In this article I will be discussing the wide spread epidemic of suppressed anger, which is especially prevailing in the Nordic countries in Europe. I share with you the tragic consequences of suppressing anger, why anger is important, and how to access your anger and express it in a healthy way. I also share a piece of my own story having grown up in Finland, a country where drunken fights and heavy metal are the only acceptable outlets for anger.
A lot of people all over the world have completely suppressed their anger and therefore have practically no access to it. And NO this is not healthy and I will explain why later in this article.
How to know if you have suppressed anger?
Well, you might be someone who thinks of themselves as a kind and peaceful person who never gets angry. You might occasionally feel frustration or irritation, which you are quick to brush away. However, if you cannot remember the last time that you felt really angry and wanted to punch someone, chances are high that you are suppressing your anger. Any lingering resentment or passive aggressive thoughts are indicators that your anger is not being acknowledged, not by you and not by others.
We learn to suppress our anger it is not tolerated in our childhood. We might be punished, ridiculed or abandoned when we express anger and therefore we learn that it is not safe to show it, because it leads to disconnection or rejection. Alternatively, you might have lived with an aggressive person and witnessed how their explosive anger harmed others including yourself, thus concluding that anger is not a safe emotion and should not be expressed at all.
Regardless of the reasons behind it, suppressing your anger is not healthy and will get you into trouble in the long term. And I don’t care if the New Age people say that you should be all love and light all the time, this is bullshit. It’s not real, it’s not authentic, it’s not healthy,
Anger is an indicator that our boundary has been crossed. For example, what makes me angry is when people smoke in public places. In this case my boundary is to be able to breath clean air, and the smoke blowing at me crosses this boundary. When someone gets angry because of a pile of dishes, usually they have a boundary of having order and cleanliness in their home, or it might also be to be considered, and when this boundary is crossed, they get angry.
So here is the important thing to understand: When you don’t have access to your anger, you don’t have access to your boundaries, and you will allow others to cross your boundaries over and over again, leaving you feeling violated, frustrated and resentful.
This is not to say that people are evil and will cross your boundaries on purpose, not at all. But people will not know where your boundaries are if you do not express them. For example, your new roommate might be used to sharing food and continuously eats from yours, and will not know that this is not OK with you if you don’t express it. So she will continue doing so, until you muster up the courage to speak up.
The issue is that if you let the tension build up inside of you for too long, it will come out as a burst of anger, completely catching the other person off guard, leaving them feeling blind sighted and ashamed. This is extremely harmful to your relationship and can cause the other person to distrust you.
Trust me, most people in your life do not want to cross your boundaries and will appreciate it if you express them from the get go. People don’t mind if you don’t wish to be touched in your belly, or if you don’t want to share your blueberries, or if you don’t want to go to IKEA with them because you hate it.
But they DO mind if you continuously keep doing these things and they find out later that throughout the entire duration of your relationship they have been crossing your boundaries unknowingly. Although it would be more accurate to say, that you have been crossing your own boundaries by not communicating them.
Remember, this is about choosing immediate discomfort over long term resentment. It might feel uncomfortable to express your boundary in the moment, but the truth is that the discomfort will last for about 1 minute, whereas not expressing it at all will cost you potentially years worth of repeated boundary crossings and resentment.
How to access your anger?
So the first step to developing healthy boundaries, meaning to learn to say no when you mean no, and to learn to say yes when you mean yes, is to get in touch with your anger. You can start by noticing when a situation makes you feel uncomfortable or split. Let’s say someone asks to have some of your food, inside you might feel a clear NO, but you find yourself saying with a high pitched voice and without hesitance “SURE”.
When this happens, inevitably a part of you feels angry either at the other person for taking your food, or at you for giving it away. You can notice that there is agitation, frustration, bitterness or passive aggressiveness in you.
Practice giving voice to those emotions. Imagine yourself embodying the part that feels, say, frustrated and allow yourself to vent in words or in writing everything that comes to your mind. And don’t filter at all, go crazy with this, get it all out. There is no shame or guilt here. Let out the nastiest, meanest things that come to your mind.
This is a great way to start accessing your anger, by simply giving voice to the faintest feeling of discomfort, and it might turn into a full blown anger expression. And remember that this is meant to be an exercise for you. There is no need to share these words with the person involved.
So you might wonder, if I access my anger, what do I do with it? Isn’t it just gonna explode all over the place and hurt people and get me completely rejected and ostracized? This is where awareness comes in. The key is to find ways to 1) channel accumulated anger into something like physical activity or screaming, which will help you to release the tension (running, boxing, play fighting, listening to heavy metal, playing drums etc) and 2) communicate it in an authentic and vulnerable way to the people involve
Time to be vulnerable: My anger story
I grew up in Finland, in a culture where anger is widely suppressed and people live their lives in a state of hyper consideration. What I mean with this is that people consider each other’s potential boundaries to such a degree that nobody never has to assert themselves. In that culture, ideally, no one ever has to express a boundary.
This kind of works as long as there is no conflict of interest or as long as everybody practices the same level of consideration. However, people will run into an issue at the latest when they travel abroad, or encounter a foreigner who grew up with different social rules.
In some other countries the norm is that you do what you want and take what you want until someone expresses a boundary. People will ask for their needs, and not shy away from a conflict to get what they want. This is where the person with the lowest boundaries will get run over, and when it comes to shopping at local market places as a tourist, ripped off.
Growing up, anger was hardly ever expressed in my family or my social circle, and when it was, the usual response from people was to run away, avoid the angry person, laugh uncomfortably, or try to belittle the cause of the anger. These reactions are extremely painful, as they make us feel completely unseen, misunderstood, alone and rejected.
So naturally, I learned to suppress my anger, to avoid conflict and to hyper consider everyone around me to avoid anybody having to express themselves. I also learned to not express my needs because needs, after all, are a potential source of conflict.
I only became aware of the severity of my anger suppression when I got into my current relationship. My partner Ram is from a minority group in Syria where expressing anger is common. So whenever he observed my boundaries being crossed in any given situation, he would point it out to me saying “How come this does not make you angry”, “Why don’t you say something, this is not OK”, or “Even I feel more angry than you.”
I started to realize that I was not simply a chilled and peaceful person. The anger was there, somewhere, buried long time ago, and with that, I had lost access to my boundaries. I began to realize that the reason why I had such hard time accessing my anger, was that I had experienced early on that people don’t take my anger seriously.
I had learned that my anger is not valid, it is not appropriate, and merely something to laugh at. This of course, translates into “my boundaries are not valid and merely something to laugh at”. If there is no way that those around you will consider your boundaries and hence your best interest, why make yourself vulnerable in front of them to begin with? You will simply end up feeling unseen and humiliated.
I decided to not show my anger ever, nor express my boundaries, and so I became an “easy going and chilled person”.
As I started accessing my anger more and more, I found a huge pressure cooker that had been accumulating steam for over two decades. I had to find ways to let the steam out, which I started doing my screaming into a pillow, jumping, running, and wrestling Ram (the last one is my favorite as I get to pour all my anger into tackling him). I also began expressing my anger with words, but without directing it to the other person in a harmful way.
Using Non-Violent Communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg, I began to practice voicing my anger to others. I would say things like “When you said this, I made it mean that you don’t care, and I felt angry, because I have a need for consideration, and I totally did not feel considered. I would like to understand what made you say that?”.
As a result, I experienced that people were actually able to witness and acknowledge my anger, and also, take it seriously. This vulnerable approach also allowed them to see my perspective, instead of going on defense. Of course, this worked about half of the time, the other half I would blurt out slightly more violent phrases with a less favorable end result, but I’ve gotten better over time.
With these two tools (channeling anger & Non-Violent Communication), I have come far in re-owning my anger and I feel increasingly more empowered to assert myself. I’m exploring my boundaries with all my preferences, needs and dislikes, more every day. With all of that, I am also exploring myself, getting to know what it means to be me, this time from a place of integrity and authenticity.
Watch our YouTube video: “How to deal with suppressed anger?”: