If we have any natural fault, it is hiding our own anger from ourselves.
Here is a checklist to help you determine if you are hiding your anger from
yourself. Any of these is usually a sign of hidden unexpressed anger.
- Procrastination in the completion of imposed tasks.
- Perpetual habitual lateness.
- A liking for sadistic or ironic humor.
- Sarcasm, cynicism or flippancy in conversation.
- Over-politeness, constant cheerfulness, attitude of "grin and bear it".
- Frequent sighing.
- Smiling while hurting.
- Frequent disturbing or frightening dreams.
- Over-controlled monotones speaking voice.
- Difficulty in getting to sleep or sleep through the night.
- Boredom, apathy, loss of interest in things you are usually enthusiastic about.
- Slowing down of movements.
- Getting tired more easily than usual.
- Excessive irritability over trifles.
- Getting drowsy at inappropriate times.
- Sleeping more than usual - maybe 12 to 14 hours a day.
- Waking up tired rather than rested and refreshed.
- Clenched jaws- especially while sleeping.
- Facial tics, spasmodic foot movements, habitual fist clenching and similar repeated physical acts done unintentionally or unaware.
- Grinding of the teeth- especially while sleeping.
- Chronically stiff or sore neck.
- chronic depression-extended periods of feeling down for no reason.
- Stomach ulcers.
This is not about rage. Rage is anger out of control and taking over your
whole being. This is about the feelings we call, irritation, annoyance,
getting mad, etc. All these negative feelings share one thing in common:
they are considered undesirable at best, sinful or destructive at worst. We
are taught to avoid then-to avoid having them if possible (it isn't) but
certainly to avoid expressing then. Unfortunately, many people go overboard
in controlling negative feelings; they control not only their expression,
but their awareness of them, too. Because you are unaware of being angry
does not mean that you are not angry. It is the anger you are unaware of
which can do most damage to you and to your relationships with other
people, since it does get expressed, but in inappropriate ways, Freud once
likened anger to the smoke in an old-fashioned wood-burning stove. The
normal avenue for discharge of the smoke if up the chimney; if the normal
avenue is blocked the smoke will leak out of the stove in unintended
ways-around the door, through the grates, etc. checking everyone in the
room. If all avenues of escape are blocked, the fire goes out and the stove
ceases to function. Likewise, the normal (human) expression of anger is
gross physical movement and/or loud vocalization; watch a red-faced hungry
infant sometime. By age five or so we are taught that such expressions are
unacceptable to others and lead to undesirable consequences such as being
beaten or having affection withheld.
We learn to "be nice", which means (among other things ) hiding bad
feelings. By adulthood even verbal expression is curtailed, since a
civilized person is expected to be "civil". Thus, expression is stifled and
to protect ourselves from the unbearable burden of continually unexpressed
"bad" feelings, we go to the next step and convince ourselves that we are
not angry, even when we are. Such self-deception is seldom completely
successful, however, and the blocked anger "leaks out" in inappropriate
ways, some of which are previously listed.
The items in the list are all danger signals that negative feelings are
being bottled up inside. It is true that each of them can have causes other
than anger (procrastination, for example, can be due to an unreasonable fear of
failure ), but the presence of any of them is reason enough for you to look
within yourself for buried resentments. If you are human, you will find
some. If you are fortunate, you will find few, since you will have learned
effective ways of discharging them. If you are like most of us, you will
need to unlearn some old habits before you can learn new ways of handling
"bad" feelings, ways which are constructive rather than destructive.
Getting rid of a lifetime accumulation of buried resentments is a major
task which is one of the goals of psychotherapy. Whether such a process is
necessary for you should be decided in consultation with a qualified
professional person. Our immediate concern in the paper is to provide you
with some techniques which will help you stop adding to the pile what ever
its existing depth.
The process of dealing with negative feelings can be divided into three
parts for purposes of discussion, although the living of it is all of a
piece. The parts are:
- Recognition of the feelings.
- Owning it-acknowledging that it is yours.
- Discharging it-acting on it in some way.
Everybody has his own bodily signals indicating current on-the-spot anger.
Look for yours: Friends and relatives might be helpful, since they may be
aware of your irritation before you are, and may be able to tell you how
they can tell, when you are upset.
Some common signals are:
Shortening of breath;
Drumming with fingers;
Shaking or twisting;
Laughing when nothing amusing is happening;
Patting or stroking the back of the head;
Clenching jaws or fists;
Tucking a thumb inside a fist;
Yawning or getting drowsy;
Suddenly refusing eye contact with another person;
Apologizing when none is asked for;
A pain in the neck, gut or back;
A rise in voice pitch.
The list is interminable. Try to find out what your signals are.
If you find yourself depressed or blue and don't know why - think back over
the past twenty-four hours and try to figure out who did something to anger
you. (Depression is usually the result of repressed anger. ) Forget you are
a nice guy and imagine yourself to be the toughest, most unreasonable,
childish person on the earth; review your day and look for an incident
wherein this imaginary person might have gotten angry. When you find the
incident, ask yourself why you didn't get angry. Chances are you did and
didn't know it. Remember what you actually did and said in that situation;
try to "relieve it" you may learn some of your own internal anger signals.
The anger is yours. The other person may have said or done something that
punched your anger button, but the anger is yours, and - so are the
feelings it triggers. You cannot make someone else responsible for your own
feelings. Blaming does not help. Nothing the other person does will help,
unless it is in response to something you do. Accepting anger as your own
is easier if you discard the idea that feelings need to be justified. They
don't, and frequently cannot be - "should" and "feel" are two words which
do not belong together. It is senseless to say that someone "should feel"
some way. Feelings are just there in the same way your skin, muscles, and
vital organs are just there. In fact, it is downright harmful to worry
about what your feelings "should be". Such worry will get in the way of
finding out what your feelings are - which is the best start to deciding on
the best thing to do.
First, foremost, and always. Don't hide it. You'll probably not be
successful anyway - anger demands expression. If you have recognized it and
owned it, then you will have a choice of when, where and how you may
express it. Society (and your own safety ) forbids violence. Friendship or
other interpersonal relationships (such as husband/wife, employer/employee)
make explosive verbal expression ultimately self-defeating. Just saying,
"That makes me angry", or "I do not like it when..." may not be as
satisfying as bashing someone, but it is far more satisfying than saying
and doing nothing. There are in reality a few situations in which it is to
your best interest to delay expression, but none in which you can afford to
delay recognition or owning.