Should you suppress anger?
The emotional life of humans is messy, messy stuff. It’s not logical, it’s often unexpected, and it can throw a wrench into the most carefully made plans. Sounds like a toddler, huh? Emotions -- especially harder, more complex emotions -- are uncomfortable and scary. It seems like it would just be easier for everyone to suppress those harder emotions. But is it?
Anger is one of those hard emotions -- hard for us as individuals to manage and hard to teach our kids about. Too often, rather than managing anger constructively, we squash it. We bury it deep down inside and try not to let it out. Even while telling our kids things like, "It's okay to have every feeling, it's what you do with the feelings that makes the difference," our actions tell them anger is bad and we should hide that emotion. Time to walk the walk and stop suppressing our anger.
To deny certain of our emotions is to deny some of our essential humanness. Sure, we may strive to reach a serene, even state in day-to-day life and parenthood, but reality often gets in the way. We can't control the world or actions of others -- and it's not always pretty. You're human. Your kids are human. People around you are human. Anger happens -- and we all need to learn how to deal with it.
Emotional health issues
Suppressing anger is not particularly good for one's emotional health. Adult or child, we have a full range of emotions and we need to learn to deal with them all. Shutting down one emotion, only allowing expression of one or a few emotions -- or telling your kids their emotions aren't valid -- is not particularly good for one's emotional health!
Shoving the hard emotions deep down inside may seem like the easiest or right thing to do in a moment, but the emotions must be processed. They likely are going to come out at some point. Why not learn to -- and teach your children to -- identify, accept and constructively deal with all their emotions? It might actually save some therapy time years down the road.
Physical health issues
Suppressing anger -- or allowing it be uncontrolled and destructive -- can also have an effect on one's physical health. Internalizing such a strong emotion can trigger physical symptoms. The cardiovascular system in particular responds to emotional stimuli. Think about how one's cheeks get red in response to certain emotions! Anger has also been linked to gastric ulcers and some studies show evidence of increased risk of injury when you are angry. When Bill Murray implored the groundhog, "Don't drive angry!" in Groundhog Day, he was on to something.
Let it out -- constructively
Learning to deal with anger constructively is a critical life skill. While suppressing anger isn't healthy, neither are frequent blow-ups! You need to learn to manage anger so you can teach your kids to do the same.
Finding the right way to manage the intensity of the emotion will vary from person to person. You may need yoga breathing or a hard workout to process the initial physical intensity of the emotion -- and let your brain figure out the best way to address the anger-inducing situation. You may need fresh air or a good cry to work through some of the feeling. It's different for everyone! Some emotions take time to process, so allow yourself that time. Sure, it would be great to go to spin class then tell you neighbor (calmly) about what made you upset and be over and done with the issue, but life is rarely that neat and tidy.
Learning to manage emotions is a whole-life skill and one that many of us continue to try to learn. Anger is one of the hard emotions of the set, but it exists. Learning to deal with anger constructively is a gift not only to ourselves, but to our kids. Helping them not to suppress anger may make for happier, more balanced adults later.
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