Chronic anger is so damaging to your body that it may out rank smoking, obesity and a high-fat diet as a risk factor for chronic disease and early death.
Worse, no one seems to know what to do with it. You shouldn’t suppress anger, say some, as that only enhances the physical damage. You should not vent it either, say others, as that only enhances the physical damage! Anger is maddening.
At the end of this article I briefly discuss the best treatment for anger of all types, in my experience.
Physical effects of chronic anger
- High blood pressure, heart disease. In a study of nearly 13,000 participants, those with the highest levels of anger had twice the risk of coronary artery disease and three times the risk of heart attack as compared to the subjects with lower levels of anger.
- Cancer. Unnaturally low anger scores (indicating repressed anger) have been identified in patients with cancer. There is evidence that suppressed anger may be precursor to cancer, and also a factor in its progression.
- Migraines. Researchers at St. Louis University have shown that people who bottle up their anger may be more likely to suffer from chronic headaches.
- Headaches skin disorders, and digestive problems, alcohol and substance abuse. WebMD identifies a broad range of problems caused by anger.
- Chronic pain. Our own Natural News has weighed in on repressed anger, pointing out the connection to chronic pain.
- Fatigue. Psychologist John Bradshaw is fond of relating repressed emotions to holding a beach ball under water. It takes effort to hold the ball under because it continually wants to rise. Likewise, emotions continually want to rise and be released. It requires physical energy to hold them down. You need to keep muscles tight in order to stop the emotional flow. This is exhausting.
- Death. Dr. Mara Julius at University of Michigan analyzed the effects of chronic anger on women over a period of 18 years. Her conclusions were that that those who had answered initial test questions with obvious signs of long-term, suppressed anger were three times more likely to have died during the study than those who did not harbor hostile feelings.
Other effects of chronic anger
Let’s not forget that chronic anger leads to abusive relationships, divorce, domestic violence, hate crimes, oppression, neglect and outright war. The list could go on. Spiritually, relationally, civilly, and more, anger is destructive.
The delusion of chronic anger
Anger is a symptom with an elusive cause. For example, the man who flies into a rage because a child can’t tie his shoes is deluded about the cause of this anger. An innocent child who cannot tie shoes quickly does not cause rage in an adult man.
The person who says, “You made me so angry!” for any reason is self-deceived.
Many of us have seen angry, blaming people on self-righteous rants and wondered if they would ever understand how ridiculous they sound. You cannot accurately or justifiably blame your emotions on other people – thus the self-delusion of anger.
How to heal anger
Like all emotional issues, you must address the real cause of anger, not just the symptom. En route, it is a great idea to employ some symptom management techniques.
Anger is known as a secondary emotion. It is not caused by other people or external circumstances, but as an inner response to a primary emotion. First, you feel a primary emotion, then you feel angry. Primary emotions may be pain, grief, fear, guilt, sadness, longing, and so forth. Primary emotions tend to be vulnerable. Secondary emotions tend to be protective.
When the average pseudo-tough guy gets angry at a child for not tying her shoes quickly, his primary emotion in that situation may be fear or guilt. He fears being late for something. He fears having a child who is inept. He feels guilt that he is not helping his daughter, etc…
The fear or guilt may last a microsecond before he victimizes himself with anger, masquerading as a powerful man, but acting like a petulant child.
The solution to chronic anger is to identify and take responsibility for the more vulnerable emotions that underlie the anger. This work usually requires an outside perspective, as the self-delusion of anger is not something the average person can get around without skilled guidance.
A good deal of anger can be considered self-sabotage. In anger, we criticize ourselves, pick fights with others and go through life with a victim’s perspective.