For Carol, Michael, and Jill, anger penetrated from the core of their depression. For Carol, it was anger toward her ex-husband for continuing to exert control over her life, via the children. For Michael, it was anger toward his friend for taking his own life. And for Jill, it was anger toward the inevitable health problems she associated with the aging process.
Yet although these three people are now well aware of the anger underneath it all, their anger was once muddied or masked – behind Carol’s grin-and-bear-it acceptance of unacceptable behavior, behind Michael’s stinging sarcasm, and behind Jill’s obsessive thinking.
Hidden anger can manifest itself in any number of ways, many of which may surprise you:
Procrastination in the completion of tasks, especially ones you don’t like or want to do. What do you put off? Work deadlines? Phone calls? Laundry? Grocery shopping? Car maintenance? Going to the doctor? Paying the bills?
Habitual lateness. Are you late everywhere you go, or are there patterns to it? Always late to work, but early for engagements with family and friends? Or is it just the opposite?
Sarcasm, cynicism, or flippancy. Within what context do you typically make sarcastic, cynical, or flippant remarks? Is it only with certain people, or only within a certain context? In other words, is your hidden anger tied to a certain person, in terms of what they bring out in you, or is it more general, tied more to how you feel in specific situations as opposed to who you are with?
Overpoliteness, constant cheerfulness (fake), attitude of “grin and bear it” but internally resenting it. As with sarcasm, cynicism, or flippancy, is your overpoliteness or constant cheerfulness tied to a particular person or is it dependent on the circumstances you are in.
Frequent sighing. You may not even realize you are doing this, so make a note to be mindful of how frequently you sigh, and within what context. Again, is it usually around a certain person, or is more specific to an activity (i.e., work task), thought (i.e., all your to-do’s), or situation (i.e., dealing with a conflict at work or home).
Smiling while hurting. As with frequency sighing, this may not be something you are particularly aware of. Next time you notice yourself smiling though, check in with your head and heart. Does your expression match what you’re thinking and feeling inside?
Overcontrolled monotone speaking voice. This is not only a means of hiding anger, but subsequently any number of other feelings that are not allowed to expression. In other words, masking a negative feeling – such as anger – inevitably trains you to mask positive feelings as well, like surprise, excitement, and joy.
Frequent disturbing or frightening dreams. The keyword here is frequent. We all have bad dreams and nightmares now and then. But if they are persistent and you wake feel scared and un-rested, anger could be at the root.
Difficulty in getting to sleep or staying asleep. Thoughts going around in your head keep you awake. This is a pretty common symptom of any number of underlying mental, emotional, or physical issues. So as a symptom of hidden anger, it should probably only be considered so if other symptoms of hidden anger are present.
Boredom, apathy, loss of interest in things you are usually enthusiastic about (depression from internalized anger). Though it may seem just the opposite of hidden anger underneath, in fact, boredom, apathy and a loss of interest in things may your body’s means of dealing with these negative feelings in the only way it knows how – by numbing them. Rather than feel anger, it seems preferable to feel nothing at all.
Slowing down of movements, especially when doing things you don’t want to do. This is another form of procrastination. Instead of tackling a task with enthusiasm and the intent of finishing it, you may subconsciously (or even consciously) slow down a task that you resent doing in the first place – from folding the laundry at home to drafting an email at work.
Getting tired more easily than usual. Again, this can be a symptom of any number of underlying issues, so it is to be taken into consideration only within the context of other symptoms of hidden anger.
Excessive irritability over trifles. Road rage is a perfect example. Granted, there are times when other people’s driving habits can be dangerous and warrant a strong reaction. But when you “lose it” on the guy in front of you for missing the light or forgetting to turn on his blinker, the anger you’re feeling was already there, just waiting for an opportunity to erupt. The same is true of other minor incidents throughout any given day, from spilling your coffee to having trouble with your internet connection.
Facial tics, spasmodic foot movements, habitual fist clenching, and similar repeated physical acts done unintentionally. Again, these are things you may or may not even be aware of. As with all the other symptoms of hidden anger on this list, simply be open to noticing their presence, and mindful of when they occur.
If any of these ring true for you, understand these are not behaviors to be cursed or vilified. Instead, consider them welcome warning signs that anger may be hiding in plain sight. The key is getting to the root of where the anger stems from, which may or may not relate to a specific event. In fact, your anger is most likely tied to beliefs and relationships that span your lifetime.
The above is excerpted from Turning Your Down Into Up: A Realistic Plan For Healing From Depression by Dr. Gregory Jantz.