Sanctuary and Serenity

Checklist for Hidden Anger.

Posted on: March 27, 2010

Checklist for Hidden Anger. If we have a national fault, it is hiding our anger from ourselves. Here is a checklist to help you determine if you are hiding your anger from yourself. Any of these is usually a sign of hidden, unexpressed anger

1. Procrastination in the completion of imposed tasks

2. Perpetual or habitual lateness.

3. A liking for sadistic or ironic humor.

4. Sarcasm, cynicism, or flippancy in conversation.

5. Over-politeness, constant cheerfulness, attitude of “grin and bear it”.

6. Frequent sighing.

7. Smiling while hurting.

8. Frequent disturbing or frightening dreams.

9. Over-controlled, monotone speaking voice.

10. Difficulty in getting to sleep or in sleeping through the night.

11. Boredom, apathy, loss of interest in things you are usually enthusiastic about.

12. Slowing down of movements.

13. Getting tired more easily than usual.

14. Excessive irritability over trifles.

15. Getting drowsy at inappropriate times.

16. Sleeping more than usual.

17. Waking up tired rather than rested or refreshed.

18. Clenched jaws—especially while sleeping.

19. Facial tics, spasmodic foot movements, habitual fist clenching and similar repeated physical acts done unintentionally or unaware.

20. Grinding of the teeth—especially while sleeping.

21. Chronically stiff or sore neck.

22. Chronic depression—extended periods of feeling down for no reason.

23. Stomach ulcers.

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. All of these negative feelings share one 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 negative feelings; they control not only their expression , but their awareness of them too.

Because you are unaware of being angry does not mean that you are not angry. It is the anger you are unaware of which can do the most damage to you and to your relationships with other people, since it does get expressed, but in inappropriate ways. Freud once likened anger to the smoke in an old-fashioned wood-burning stove. The normal avenue for discharge of the smoke is up the chimney; if the normal avenue is blocked, the smoke will leak out of the stove in unintended ways—around the door, through the grates, 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 others 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 to 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 previously listed.

The items in the list are all danger signals that negative feelings are being bottled up inside. It is true that each of them can have causes other than 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 few, since you have learned effective ways of discharging them. If you are like most of us, you will need to unlearn 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 in this paper is to provide you with some techniques which will help you stop adding to the pile, whatever its existing depth.

The process of dealing with negative feelings can be divided into three parts for purposes of discussion, although the living of it is all of a piece. The parts are:

1. Recognition of the feelings.

2. Owning it—acknowledging that it is yours.

3. Discharging it—acting on it in some way.

RECOGNITION: Everybody has her own body 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 twisting; laughing when nothing amusing is happening; patting or stroking the back of the head; clenching jaws or fist; 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 don’t know why, think 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 that you are a nice person and imagine yourself to be the touchiest, most unreasonable, childish person on the earth. review your day and look for an incident where this imaginary person might have gotten angry. When you find the incident ask yourself why you didn’t get angry. Chances are you did and didn’t know it.

Remember what you actually did and said in that situation; try to “relive it”; you may learn some of your own internal anger signals.

OWNING IT: The anger is yours. The other person may have said or done something that punched your anger button, but the anger 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 are just there in the same way your skin, muscles and vital organs are just there. In fact it is downright harmful to worry about what your feelings “should be”. Knowing what your feelings are is the best start to deciding the best thing to do.

DISCHARGING IT: 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 your own safety forbid violence. Friendships and other interpersonal relationships (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 as satisfying as bashing someone, but it is far more satisfying than saying and doing nothing. There are in reality a few situation in which it is in your best interest to delay expression, but none in which you can afford to delay recognition or owning. —the New York Adult Children of Alcoholics. 21.

~A handout from Jerry’s group…Big Thank Yous to Jerry!!

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