While people who are apt to fly into rages face one set of problems, those who rarely express their anger -- including those who don't even acknowledge that they feel anger -- can face negative consequences as well. One recent study of 23,000 older men found that those who outwardly expressed their anger from time to time had a significantly decreased risk of stroke and heart disease than men who rarely expressed anger.
Anger is sneaky. If we don't acknowledge it and find a healthy way to express it, experts say it tends to work itself out in other, more destructive ways. Often that bottled up anger is turned inward, resulting in depression or anxiety for the person who represses it. Anger can be such an uncomfortable emotion for some people that they lose themselves in other outlets -- work, drugs, alcohol, or overeating -- rather than deal with the situation that causes them to feel enraged in the first place.
Innocent parties are often the targets of repressed anger. For example, you might be mad at a coworker for criticizing your latest project at today's management meeting. But instead of talking it out with him, you come home and find yourself quarreling with your husband or children.
Another outlet for anger comes when we find roundabout ways of venting our anger and frustration against the people we're mad at. We may not even realize what we're doing! For example, if you're mad at your student wife for buying a couch without consulting you, you might just "forget" to deposit your share of the money into your joint checking account until after her tuition check has already bounced. You may know this tactic by another name: "passive-aggressiveness."
Anger is a perfectly natural and healthy emotion. The trick is finding healthy, constructive ways both to express anger and to work toward changing the situations and thought processes that provoke it.
Eng, Mona Patricia, ScD., et al. Anger Expression and Risk of Stroke and Coronary Heart Disease Among Male Health Professionals. Psychosomatic Medicine 65:100-110 (2003).