Depression is frequently described as anger turned inward. The opposite can also be true; anger is often depression turned outward. We express anger in any number of ways, but when we don’t know how to handle our anger in a healthy, productive manner, we risk over-expressing or under-expressing ourselves, never really bringing issues which matter to light. In both cases, there is an effort being made – whether consciously or not – to avoid dealing with something.
We’ve probably all encountered somebody who is seemingly angry all the time. They appear to erupt at the slightest thing, and we walk on eggshells in order to avoid a blast. We may even attempt to help them get to the root of the problem. As they swear and slam things we ask, “What are you angry about? Let’s talk about it.” We receive a puzzling response as the angry person angrily yells, “I’M NOT ANGRY!” Alrighty, then.
At the other end of the spectrum is the person who swallows their anger in an attempt to deny it. Their behavior is more subtle as they wage a sort of passive-aggressive battle of neglecting little chores or errands, arguing with the target of their “non-anger” in their head, and/or frequently feeling unwell. The truth is, they probably do feel unwell – repression is a known contributor to headaches, nausea, anxiety, and other maladies. The truth is also this; this person is also angrily yelling “I’M NOT ANGRY!”…just not out loud.
People become eruptors or internalizers because of a perceived lack of control. The eruptor regains control by instilling fear in others, thus enabling them to avoid – essentially — everything they want to avoid. The internalizer regains control through omission, thinking, “You’ll get a little taste of what it would be like without me, then you’ll be sorry.” Unfortunately, the other person is rarely sorry and even more rarely notices the internalizer is unhappy.
Anger isolates, whether it is us avoiding a volatile person or a person quietly isolating themselves to avoid becoming a volatile person. Sadly, neither of these people has actually regained control. They haven’t empowered themselves, but rather simply found a way to retreat to their corner without losing face. The underlying issues are still out there, still not dealt with, and on top of them are daily fresh layers of anger and avoidance, wedging more divide in relationships and more despair to the psyche.
Some anger is healthy and warranted, but all too frequently it becomes a conditioned response for those who aren’t sure how to process or express certain emotions. Anger provides the illusion of a “quick fix” much like drugs to an addict. It abruptly ends an unwanted or uncomfortable conversation or situation, but wounds everyone in its path.
Are you an eruptor? An internalizer? If so, you can learn healthier ways of dealing with your anger. First, try tracking your angry feelings for a few weeks. Rate them on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being “I totally flipped out!” For each, write down the event which made you feel angry. Next, begin listing healthier ways you could have dealt with each situation and begin putting these into practice. For instance, many people need to unwind when they get home from work, which means this is a less-than-ideal time for serious conversations. If someone approaches you as soon as you walk in the door, politely tell the other person, “This sounds important — give me an hour to decompress from work so I can give you my full attention.” Then do it. Be very present in that conversation in order to build trust and prove the value of grabbing a little downtime for yourself. There is always a chance the other person won’t cooperate with this request, but the point is to monitor your own anger responses so that even when you are pressed, you can still conduct your side of the conversation in a productive manner.
Living with an eruptor or internalizer can be difficult because anger frequently masks their real feelings, making honest communication difficult. It is fruitless to try and change someone else’s behavior, particularly if they don’t actually want to change it. Instead, you may have to change the way you process their behavior and try out different ways of communicating until you find ones which work.
Some people are not comfortable talking or even thinking about their feelings. If you are committed to a relationship with such a person, it may be helpful to process for yourself which issues actually require their input. For instance, if you are wanting to talk about your own feelings, you should be prepared for a bumpy ride – especially if the gist of the conversation is “you made me feel like this”. When a person doesn’t understand their own feelings, they are equally unlikely to understand yours or how their actions played a role in the way you feel. Your angry person may never be a great communicator, but you CAN be. Learn to process your own anger in healthy ways to reduce your own stress levels, improve your physical health, and restore a little peace to the environment.