Doing Life Together

Angry bossJim made an appointment to be seen by a therapist for anxiety problems. Little did he know that behind his anxiety could be an anger problem.

As the therapist dug deeper into Jim’s history, it was discovered that Jim had years of holding on to anger at a relative who did him harm. The more Jim talked about this person, the therapist concluded that repressed anger was at the root of his anxiety. Finally, Jim exploded. All that repressed anger took a toll and led to feeling anxious.

The mind and body are linked so holding on to anger disrupts feeling of well-being. What you feel and believe impacts your physical health. In fact, repressed anger activates stress hormones and makes us more prone to illness. [1]

Repressed anger is when you feel anger, but do not acknowledge or express it. You feel it, but deny it. You may have learned this growing up. Maybe you were told not to get angry. Maybe your parents repressed their anger because they didn’t want you to be afraid. Maybe you’ve had bad experiences with anger and feel out of control. Whatever the case, anger behavior is learned.

Repressed anger builds up and leads to resentment. Dr. Theodore Rubin, a New York psychoanalyst, believes repressed anger is the source of much anxiety. In his book, The Angry Book, he talks about repressed anger as a major root of anxiety disorders. Repressing anger can be a temporary solution to not dealing with an issue but one that causes physical and emotional problems.

Jim had a choice as to how to proceed. He could repress anger, erupt again or admit to the anger.

He chose to admit to the anger and develop a strategy to deal with the conflict with his relative. Once he was able to talk through the conflict, his anxiety lessened. The offense by the relative hit  hard, but he no longer carried the burden of pretending.

Jim had a choice. He could carry the anger around and pretend it wasn’t there, or tell the truth and address the issue. He could do this on his terms, when he felt prepared and ready. When he did, the anxiety of carrying the burden was lifted.

We always have a choice. How we deal with anger is in our control. Don’t repressed it and hope it doesn’t affect you. Instead, deal with the issue and let it go. Often, that requires adding forgiveness to the process.



Adapted from We Need to Talk but Dr. Linda Mintle, Baker Books, 2015

[1] Sapolsky, R. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases and Coping (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1998) p. 308.


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