Just because anger is hidden does not mean it is harmless. Just because anger is under wraps does not mean it is under control. You are responsible for your thought life as well as for your actions. It is vitally important, then, to be aware of hidden anger in your life, even if you’ve strictly relegated that anger to your thought life.
Burying anger does not diffuse it; rather, it tunnels it underground, where it undermines your sense of self and manifests in damaging ways. Sometimes, the need to deny the strength of, or even the existence of, anger is so powerful that you create the capacity to deny the anger even exists. But the force of the anger will find other, secondary outlets. Dr. Roland Mairuo, MD, of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle says, after twenty plus years in anger management, “Anger is such a powerful coping mechanism that repression and suppression are not successful. The more you try to avoid it, the more time and energy you are going to spend with it. It’s a paradox.”
Even if you hide your anger, you are still spending time and energy on it. Below are some ways hidden anger can manifest.
Procrastination in the completion of tasks.
There are myriad ways to exert control over your environment, based on how you feel. Even if you do not show outward anger, you can still communicate those hidden feelings through ancillary actions, such as not completing tasks you don’t want to do on time or failing to complete them altogether.
By your actions you demonstrate how you really feel. Now, granted some people are late because they are very unorganized and have trouble getting anywhere on time. I have heard this rationale from many people I’ve worked with on this issue. However, the same people seem able to arrive on time to those events they genuinely wish to be at. For those events, they make the effort. For the rest, their lateness makes the point.
Sarcasm, cynicism, or flippancy.
Often, these strategies are done as a joke or portrayed in a lighthearted manner by the quick-witted and verbally adept. They are also done by those deeply wounded and angry but who are afraid to confront directly. These strategies provide the cover of “plausible deniability.” If ever confronted about the remark being hostile, the person can plead a misunderstanding in an attempt to maintain the hidden nature of the anger behind their remarks. The focus is then moved away from the speaker of the remark and is concentrated on the perception of the listener, in order to divert attention away from the true feelings behind the sarcasm, cynicism, or flippancy. The joke exists as protective covering for the anger bubbling underneath.
Over-politeness, constant cheerfulness (fake), attitude of “grin and bear it” but internally resenting it.
This is classic passive-aggressive behavior. Passive-aggressiveness is a pattern for all kinds of discontent against people and situation in life. The goal is to hide the anger, not eliminate it. In fact, some people can actually have a secret anger-life where they spend a great deal of time and energy internally resenting their life, situations, and people.
Smiling while hurting.
This is not referring to those brave individuals who are able to find the silver lining in the darkest cloud. These are the people who are caught in the storm and refuse to acknowledge the deluge. These are the people who attempt to minimize and marginalize their pain. This is dishonest and does not help a person face the reality of their situation.
Difficulty in getting to sleep or staying asleep.
Thoughts going around in your head keep you awake. Unresolved anger is a constant irritant. It seeps into your thought life and can dominate it. The longer the anger remains hidden and unresolved, the louder it becomes until it screams in your mind when the world gets quiet. There is no rest, no sleep, no relief from anger’s internal clamor.
One of the common ways I see hidden anger manifested in my line of work is through eating disorders. Many eating disorders, especially anorexia, are rage internalized to self-hatred and fury. There are few things besides this level of anger and rage capable of fueling the iron-willed commitment to self-starvation.
Because hidden anger is often camouflaged by seemingly unrelated symptoms, like those listed above, identifying anger as the root cause for auxiliary issues you deal with can prove difficult. It requires unprecedented honesty, self-reflection, and keen self-awareness before you can begin peeling away the layers masking your underlying anger. Admitting and confronting your anger, however, are important first steps towards a life of freedom, acceptance and peace.
Gregory L. Jantz, PhD is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and an internationally recognized best selling author of over 26 books related to mental wellness and holistic recovery treatment. This article features excerpts from Controlling Your Anger before it Controls You.