Many people don’t see anger as a problem. When frustrating things happen—maybe a relationship fails or you get written up at work—you’re able to handle it without blowing up or stuffing your feelings.
But not everyone feels comfortable with being angry. As a people pleaser, I prided myself on not getting mad. Growing up I became a master at sensing other people's feelings, but in doing so, I had learned to ignore my own.
Doing the opposite of a dysfunctional behavior is still unhealthy. Everyone knows that explosive anger is a problem but ignoring anger hurts too.
When you ignore your anger, no one knows your struggle. On the outside, you look fine. Inside, you might feel ignored, disrespected, or like your feelings don't count. You don't speak up because you don’t want to rock the boat.
Indirect comments are disguised as humor with an edge—and can feel like a safe way to express feelings without looking angry. But suppressing anger often creates a negative impact mainly because you don't notice it leaking out. Those feelings come out indirectly through sarcasm, hurtful or guilt-ridden comments and hurt the ones we love.
Here we’ll talk about why we all need to pay attention to anger – even if we don't think we have any!
1. How Unexpressed Anger Impacts Communication
When you get angry, it triggers a “fight, flight, or freeze” reaction that affects the ability to hear what's being said accurately. Most arguments escalate not because of what's said but what you think is being said.
Passive anger – anger not actively expressed but denied an outlet – leaks out in ways you don't expect, like saying yes when you mean no or pretending everything’s fine when it’s not.
Many assume that by ignoring anger you can avoid potential problems. Those of us who don’t like conflict avoid confrontation, but eventually unexpressed anger or hurt piles up in the form of resentments. Stress becomes a major issue because you're trying hard to shove those feelings aside.
What you can do:
When sharing, keep the focus on yourself and how you feel when you’re angry. Avoid comments that blame or criticize others for your reactions. Instead, you use phrases like, “I feel,” or, “When you said x, I felt y.” Acknowledging your truth avoids blame and invites cooperation.
2. How Unexpressed Anger Impacts Health
Because anger is a physiological reaction—not just a feeling—studies have linked the stress of continuous anger with health problems. Suppressed anger gets stored in the body as tension. Rage contributes to high blood pressure and studies have linked high levels of hostility with an increased risk of respiratory problems.
Research has shown that continuous levels of anger contribute to:
- Increased risk for heart attack and stroke;
- A weakened immune system making it harder to fight infection;
- Heart disease, connected to repressed anger;
- Increased levels of anxiety; and
- A shortened lifespan due to the impact on the body.
These physical signs are your body's way of getting your attention. Stuffing angry emotions contributes to depression and anxiety.
What you can do:
When you feel anger, pay attention to the early, physical signs of anger like increased heart rate, sweating, and muscle tension. Use those signs as guideposts to take a break, relax or get support. Find ways to express anger physically to release the body’s tension.
3. How Unexpressed Anger Impacts Emotions
You can’t manage emotions without identifying them first. For instance, fear is often felt in the stomach, anger shows up in the head, and upper body. Sadness feels like a heavy heart. Joy radiates from the center and is felt all over.
Once you have identified how you feel emotionally, it’s important not to judge yourself for having them. Feelings aren’t good or bad. They are a natural part of life. Identifying emotions takes practice and a willingness to be gentle with yourself.
There is a saying in 12-step programs…
“You have to feel it, to heal it.”
What you can do:
Avoiding feelings often leads to addictive behaviors like using alcohol, drugs, or stress eating, particularly when angry. Any compulsive activity serves to cover up painful emotions. So instead, give yourself permission to feel all your feelings, be mindful of them. Name the feelings and choose healthier ways to process them. (Click here for a related resource called Emotional Freedom Technique, EFT, also known as Tapping – which is a powerful and simple self-help technique for processing and releasing difficult emotions).
4. How Unexpressed Anger Impacts Values
Normally, you have no desire to hurt someone. But when anger is suppressed for long periods of time, it becomes more difficult to control. Even the most mild-mannered person can experience rages because denied anger has to leak out eventually. The more these feelings are ignored, the more they may contribute to abusive behavior even if that is not in your nature. That's why catching the feeling early is so critical.
Years ago when I was going through an incredibly painful time, my anger got the best of me and I became uncharacteristically enraged. I was trying to police someone else’s behavior, and I wasn’t taking care of myself. Not paying attention to my anger led to a huge blow up. That’s what happens when anger isn’t honored: it explodes.
What you can do:
Pay attention when you need a time-out. Had I removed myself sooner I would have avoided raging behavior. Identify early warning signs of anger to assess when to remove yourself from the situation. Knowing when to leave an argument keeps everyone safe.
5. The Effects of Anger on Trust
When anger isn’t honored, a false image gets created. You say everything’s fine but you don’t look fine. People pleasing behaviors become a way to gain approval and avoid conflict. This is often the beginning of codependency. Pretending to be something you’re not creates problems.
Family and friends might not know what to expect because your tone and demeanor don't match. Denying angry feelings creates confusion in relationships because others have no idea what’s bothering you. You feel invisible and secretly resentful.
What you can do:
Healthy relationships thrive on authenticity. Admitting what bothers you takes courage but also rebuilds trust. People who love you want to hear what you have to say.
Emotions are temporary. Let yourself feel your emotions and they will pass. Managing anger requires paying attention to what you need, not ignoring the need or the feeling. Anger signals you to pay attention: something isn’t quite right. It's never wrong or weak to express feelings, despite what some of us heard as children.
Recognizing the consequences of unexpressed anger can provide the motivation to change it. Try to pinpoint the signs of anger early enough so you can express it without hurting yourself or the ones you love. You’ll be glad you did.
Michelle Farris is a marriage and family therapist in San Jose California. She works with individuals, couples and offers online courses. She specializes in anger management and healing codependent relationships. She’s a therapist who “walks her talk” and supports others in transforming habits that hurt. She writes a blog on how to build self-esteem, set healthy boundaries and build relationships without sacrificing yourself. It’s the power of accountability and unconditional support that helps you move forward, let go of the past and truly heal. Visit her website to Get Free Access to Michelle’s Resource Library.