We all experience anger. As children, we are often taught how to express this anger, either by our parents who model anger in a specific way, or through how they handle our anger. If we are taught that expressing anger is a bad thing, we may develop a pattern of repressed anger.
This is different from suppressed anger when a person consciously avoids feeling angry. A person who has repressed anger will likely feel that they never get angry, as they are completely unaware of their anger.
As feelings are made to be expressed in a healthy way, this kind of anger management leads to a variety of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, physical pain, and relationship issues. The good news is that, through counseling, this pattern can be reversed, so that healthier channels of expression can emerge.
What does repressed anger look like?
When a person unconsciously avoids, denies, or pushes down their anger, due to feelings of shame or fear, this repressed anger can show up in a variety of ways. When this happens there can be subtle changes in the way they think and behave.
This does not mean that they are not angered, but rather that they miss early cues, such as an increased heart rate or blood pressure, or noticing that they are feeling tense. They also often refuse to acknowledge that something has angered them. They can be defensive when this is suggested by those around them, to whom the feeling might be obvious. By never recognizing the feeling, it is minimized, ignored, and denied.
Other ways that repressed anger manifests itself include:
- Feelings of sadness or depression.
- A sarcastic, cynical attitude.
- Being uncomfortable with conflict or confrontation.
- Turning to distraction or avoidance to cope with difficult emotions.
- Interacting in a passive-aggressive way.
- A lack of boundaries.
- Stonewalling or isolating yourself when upset.
- Feelings of stress and anxiety.
- Holding grudges.
- A tendency to want to control things.
- Feeling resentful toward others.
- Ignoring things that may cause upset.
When a person with repressed anger does recognize that they are angry, they feel ashamed and bad about it.
What are the triggers of repressed anger?
Repressed anger is usually a response learned in childhood. For example, if someone grows up in a household where emotional expression is shamed it can lead to an internalization of the belief that showing anger isn’t safe. It can also result from traumatic experiences, either in childhood or later life, where anger is then associated with fear or danger.
There are, however, several other common causes for this state. This could be from mental health conditions, wanting to please others, the use of drugs and alcohol, or battling with impulse control and emotional regulation.
Why is it important to treat repressed anger?
Anger in and of itself is not necessarily a bad emotion, and the word is used extensively in the Bible. In Ephesians Paul says, “In your anger, do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26, NIV) The temptation to sin when we are angry is where problems arise.
Our feelings are made to be felt. When they are repressed they do not just disappear, but appear in a multitude of different ways, having a negative impact on one’s mental as well as physical health. Harmful effects of repressed anger include:
- Poor relationships with a lack of open and honest communication
- Low self-esteem
- Anxiety and depression
- Higher risk for addiction
- Risk of chronic illness
- Heart and blood pressure problems
- Impaired work performance
All these problems, which might show up individually, or as a combination of one or two or more, can severely impact on a person’s functioning and ability to live a full, productive life. This is why it is important to be honest about where one is emotionally and obtain the treatment needed to overcome these kinds of battles.
Ways to deal with repressed anger.
The good news is that there are many healthy ways to express anger that enable a person to work through their emotion as it happens, rather than repress it or let it build up. The first important step is to work out where the anger is coming from. For someone who has repressed anger, and not experienced it as a full emotion, this can be challenging.
Start by looking back on a time when you felt angry. How did you know this? What kind of changes happened in your thoughts and how did your body react, if in any way? Our body often gives us cues as to our anger through responses like a raised heartbeat, chest tightness, muscle soreness, or a headache or fatigue.
Delve into what you think triggered your anger, and why it upset you so much. What was it that you wanted, needed, or cared about that led to that response? The more you start to notice your anger, the easier it will become to decipher its source.
Journalling is an extremely helpful tool for emotional expression, as it helps to foster self-awareness. The key is to make it a daily habit and not overthink what you write. As you journal, you will find yourself more in tune with your thoughts and feelings, and some clarity will start to emerge.
What we think has a big impact on our emotions, and so, as we entertain thoughts that make us feel angry, we will feel more and more upset. To help manage our anger, in a way that doesn’t lead to repressed anger, we can consciously choose to interrupt thoughts that can trigger us into a negative spiral, and pause them, bringing our focus back to the present.
Learning how to physically release anger that can be stored in the body is an important way to avoid or treat repressed anger. This could take the form of sports, weight-lifting, riding a bike, or running – any physical outlet that has the benefit of helping to release stress hormones.
The benefit of this tool is that minimal emotional work is required. If you feel angry and decide to go for a kickboxing workout, you will likely find that you end up feeling calmer and more relaxed and that the anger has passed.
Christian meditation and mindfulness are also ways to treat repressed anger. While in secular meditation, the practice is on emptying the mind, the Christian version is to use the time to fill one’s mind with thoughts of God, His Word, and His character and work in our lives.
A Christian counselor can walk the road with you toward healing, encouraging you to feel your feelings rather than swallow them up, through things like comfort eating or turning to distractions like television or shopping.
These distractions are not bad when kept in moderation, but when you feel like you would be unable to give them up, this might be a sign that it has an unhealthy hold on you. As you start to regain control, you will also feel more assertive and will find that your anger is repressed less.
As with any kind of emotional breakthrough, acknowledging the issue is the first step toward victory. Your repressed anger might feel like something that you will never be able to work on, but trained counselors are well-equipped to help you. Together, you can navigate the road to emotional freedom with God’s word, His support, and His strength.
How we handle our anger matters to God, and can be a sign of our obedience and reliance on Him. Pray and ask God to show you where your anger issues stem from, and how you can get to a space where you can feel angry in a healthy, productive way. Your reward will be a more fulfilling relationship, both with God and with others.
Contact our office to connect with a Christian counselor who can help you find freedom from repressed anger.
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