What is repressed anger?

Psychologists generally define repressed anger as anger that is not expressed or dealt with at the time of its occurrence. In some cases, repressed anger is not even felt at the time it occurs, and, in extreme cases, the cause of the anger itself can be eradicated from conscious memory. People may suppress their angry feelings because they feel that getting angry is wrong, and they may struggle with guilt about experiencing the emotion. Some people, especially those with a history of trauma or abuse, may stifle angry feelings because they feel it's not safe to express those feelings at the time they originally occurred. Many psychologists believe that suppressing anger can lead to mental and physical illness, and that it is therefore important to recognize suppressed anger and deal with it.

People who struggle with pent-up anger often have trouble dealing with anger in healthy ways. Psychologists generally think that anger can be a healthy feeling, when dealt with appropriately. Those who bottle up their anger often don't know how to express these feelings in a constructive, rather than damaging, way. They may fear that expressing their angry feelings will cause further conflict and harm, so they may refrain from constructive verbal expression of these feelings.

Instead of confronting whoever caused the angry feelings, people who are holding back their anger may refrain from saying anything at all. They can pretend that they are not angry, while continuing to dwell on the injustice that has been done to them and the angry feelings that they are experiencing. Suppressing anger in this way can lead to violent outbursts, passive-aggressive behavior, and resentment. It can also contribute to sleep disorders, depression, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disorders.

If the situation that caused the angry feelings is particularly severe, the person may not realize that he or she is experiencing repressed anger. This is particularly common among survivors of child abuse or other victimization. Expressing anger constructively in such a situation is often impossible and can make the situation more dangerous for the victim. Instead, victims of childhood abuse and similar trauma learn to hide their angry feelings, even from themselves.

The fact that a person suppresses anger for a specific situation does not mean that he suppresses all his anger for each annoyance. However, if the habit of suppressing angry emotions was formed early in life, the person may have difficulty dealing with anger well into adulthood. Anger that is expressed at a moment of injustice and then seems to dissipate is generally defined as normal, healthy anger. Anger that appears for no reason, or that seems out of proportion to any identifiable present cause, is generally defined as repressed anger. Such anger is often rooted in past events.

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