submitted by Melanie Mills
Checklist for Hidden Anger
If we have any national 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 may be a sign of hidden, unexpressed anger.
-Procrastination in the completion of imposed tasks
-perpetual or habitual lateness
-a liking for sadistic or ironic humor
-sarcasm, cynicisms or flippancy in conversation
-over politeness, constant cheerfulness, attitude of “grin and bear it”
-smiling while hurting
-frequent disturbing or frightening dreams
-over-controlled monotone speaking voice
-difficulty in getting to sleep or sleeping 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 a inappropriate times
-Sleeping more than usual – maybe 12 to 14 hours a day
-waking up tired rather than rested or 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
-Chronic depression – extended periods of feeling down for no reason
-chronically stiff or sore neck or shoulder muscles
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. These entire negative feelings share on thing in common: they are considered undesirable at best, sinful or destructive at worst. We are taught to avoid them; to avoid having them if possible (it isn’t) but certainly to avoid expressing them.
Unfortunately, many people go overboard in controlling feelings: they control not only their expression, but their awareness of them as well.
Because you are unaware of being angry doesn’t mean that you are not angry. It is the anger you are unaware of which can do most damage to you and your relationship with other people, since it does get expressed, but in inappropriate ways. Freud once liked anger to the smoke in an old fashioned wood burning-stove. The normal avenue for the discharge of the smoke is up the flue and out the chimney; if the normal avenue is blocked, the smoke will leak out of the stove in unintended ways….around the door, through the grate, etc., choking 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 other 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 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 listed above.
The items in the list are all danger signals that negative feelings are bottled up inside. It is true that each of them can have causes other and 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 a few, since you 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 is to provide you with some techniques which will help stop adding to the pile, whatever its existing depth.
The process of dealing with negative feelings can be divided into three parts for the purpose of discussion, although the living of it is all of a piece. The parts are:
1. Recognition of the feeling
2. Owning it – acknowledging that it is yours
3. Discharge 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: clamming up, blushing, shortening of breath, drumming with fingers, foot tapping, shaking or tapping, 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, fidgeting, apologizing when none is asked for, a pain in the neck, gut or back, headaches, 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 do not know why thing 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 the be the touchiest, most unreasonable, childish person on earth, review your day and look for an incident wherein this imaginary person might have gotten angry. Chances are you did and didn’t know it. Remember what you actually did and said in that situation, try to relieve it and you may learn some of your own internal anger-signals.
The anger is yours. The other person may have said something that punched your anger button, but the button 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 just are there in the same way your skin, muscles and vital organs just are 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. Knowing what your feelings are 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 (for 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 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 a recognition or owning it.