Stuffing Anger

Two very ineffective ways of dealing with anger are stuffing it, or blowing up from it. We’ll address blowing up from anger next week in our anger series, and this week, we’ll focus on stuffing anger.

Stuffing anger has its repercussions. As you train yourself to not speak up or say anything, you stuff your frustration, irritability or general displeasure. That energy accumulates over time, and causes internal distress, as well as relationship problems with others.

We stuff anger because we’re afraid of it, or we’re afraid of other’s reactions to us if we express it. Like our childhoods, we fantasize that if we get mad and say so, someone will hear this, reject our anger, and, consequently, reject us. So, to prevent rejection, we get in the habit of stuffing our anger, or bottling it until some future trigger detonates it for a bigger, consequential explosion later.

What are some characteristics of men who stuff their anger?

  1. Some guys falsify, lie or downplay their feeling upset. They’re not truthful about it, because they haven’t “owned” their anger, or become responsible for it
  2. Playing games with others around the anger, and generally not being straight with it
  3. Sarcasm, criticism, being judgmental or sometimes, acting superior can funnel unexpressed anger
  4. Drinking alcohol to conceal anger
  5. Depression: feeling depressed could be “inverted anger” that isn’t expressed back into the world, at the people it needs to be directed at
  6. Health problems, including stomach problems, physical pain, headaches, feeling tired
  7. Feeling “stressed” a lot, but not having a name for anything else but stress
  8. Feeling motivated to work out to deal with the “stress” or possible anger, not for the sake or working out (more as an anger management tool)
  9. People pleasers, or “nice guys”, or please, appease, can’t say ‘no’, or generally want to do good and make people happy, to the negligence of their own feelings, including anger
  10. Self-sabotage, or turning anger on oneself to destroy parts of their lives: marriage, work, family, money, etc.

Anger is just an emotion: it can be used for the force of good if you can embrace it. Being angry doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an angry guy. One is an emotion; the latter is an identity. Some guys are afraid that if they express their anger, they’ll see themselves as an angry guy, or that others will, too. Not so. There’s a difference between effectively expressing your anger (e.g. through effective communication), and ineffectively expressing it (e.g. putting your fist through a wall or door).

What are ways to deal with stuffing your anger?

  1. Recognize your anger.
  2. Start to become aware that you are angry, and then develop awareness of how you’re stuffing it (see list above)
  3. Risk communicating your anger to people whom you’re upset with. Speak about how the situation or person has upset you. The quickest way to shut down a conversation is to start to blame or attack others (and see numbers 1-3 above)
  4. Usually, anger is an emotional expression concealing a more vulnerable emotion, like pain, vulnerability, sadness, fear, feeling like a failure, etc. Try to access those more “primary” emotions by localizing them within your body in the present moment. We usually store those emotions there, if we can get out of our heads long enough to recognize them.
  5. Watch the irrational, reactive behaviors that the anger drives you to do. Identify your pattern when you get angry, and take notes about how this usually plays out in the world. How does your anger translate into negative behaviors with others or in the world?
  6. Minimize caffeine, sugar and nicotine. Cut down on refined carbohydrates, such as potatoes, corn, etc. Those things create swings in your mood, which can have the effect of amplifying your angry or irritable mood.
  7. Get the right amount of nightly sleep for you.
  8. Eat regularly. Try eating smaller meals spread out over the course of a day.
  9. Own your anger. Take responsibility for it, instead of pinning it on others.
  10. Get counseling to help you deal more effectively.
  11. Identify that there may be childhood experiences that may be unconsciously keeping the anger alive. Be warned not to pin it on your parents, and then shrug it off. You’re still responsible for it, but you may need professional counseling to “unearth” the roots of your anger.
  12. Practice kindness with yourself when you get angry. Let your anger come without judgment or trying to manage it.
  13. Don’t try to fix it: just practice being angry.
  14. Being angry is different from acting on it: it’s o.k. to be angry, not o.k. to act on it in an irresponsible way.

These can be used in conjunction with each other, and speak to the various levels of intervention you might want to consider when dealing with anger from a “holistic” perspective. There can certainly be other causes of anger, including medically-based issues, but from a counseling perspective, I think these are the big ones to look out for. What are your thoughts? What advice would you have for a guy friend of yours dealing with stuffing his anger?



About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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