What Is Suppressed Anger?

Marjorie McAtee

Psychologists usually define suppressed anger as anger that is not expressed or dealt with at the time of its occurrence. In some cases, suppressed anger isn't even felt at the time of its occurrence, and, in extreme cases, the cause of the anger itself may be eradicated from conscious memory. People may suppress their angry feelings because they feel that getting angry is wrong, and may struggle with guilt about experiencing the emotion. Some people, especially those with a history of trauma or abuse, may stifle feelings of anger because they felt it was unsafe to express those feelings at the time they originally occurred. Many psychologists believe that repressing anger can lead to mental and physical illness, and that it's therefore important to acknowledge this anger and cope with it.

Suppressed anger can lead to sleep disorders.
Suppressed anger can lead to sleep disorders.

People who struggle with suppressed anger often have problems dealing with anger in healthy ways. Psychologists generally think that anger can be a healthy feeling, when coped with properly. Those who repress their anger usually don't know how to express these feelings in constructive, rather than damaging, ways. They may fear that expressing their angry feelings will cause further conflict and damage, and so they may refrain from constructive verbal expression of these feelings.

Anger that is expressed at a moment of injustice and then dissipates is usually defined as normal.
Anger that is expressed at a moment of injustice and then dissipates is usually defined as normal.

Instead of confronting whoever caused the angry feelings, people who suppress their anger may refrain from saying anything at all. They may pretend that they aren't angry, while continuing to dwell on the injustice done to them and the angry feelings they're experiencing. Repressing anger in this manner can lead to violent outbursts, passive-aggressive behaviors, and resentment. It may also contribute to sleep disorders, depression, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disorders.

Repressed anger can lead to high blood pressure.
Repressed anger can lead to high blood pressure.

If the situation that caused angry feelings is particularly severe, the person may not even realize he is suffering from suppressed anger. This is particularly common among survivors of child abuse or other victimization. Expressing anger constructively in such a situation is often impossible, and can make the situation more dangerous for the victim. Instead, victims of child abuse and similar trauma learn to hide their angry feelings, even from themselves.

Just because a person suppresses anger over one specific situation, it doesn't mean that they will suppress all of their anger over every annoyance. If the habit of repressing angry emotions was formed early in life, however, the person may struggle to deal with anger well into adulthood. Anger that is expressed at a moment of injustice and then seems to dissipate is usually defined as normal, healthy anger. Anger that appears for no reason, or seems out of proportion with any identifiable, present cause, is typically defined as suppressed anger. Such anger often has its roots in past events.

Suppressed anger can sometimes manifest in passive-aggressive behavior.
Suppressed anger can sometimes manifest in passive-aggressive behavior.

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Discussion Comments


I didn't realize I was living with suppressed anger towards my ex-wife for years. I just thought I was handling things like any other person who had to get divorced. It turned out that other people around me noticed how quickly I'd get agitated over a minor issue at work. Whenever I talked with my friends on the phone, I always managed to work her name into the conversation, then slip in a veiled insult or two. I had several unsuccessful relationships with women because they did something that reminded me of her.

I decided to get some counseling from my pastor, who had performed our wedding ceremony, and I asked him why a lot of people avoided talking to me or seemed nervous around me. He said it was obvious I was holding in a lot of anger towards my ex-wife, and other people picked up on that hostility. I needed to work on letting go of the anger and emotional pain and rediscover the happy and healthy guy I used to be before my marriage turned sour.


I think my dad must be suffering from suppressed anger. He has had almost all of the health problems described in the article, especially the high blood pressure and insomnia. He is prone to sudden violent outbursts that don't match the problem at hand. We usually avoid giving him any bad news unless he's clearly in a decent mood. Otherwise, he's liable to snap at the person who delivers the bad news, then run out of the room and drive off.

I found out from relatives that his dad was the same way, and he committed suicide by blowing himself up in the mine he worked at. My dad was only 12 years old at the time, and he had to move in with his oldest sister and her family. I'm sure he was angry about his home life, and the circumstances of his father's death. He just never found a good way to release that anger, and now he's a very difficult man to get to know.

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