Leslie Tourish, LPC
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She was picture perfect. Her hair was neatly groomed, the make-up tastefully applied and she was dressed to the nines. And she smiled – all the time. The only crack in the façade of her glossy exterior was her right hand that kept curling into a tight, little angry fist.
“Jane” (not her real name), sat with the other patients in the psychiatric hospital where I worked, and talked about what had brought her into group therapy. She mentioned she was having a hard time adjusting to her children getting older and needing her less. She mentioned that her husband was controlling and she was afraid to ask him even basic questions, such as what was their financial status since she wasn’t allowed to even balance the check book? What she didn’t mention was what it felt like to talk about her problems, and all the while unconsciously curl, and uncurl, her fist into that little angry ball, never allowing her tight smile to slip or falter.
“What are you angry about?” I asked.
“Angry? I’m not angry. I’m here to deal with my depression. I have nothing to be angry about. Actually I have much to be thankful for.”
“Then why do you smile even when you talk about things that you find painful?” I asked, noticing that her fist had tightened until the knuckles stood out white as chalk marks.
Her smile faltered and her eyes brimmed with tears, when I asked her, “If your anger was water, how high would it fill this room?”
“To the ceiling,” she said softly.
“What color would it be?” I asked.
“Dark red with streaks of black,” she said, with just the edge of steel in her voice. At that point, the real Jane had entered the room and we were able to address the underlying issue of her depression – her anger.
It’s been said that depression is anger, spread thin. Non-productive ways of expressing anger are to be passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive. Therefore people may deal with their anger by either stuffing their feelings (like Jane), spewing their anger at whoever is in their path, or being indirect and misleading rather than expressing their feelings openly.
People who stuff their feelings may have what is called hidden anger. Warning signs are as follows: Procrastination in the completion of imposed tasks. Perpetual or habitual lateness. Sarcasm, cynicism or flippancy in conversation. Frequent sighing. Over-politeness, constant cheerfulness and smiling while hurting. Frequent disturbing or frightening dreams. Over-controlled, monotone speaking voice. Excessive irritability over trifles. Clenched jaws or grinding of teeth while sleeping. Chronic stiff or sore neck or shoulder muscles. Ulcers.
For every behavior there is a purpose or a benefit. Some benefits of hidden anger are as follows:
AVOID FACING YOUR REAL FEELINGS. Anger is a natural response to hurt. If you avoid anger, you avoid the underlying emotional injury.
CAN FEEL MISTREATED AND ABUSED. You can complain about others mistreating you and avoid taking responsibility for yourself.
GIVE YOURSELF HEADACHES OR ULCERS AS A RESULT OF CHANNELING YOUR ANGER TO YOURSELF. A way for you to get sympathy and not face an unpleasant feeling, such as repressed anger.
GET APPROVAL FROM OTHERS FOR BEING A DOORMAT. You’re a nice person but you give up power by denying anger, resulting in a diminished sense of self and feelings of helplessness.
AVOID RESPONSIBILITY FOR TAKING CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE. If you avoid expressing anger, you wind up feeling helpless and powerless. This may backfire into assuming the general belief that you cannot affect your life in a direct and meaningful way.
A quote by Charles R. Brown reads, “The white light streams down to be broken up by those human prisms into all the colors of the rainbow. Take your own color in the pattern and be just that.” Perhaps our greatest achievement may be learning to be true to our nature without suppression or aggression. Being able to express our feelings and thoughts, openly and honestly, are the first steps in dropping the mask and letting our true light shine.