Why are some people able to freely express their irritation while others keep their anger hidden? Is there a remedy for hidden anger?
You probably know someone who has a temper that explodes without the slightest provocation or justification. You know others who have every right to be angry. There are physical clues that they are upset, but they never verbalize or show their anger. (You might be that individual.) Why are these individuals who have every right to be angry unable to express it? (If this describes you, why are you unable to express righteous anger?)
Why do some individuals keep their anger hidden?
Why do some individuals keep their anger hidden from others?
Some factors might include an angry, authoritative figure in the home, strict religious upbringing, or fear that expressing that anger will expose them to additional harm.
An angry, authoritative figure dominated their home life. The individual was often the recipient of that anger. They learned that it was not safe to express their anger in the presence of the authority figure. They determined that they would not emulate the pattern of that authority and stuffed their rage.
Religious upbringing demanded that the justifiably angry individual turn the other cheek and absorb the blow. They identified their contribution to any conflict and moved quickly to forgive the other party. No one ever told them how to be angry and not to sin, so they determined not to express that anger and avoid sinning.
Fear of additional harm may keep the justifiably angry individual from speaking up for themselves. They avoid confrontations whenever possible. They absorb insults and injuries without complaint. They may have grown up with an alcoholic parent. Or they might have been smaller than their peers and were easily bullied.
Their list, or yours, might be different than what is listed above. But we all share common reasons why their anger, and ours, should not remain hidden,
Why shouldn’t They keep their anger hidden?
It spills out. But what is certain is that there is a limit to how much one can stuff into anything before it spills out. A lifetime of suffering in silence eventually leads to an explosion.
It obscures the real issue. And now the focus is on the justifiably angry individual’s outburst, not the problem that caused the explosion. They miss the purpose of their anger.
It delays healing. But too often, the conversation moves toward the remedy without ever acknowledging or addressing the offense and resulting grief, and this vicious cycle repeats itself over the years.
Hopefully, someone understands that there is a reason for the individual’s anger and asks probing questions. They help them understand how to express their emotions without them being destructive. They patiently help them grieve over the harm done to them.
What happens when their hidden anger is exposed?
Typically, the individual is ashamed of their injury, glosses over the responsible person’s actions, and laments their inability to forgive and move on with their life.
The individual is ashamed of their injury. Often they have two competing beliefs concerning their injuries. There are days when they believe that the wound is superficial, like a papercut that doesn’t necessarily require a Bandaid. They think that if others could see it up close, they would wonder what the fuss was all about.
But there are days when the individual believes their wound might be fatal, like a puncture wound that grows infected and refuses to heal. They think that if others could see the damage, they would avoid contact with them.
The individual dismisses the responsible person’s actions and focuses on their inappropriate response to the other party. They will then extend grace to the unrepentant while holding themselves to an impossible standard.
The individual laments their inability to move on from the incident. They regularly ask themselves why something from so long ago is still impacting them today?
And this cycle will continue unless they take the time to list the specific offenses, real or imagined, that they suffered because of a particular individual.
A remedy for hidden anger.
Is there a practical remedy to hidden anger?
Today, we will take time to address those wounds and their accompanying anger without prematurely moving to forgiveness.
First, create a list of the specific offenses, real or imagined, without making excuses for someone else’s failure or considering your responsibility in the matter.
Second, refrain from moving to forgive quickly. Premature forgiveness may be unproductive or leave the wound untreated. Let the wound breathe. Look at it carefully in the light.
Third, set a timer for 45 minutes and then take a break. Go for a walk or watch a movie. You can return right where you started and set a timer, and repeat the process until completed.
Fourth, consider the cascading effects of these offenses in your life. What did you do to address or compensate for these wounds? How were your interactions with family, friends, authority figures, and God affected? What injuries are you directly or indirectly responsible for in your relationships?
Fifth, what will you do with this information? What are your next steps?
Call to Action
I have enclosed an anger inventory in excel and pdf formats. It will allow you to address the general and specific reason why you are angry, who your anger is with, and what you grieve today because of it. It will help you plan your next steps. I have included a few examples that will help you get started.
Further reading in this series: