On Healthy Anger: Why Do We Suppress This Normal Emotion?
Our society has a complex relationship with anger. On the one hand, we frown upon it and equate it to violent outbursts and harmful behaviors. On the other hand, it is an entirely normal emotion that we all feel at some time or another.
So, why is it that most of us have decided that this supremely common emotion should be suppressed and locked inside our minds? Why are we afraid of expressing anger and processing it as we do with any other emotion? Today we will delve into the world of anger and discover how suppressing it can be harmful to our mental health and relationships. We will also discuss how to begin your journey towards accepting anger and expressing it in a healthy and productive way.
What is Anger According to Psychology
Anger is one of the most common emotions. It is present across cultures, societies and throughout generations. While the expression of anger can be harmful in certain contexts (aka through aggression), it can also be a helpful and prosocial emotion that allows us to improve our relationships and even our society. For instance, moral anger allows us to express our discontent towards things that violate the social mores and can help communities develop. Similarly, expressing anger to our significant others can help us voice our needs and dissatisfaction in the hope to foster more fulfilling relationships.
The problem with anger does not have anything to do with anger as an emotion itself. We fear anger because of the unhealthy behavioral expressions of it. That is, we dislike anger because of how some people express it through violence and aggression. However, anger itself is a natural emotion and suppressing it can have negative consequences for our mental and physical health. So, why do we tend to suppress our anger?
Why Do We Suppress Anger?
This topic is something that is not very openly discussed. Usually, we think about anger in the context of anger management for people that are explosive and aggressive. We tend to think of people that over-express their anger, while we do not hear a lot about how can we stop suppressing the anger. So, let's take a few steps back and ask ourselves why do we suppress our anger in the first place? Understanding the reasons behind this is the first step towards learning how to manage our anger and express it in a healthy way. So, let's delve into the three prime reasons why we suppress our anger.
1. Our Beliefs
We tend to readily suppress anger due to the beliefs we hold about anger itself. These beliefs refer to what we have learned about anger. From a young age, we have heard many messages telling us to not get angry, that it is not polite, and that it is unkind. When someone expresses their anger, they are told to be nicer, and that they do not need to voice their needs. We are routinely told to not be assertive, to not complain and to simply be nice. So, throughout time, we have internalized these beliefs and started equating anger with being mean and unpleasant.
2. Our Experience
The second reason why we suppress our anger is linked to our history and past experiences. For instance, during our early childhood we would readily express our anger, frustration and irritation. These healthy expressions were then followed by dismissive comments from the adults that surrounded us. They would tell us, for example, that we are acting dramatic, that we are too sensitive, or that we are reading too much into it. Therefore, at a young age we learned that there is something wrong with expressing anger. We began to rationalize that the problem lies in our anger, and not in the person that is stepping on our boundaries, for instance. We then thought that the problem lies on us, and, thus, we developed the idea that showing our anger is not the right way to go about it.
3. Observing Others
The third potential reason why we learned to suppress anger is grounded on how others behave. For instance, take that you witnessed people in your family or close surroundings being aggressive, explosive, or abusive when they felt angry. You might have then thought that this is the only way people express their anger. Subsequently, you thought to yourself that you do not want to behave this way, that you want to be a better person and not hurt others. Due to this, you decided to lock the anger within yourself as you believed that anger only brings negativity to those around you.
The Dangers of Suppressing Anger
The three reasons above describe the ways in which our experiences and beliefs shaped us and led us to internalize the idea that anger is wrong. However, as we discussed, the consequences of suppressing anger can be very detrimental for our wellbeing. Keeping this normal emotion bottled inside of us is not helpful and it does not make it vanish. Rather, it forces it to stay inside us and fester into an accumulation of unprocessed feelings and thoughts. Over time, this accumulation grows and the unescapable consequence is that one day we might explode. These bottled emotions can explode and culminate in an outburst or even a state of depression. It can also damage our relationships as we never openly discussed what we needed. As we are too afraid of expressing our anger and discontent, we neglect to communicate to others what we need and want out of a relationship. With time, it can develop into resentment and, ultimately, damage our relationships.
Towards Healthy Anger: 3 Tips To Stop Suppressing It
But, all is not lost, we can all learn how to effectively communicate and express our anger (and other emotions). Humans are malleable creatures that can grow, learn, and develop. So, how can we learn to express our anger in a more healthy manner? Here we share some tips.
Reframe Your Idea of Anger
The first step towards learning how to express anger in a more healthy way is to reframe our thoughts about anger itself. By this we refer to start seeing the positive consequences of expressing anger. Brainstorm and list the positive outcomes that expressing your anger can cause. For instance, one can be that it is a way to protect your relationships. Through the expression of anger, we share our boundaries, what we like and dislike, and we communicate what we want and need. All of these seemingly small actions can amount into fostering a caring and respectful relationship that, ultimately, will be more fulfilling for everyone involved.
A second tip is to set boundaries with others, especially with people that are dismissive when you express your anger. This refers to those that might tell you that you are being too overdramatic, that it is not so bad, and tell you to not get upset. By setting boundaries, you are communicating to yourself and others that there is nothing wrong about feeling and expressing anger. That it is okay, valid, and natural to feel this way. You could clearly communicate this to others by stating that you are being respectful and simply sharing what you feel, want and would like. You can ask them to not make you feel bad about your feelings and validate yourself. The latter is especially important as when we feel bad about our emotions, we are dismissing and betraying ourselves. We are actually hiding a part of ourselves and rejecting it. So, setting boundaries serves to protect your mental health and self-confidence.
Let Go of Your Past Experiences
The third and final thing we can do in order to learn to stop suppressing anger and begin expressing it is to start disconnecting our past experiences from our present selves. Just because you saw somebody being explosive or abusive does not mean that if you decide to express your anger you are going to be abusive. The simple act of reading this article demonstrates that you are willing to learn new ways to express your anger and that you are not going to behave like the abusive people you have witnessed in the past. So, try to let go of these unhelpful beliefs and reassure yourself that you will not go down the same path.
Take Home Message
As we have learned, anger is an entirely normal emotion that serves a purpose in our social and personal lives. Suppressing it causes more harm than good, and therefore, we must equip ourselves with the tools to learn to express our anger in a healthy way. If you need any help along your journey, we would be happy to lend a helping hand. Join our AntiLoneliness Academy and learn how to let go of your limiting beliefs and headstart your path towards a more fulfilling life. And, always remember, you are not alone. Take care.
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