When you’re upset with someone about something, do you:
> Say nothing, but silently keep score?
> Talk to others about it?
> Ice them out?
> Send them a passive-aggressive or sarcastic text?
If any of those rang a bell, you are not alone which is why in this week’s episode, I’m breaking down the top 10 indicators that you might be suppressing and/or unconsciously repressing your anger.
Raising your awareness around when you might be acting out feelings of frustration or anger is the first step to expressing yourself in a healthier way. I promise you, learning these skills will improve all of your relationships, including the one you have with yourself.
There is a difference between suppressing (conscious) and repressing (unconscious), but in both cases, we are not expressing our anger, which can have real consequences.
When we consistently avoid or deny our anger, it can contribute to anxiety, depression, and self-sabotaging behaviors. Stuffing it down and neglecting to fully process and express anger can negatively affect our relationships, career, family, and our mental and physical wellbeing.
It is so important we recognize anger as a healthy part of being human.
None of us has the power to never be angry, as hard as we may try. In my 20s, I was definitely the person who would say, “I never get angry,” because my anger was so repressed I had no idea how angry I really was.
There are many reasons why this can happen, so let’s get into the different signals, signs, and characteristics of suppressed or repressed anger so you can get more clarity.
1. Emotion Swapping
This is where you don’t consciously feel angry, but you might feel sad, anxious, or depressed instead. You swap out anger for a different, “safer” emotion. I definitely identify with this. In my family of origin, I learned expressing anger directly was NOT ok, BUT, being sad or upset was acceptable.
Humans are wired to keep ourselves safe and minimize exposure to any perceived threat. As a child, you might have learned anger was a forbidden feeling, and to not be rejected within the family system, your anger had to go underground.
If you are still playing out this behavioral pattern in your life, start to really pay attention to when you are feeling sad, upset, or depressed. Ask yourself where it’s coming from and try to recognize, name, and honor your true feelings.
When you think about sarcasm, it’s really a passive-aggressive way of expressing anger, disappointment, or frustration. I was the queen of sarcasm because it was a safe way for me to express the anger I was repressing.
If you often find yourself saying the opposite of what you think and feel with a sarcastic tone and maybe even an eye roll, start to get into inquiry around why it might feel safer than being direct.
3. Conflict Avoidance
Do you avoid conflict? If you are uncomfortable with confrontation, it could point to a fear of your own and/or other people’s anger. Managing your anger in a healthy way is a skill– one many of us never learned. You might even be uncomfortable around any kind of conflict even if you’re not involved in it.
Like emotion swapping, avoiding conflict is another protective method to keep us “safe”. But over time, avoiding conflict can leave us bitter and resentful.
4. Control Issues
The next symptom of suppressed or repressed anger is feeling compelled to control others and situations- even those things that are not yours to control. Trying to control everything and everyone can also be a bid for safety.
Take note: if you have codependent tendencies, you might be unconsciously trying to control the outcomes and choices of the people in your life. As a recovering codependent and former control freak, I get it.
Passive aggression is the indirect expression of anger. It is perhaps one of the most destructive forms of covert communication. Door slamming, heavy sighing, saying “I’m fine,” in a tone that clearly expresses you are anything but fine, all of these behaviors are passive-aggressive.
Let’s say you’re angry at someone because they didn’t respond to what you would consider a timely fashion. So the next time, you wait an extra-long time to get back to them because you want to make sure your message is clear.
The truth, of course, is your message is vague as hell. Effective communication is direct. Acting out your anger in a passive-aggressive way might feel “safe” and like it’s still honoring your feelings, but it’s ineffective.
Communicating your displeasure or frustration directly through a text or conversation is so much more effective.
6. Boundary Disaster
Do you have disordered boundaries? If you have control issues, this could look like you having rigid boundaries (in the video, I give an example of me telling my college boyfriend, “I don’t do anger,” ?).
Or, on the other end of the spectrum, you might have porous boundaries and have difficulty saying no, stating a preference, or talking true because you are trying to avoid other people’s anger.
7. Shutting Down
When you’re upset, is your go-to move to withdraw or stonewall? If your instinct is to remove yourself from the situation so you don’t have to talk about it or address it ever again, you likely have some anger brewing under the surface you aren’t willing to let out or recognize.
Shutting down helps no one. Believe it or not, healthy conflict resolution is possible and so is expressing, processing, and understanding your true emotions, even anger.
Do you wait so long to express your feelings that you eventually explode like a volcano? Maybe it happens over a completely mundane thing that has nothing to do with why you were angry in the first place…
When we bottle up our anger, there is a cumulative emotional effect. The cost for continuing to push it down is it can build and build until we act out explosively, leaving carnage in our wake. Especially if you are someone who is anger avoidant a majority of the time, these kinds of episodes can permanently damage your relationships.
9. Holding Grudges
Do you have a mental file cabinet of grievances? When we don’t process our anger in a healthy way, we can hold tight to grudges. It’s like our anger gets stored in this anger file cabinet and never really goes away.
When we talk things out, confront people, and allow ourselves to be angry, we are much less likely to find ourselves ruminating about things that happened yesterday or 25 years ago.
There is something healing and healthy in saying, “I’m angry about this,” or “I don’t like the way you treated me”. Because when you don’t express yourself, every time you relive the crappy experience in your mind, you’re releasing stress hormones. Your body doesn’t know the difference between now and then.
You are still getting the negative impact of an incident that could have happened 20 years ago! It is self-defeating and akin to repeatedly slamming your head against a wall- no resolution, only pain.
10. Guilt + Shame
Anger might make you feel like a bad person. You might feel guilty or ashamed of your emotions, especially if you grew up in a family system where anger was unacceptable, ungodly, or considered unseemly.
In my family, it was considered crass. Anger just wasn’t something we did. And no one had to send me a memo to tell me that, I just knew it. It was part of the unspoken rules of engagement in my family system or what I call silent agreements.
Were there any silent agreements around anger in your family of origin? If you feel guilt or shame around your anger, think through what you learned growing up and what kind of behavior you saw modeled. This isn’t about blaming your parental impactors. It’s about getting context and clarity around your relationship to your anger.
Bottom line: when it comes to our emotions, there are only two choices. We can talk it out or act it out.
Trust me, if you are suppressing or repressing your anger, eventually, it will affect you because you do not have the power to make it disappear. In this week’s downloadable guide, I’m giving you some tips to express your anger in a healthier, more functional way.
I want to hear from you so please, drop me a comment here or connect with me over on Instagram @terricole and let me know if any of these resonate with you.
Anger is a normal part of being a whole, healthy human being. There are things you can do to recognize, process, and honor your anger.
I hope this added value to your life and as always, take care of you.