The angry man can be a little scary. But the man who is truly scary is the one who is no longer angry. Sometimes you can move past your anger, but not in a good way.
One of my therapy client’s put it this way, “It’s like your house is on fire, so you call in the dump trucks and bulldoze the whole thing and start over.”
Anger is a core emotion that we all feel. Without having anger in our lives, it would be like trying to describe the sky without the ability to see the color blue. And underneath our anger, we can have a flood of other emotions like shame, embarrassment, frustration, and pain.
But when you feel angry all of the time, it can shift and become background noise. You ignore your anger, but then it begins to eat away at you. Eventually, you get used to it, and you feel little real emotion. It’s like getting used to hot sauce. You need more juice to feel any of the heat.
What happens when you don’t feel angry anymore?
I always thought it would feel more peaceful. I spoke with a friend of mine who says that he has anger management problems. He describes how he has moved past his anger, but it is not good. Instead of feeling peace, he feels complete disengagement.
Anger is so common that we hear the phrase “The angry man,” and it barely registers. I met one an angry man at my son’s soccer game. His face was pulsating and he screamed “shoot” every time one of the boys even looked towards the ball. He’s angry, but he’s not dangerous. The man to be wary of is the quiet, determined and smoldering man. He is a man on fire.
Can we live without anger?
Is this even a valid question? It’s almost like asking, “Can you live without sleep?” Yes, you can live without sleep, for a while. Then you will be unhappy, and you will die. Being anger-less may not be so uncomfortable as going sleepless, but not being angry can be bad for your health.
I am not outwardly angry very often. My demeanor can be calming and reassuring to others, but inside I can feel frustrated, alone and not sure how to express myself. I have come by my pattern honestly. Expressing my anger can feel scary because my father was explosive in his anger and I just don’t want to go there. So I work along the edges of my anger, trying to find a way to let go of the steam without blowing up all over everyone.
Psychologists might label me as repressed. The word might have some truth. Think of the word “re-pressed.” If you take a pair of pants and press (or dry-clean) them twice, they can become stiff and uncomfortable. Living without any expressed anger can feel the same way. We lack something, as if we are trying to live our lives without the ability to see or even understand color blue.
Anger turned inward is not depression, it is just another form of anger.
It used to be that we thought that anger turned inward would become depression. We now know that anger turned inward is just that: anger turned inward. Chronic depression is a separate condition from being chronically angry.
But there is a grain of truth to this: Any powerful emotion turned inward can fuel other unhealthy emotions. The powerful emotion could be our anger directed inwardly, repressing our sexual desire, sicking our perfectionism on ourselves, or silently suffering with crushing anxiety. Inward anger and other toxic emotions can make your depression feel worse because you don’t take action. Perhaps the key thing to remember is that the depression may be at the core, prior to the anger being present. For some of us, we express our sadness through anger, whereas others internalize and we beat ourselves up.
Like my client said, internalizing our anger can feel like we are burning down the house from the inside out. According to a New York Times article by Daniel Goleman, turning our turmoil inward can lead to a number of health concerns:
- High blood pressure
- More prone to infections (lower levels of disease-resisting cells of the immune system)
- Increased anxiety
- Isolation and avoidance
- Preoccupation with not offending other people
Can we recover our anger to motivate us to action?
Anger is an excellent messenger to let us know that there is a problem and we are not pleased with a situation. It can bring our attention to something that we might otherwise gloss over and not address. Dr. Selena C. Snow, as cited by Margarita Tartakovsky.
Recovering our anger is a key to improving our health because it can motivate us to take action or to get help for ourselves.
For those of us who repress our anger because we are anger-anxious, acknowledging our anger can be a way to recognize that things are not working. This can motivate us to action and to making a change that we need to make, that perhaps we have been neglecting or ignoring.
For those who are naturally more outward in our expression of anger, recovering our anger is a key to improving our health. Disengagement is not a pleasant way to live our lives. Rage turned inward can creep out into every relationship and behavior to the place where we find ourselves wanting to scream at the McDonalds attendant and the guy who steals our parking spot. I know, because I am guilty of wanting to do both.
Recovering the ability to listen to our anger takes grace and healthy self-care. Sometimes we have to shed some tears and we need to get honest with ourselves. For me, I have sought out a good therapist who has helped to stem the tide of anger, and I journal so that I am more aware of my emotional states. I also like to exercise explosively, but over time I have developed some nagging injuries because I exercise without enough rest between sessions. My body has gotten my attention.
I have shared my experience with anger because it is more practical than listing three ways to improve your response to anger. If you would like a few more practical tips, click here “How to Navigate Anger When You’re Used to Stuffing it” by Margarita Tartakovsky.
Your anger should get your attention. If it doesn’t, your body will speak for you with illness, inward rage, disengagement, and depression.
If you feel like your house is on fire, don’t call the dump trucks and no, it’s not the time to use the gasoline. These things just make the anger worse. Maybe it’s time to get to your rallying point instead? Gather your family and make sure everyone is safe. Redirect your anger to something useful. Take stock and remember that you need to ensure your health otherwise, you can replace the house 100 times and you will never be well.
For more, you can read Why is Emotional Healing So Much More Difficult for Men?
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Keep it Real
Photo by Corey Butler