are linking suppressed anger to physical problems of cardiac issues, high blood pressure, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome and cancer. Overeating, drinking and smoking may also be linked to anger that women hid from the world and deny or hide o themselves.
Anger is energy triggering fight-or-flight reactions. This dumps adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones into your system, increases your breathing and tightens your muscles. It gets your body revved up for fight and when anger in your body is chronic, your body stays revved up. This means your body pays the price for your suppression of feelings. Maybe you aren’t even sure if you have anger. Look for the signs that come out “sideways”. Eating or drinking too much and regretting it, being perfectionistic, needing to be on top of everything, having no other life but looking perfect, working hard without ever relaxing, feeling critical about your body, and the biggest clue – depression. If we have the idea that we are forbidden to have anger, the feelings often come out in depression.
Even if you do have your moments of having a blow up and letting the anger out, you may still have a pattern of suppressing anger. Deborah L. Cox, PhD, an associate professor of counseling at Missouri State University coauthored the book, The Anger Advantage. (Deborah L. Cox, 2003). She classifies people who suppress anger into four types: container, internalizer, segmenter and externalizer.
- The container type knows he/she is angry but chooses to hold it in and hopes it will blow over. Most of us are containers at some time or another.
- The Internalizer blames herself for whatever happens to her, absorbing the anger she really feels for others and projecting it onto herself. She often is full of self-loathing.
- The segmenter denies her anger because she feels it is an ugly trait but is passive-aggressive about it so the anger gets rerouted in a different way. She might switch targets and when she is really mad at her husband she directs her anger at her children. Or she might say she will do something, but she doesn’t. This is the type that is most concerning because if you don’t know you are angry, you really have trouble doing anything about it.
- The externalizer contains her anger until she explodes, usually at people who are less powerful than she is. Some people will go from silence to aggressive anger. But just exploding doesn’t help because it creates guilt and shame over the acting-out which merely reinforces the idea that “anger is bad and shouldn’t be expressed”. This type isn’t solving the problem. It is indirect because it isn’t talking about the problem that caused the anger. Exploding makes one feel more powerless because it rarely changes anything. The externalizers had the most physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems, and upper respiratory infections.
Suppression? Expression? What’s person to do? Anger can be a healing force. It can give us direction in our life. It helps us realize that something needs to be addressed. Most of the time anger is a cover for other feelings such as hurt and pain. It is well worth the time to assess how you manage your feelings of anger. If you struggle with symptoms of depression, headaches, stomachaches, recurrent colds, or have feelings of hopelessness or isolation, you may well be one of those people who suppresses anger. You may want to have a therapist work with you in assessing if you have suppressed anger. Regardless, take the time to assess how you deal with anger, or “if” you deal with anger and start observing yourself. You want to use your feelings of anger to propel you forward in a healthy way. But first you have to identify where you fall in the mix of expressing those feelings.
Deborah L. Cox, P. (2003). The Anger advantage: The surprising benefits of anger and how it can change a woman’s life. New York: Broadway Books.
Foltz-Gray, D. (2014, 3 10). Go Ahead . . . Get Mad! Retrieved from www.prevention.com/print23103.
Tags: physical issues from suppressing anger, suppressing anger
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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