6 Signs You Are Masking Hidden Anger
Updated: Oct 30, 2021
“If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow. (Chinese Proverb)
In relationships of any kind, we’re often guilty of finding hidden ways to express our anger because we have an inability to express our truth. When hidden anger builds up in a marriage, it becomes very toxic. Well, in friendships too... let's not leave anybody out of this story!
People will tell you that anger, bitterness, hurt – all unpleasant emotions – fade over time. They don’t. Especially if they are deeply rooted in pain and fear from the past. My apologies if that sounds harsh, but if you’re going to heal, you have to get real.
Right from early childhood, we develop an ability to suppress negative emotions and create ‘coping mechanisms’ to deal with situations that seem beyond our control. Over time, as we grow older, those coping mechanisms no longer work, so new ways to deal with unpleasant feelings and emotions are found. This is often how addictions begin.
Children who grew up in a violent environment, or one in which a parent was always raging and threatening, will deal with anger in 2 ways... either they will replicate this as a learned behaviour for dealing with stressful situations, or... they will have the opposite reaction and find it most difficult to express any level of anger in adulthood. In fact, as adults, those who respond in this latter form see any form of anger as a negative, and fear the consequence of voicing it themselves.
However, there is a difference between normal human expressions of anger, and the aggressive tones of rage. Rage is anger out of control. Rage takes over your whole being.
It’s important to understand that just like every other emotion, anger (not rage) is a natural healthy human emotion. The trick is learning how to express it in a way that is safe for yourself and others. There’s a popular theory that depression is anger and rage turned inwards. Depression can also be considered as a 'coping mechanism in action'. Sadly depression is a condition I found all too often in adult clients who were subjected to a raging parent during their childhood years. Depression is hidden anger in its extreme.
The fact is, when you suppress negative emotions, you can’t help but be holding back on all the positive ones as well. So lets deal with your hidden anger before it gets to that stage!
Signs of Hidden Anger
On a day-to-day basis, hidden anger is expressed in very subtle ways. The following are some of the camouflage to watch out for. These are signs that you (or people around you) may be suppressing anger:
1. Sarcasm (and innuendo) – If you’re on the receiving end it’s sometimes delivered through the guise of a loaded compliment. Women are a master of it. If you’re on the receiving end, you’ll intuitively question the intent behind it. Likewise, telling jokes that make others look bad is a form of retaliation. It’s a way of venting annoyance that you can’t say directly to the person.
2. Too Nice? Sure – exaggerated sweetness is a red flag signalling anger in disguise. Us women are great at this one!
3. Feeling lethargic all the time, just generally lack lustre. When you’re unable to express negative feelings, the result is a loss of drive. Nothing feels like it’s fun. Staying in control uses up all your energy. As stated earlier, depression is the extreme version of this.
4. Always running late. Yes. Not kidding. There’s three possible reasons why people are notoriously late. Let's say your friend/partner runs late when it’s an occasion that they know is important to you.....
The person who is looking for attention. When they arrive late, a fuss is made they enter the room. They get to be the centre of attention instead of you.
The people who run late only when they’re doing something with you. This says “You’re not as important as all the other things that take priority in my life”.
And finally, it’s another form of passive-aggressive behaviour. This is hidden anger at its finest. The passive aggressive persons intention is to keep you under control and take the edge off your excitement.
5. Passive-Aggressive behaviour. It's a behaviour that undermines the very foundation of a relationship and is another way the passive-aggressive person derives a sense of control over you. Unlike raging or physical abuse, which are overt and identifiable, passive-aggressive behaviour is covert and harder to detect. Sometimes it can be so subtle that you question yourself because the perpetrator can explain the behaviour away. This is where your gut instinct kicks in. Essentially, passive-aggressive people have an inability to express themselves - especially when they have a grievance of some kind.
My partner, having a chronic inability to communicate on even the smallest level, used this form of punishment a few times during the course of our marriage. I lived on edge, worrying all the time about what I might accidentally say or do to offend him, and he might 'get even'. Once, he told a blatant lie about me during a parent-teacher interview with the sole intent of embarrassing me. It worked. When I asked why he had done such a thing, he admitted it was because I said something weeks earlier that hurt his feelings. And so I learnt to be silent. Don't rock the boat. Don't speak your truth.
I found myself always monitoring everything I did and said. I'm a Sagittarius too, which means I'm quite blunt and tactless at times, so it was emotionally exhausting trying to navigate these waters. Trying to be anything but me.
In the early days of courtship, I often travelled out of town with my work. I would call him to let him know what time I would arrive home, eager to see him again. He invariably wouldn’t be home when I arrived. Instead he'd find reasons to be off performing insignificant tasks. In doing this, he was ensuring that he was the centre of attention. I would be greeting him with excitement when he arrived home, instead of the other way around. He also responded in this passive-agressive way because my absence triggered his fear of abandonment which stemmed from his childhood experience with loss. He felt the need to gain back control to gain control.
6. Holding grudges. Grudges come with an identity. With your grudge intact, you know who you are. You are the person who was “wronged.” What grudge holders are really after is the comfort and compassion you believe you didn’t get in the past. Your indignation and anger is a cry to be cared about and treated differently—because of what you have endured. I’m an expert in holding grudges!
It’s easy to deny that anger is the reason you might be guilty of some of these (maybe even all of them). However, if you’re exhibiting behaviours associated with hidden anger, there’s a good chance you’re alienating the people around you. Unconsciously or not, anger creates a block to intimacy. It reminds me of a quote from the movie How to Be Single. When the boyfriend leaves he says, “This isn’t me leaving you. This is you pushing me away.” Says it all really.
The Toxic Duo – A Touch of Blame
If you’re feeling anger, it’s got to be in bed with blame. It’s a toxic duo. In order to free yourself from your anger, you need to first be honest with yourself that it’s there. What happens if you don’t let it go? Well for starters, you might just lose a few more friends. More scary is what it will do to your physical body! Holding on to anger, blame, or bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill the other person. And blame is rooted in being a victim.
There’s a popular theory on the link between cancer and carrying toxic emotions. I’m just say’n. I feel I’m qualified to offer such a theory given my own cancer diagnosis. And I’ve already mentioned depression.
The truth is, anger is a surface emotion. What’s driving it is hurt, pain, or fear. By getting to the bottom of it we begin to let it go. When you decide to embrace your anger and work through it, you will discover the truth about what you are really feeling. It’s the denial of your anger that causes the most damage.
Don't forget to check out 7 Ways to Process Hidden Anger - there's loads of tools for you to access and begin healing.
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Disclaimer: If you have suffered severe mental, physical, emotional abuse as an adult or a child, you will be well advised to seek the assistance of a professional psychologist to help deal with the effects of abuse. This website, blogs & podcasts, and the counselling offered by me are offered under the assumption that you have already begun your healing journey, and are now ready to move more fully into taking responsibility for yourself. Ready to begin developing self-worth, self-love, and are interested in finding the gifts in the adversity you have faced.