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Even the most saintly of souls has felt a moment or two or pure rage. In general, people respond to anger in one of two basic ways. The first is potentially healthier, and that’s to express it through words or actions, as long as such expression is under control. The second method of dealing with rage is to shove it as far inside as is possible and ignore its presence. Repressed anger might seem the more polite response, but it can be dangerous enough to cause a heart attack or extreme emotional issues.
Most people would assign the range of human feelings into two categories. “Good” feelings are those such as happiness, affection, and love. Sympathy, most would say, is also a positive emotional response to another person. At the other end of the spectrum, so-called “unhealthy” emotions would include hatred, disappointment, and anger. In fact, the full range of emotions are neither morally good or bad in and of themselves. They simply are what they are.
The negative associations with anger aren’t based upon the emotion itself but upon unhealthy ways of expressing it. Lashing out physically or with harsh words might momentarily help someone suffering with rage to feel better, but it is not a healthy expression and can result in damaging relationships. Equally damaging, however, is repressing the anger so that others don’t have to experience it.
Repressed anger is redirected toward the self. By holding in negative feelings, many people feel they are behaving in a civilized manner. In fact, they might be momentarily easing what could be an uncomfortable social situation, but little else is resolved. Repressed anger may rapidly result in depression or feelings of resentment. Over time, repressed anger can contribute to physical health problems; in fact, many researchers suggest there is a link between repressed anger and some types of cancer.
Anger is the manifestation of a sense of power, and when properly handled, it can be a healthy and positive response. Anger arises when an expectation or a desire is frustrated. It can erupt unexpectedly or build slowly as disappointment adds to disappointment. Repressed anger is often the result of feeling disempowered; it seems that expressing the anger is pointless, and so a person avoids it.
In fact, there are a number of good reasons why repressing anger is a bad idea. In addition to compromising physical or emotional health, repressed anger can also stymie healthy intimacy. Repressing anger isn’t the same as healing it; in fact, anger that has been stuffed can’t be healed. True intimacy is built upon honesty and trust, and anger that is being disguised as something else is, essentially, the kind of lie that can ultimately destroy feelings of closeness.