A listener recently asked me to address implosive anger, also called repressed anger. There’s a funny movie that addresses this subject. It’s called Anger Management, with Jack Nicholson as a psychiatrist trying to help Adam Sandler's character realize he has a problem. He says to Adam,
“There are two kinds of angry people: explosive and implosive. Explosive is the kind of individual that you see screaming at the cashier for not taking their coupons. Implosive is the cashier, who remains quiet day after day, and finally shoots everyone in the store. You’re the cashier.” (Hearing Jack Nicholson say those words is both funny and scary at the same time!)
Signs of Implosive Anger
Sometimes people who appear mild-mannered really are as calm as they seem and don’t get upset easily. But some people are actually getting upset, they just aren’t letting it show. The first sign of implosive anger is denial.
Going back to the movie, after the doctor tells Adam he’s the cashier, Adam replies, “No, no, no. I’m the guy hiding in the frozen food section dialing 911. I swear.” Denial. These are the people who say, “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.” Or “I’m not angry, I’m just upset.” They can’t admit to themselves they’re feeling anger.
However, though they won’t admit something made them angry, they will withdraw from the person or situation, and then brood about the incident. “How rude he was! I can’t believe he said that to me. And in front of everyone! He humiliated me.” The angry person replays the event over and over. Maybe you’ve felt that way from time to time—I know I have. But when people have an anger problem, withdrawing and brooding go to an extreme.
Effects of Anger
According to an article in Psychology Today, anger is triggered by some sense of having been disempowered. Thus the purpose of anger is to eliminate a feeling of powerlessness. So anger wants to attack. Expressed anger attacks the other person in some way. But who does suppressed anger attack? It attacks you.
It’s well-known that negative stress causes a variety of illnesses. In fact, a study by UC Berkeley recently found that repressing anger leads to back pain and stiff muscles.
So, let it out, right? Well, maybe not. According to the same study, venting causes heart disease. What about a physical vent? Maybe punch something to get it out, or take a jog? Apparently, that doesn’t help, either. A study entitled Does Venting Anger Feed or Extinguish the Flame? indicated that because exercise keeps the heart rate and blood pressure elevated and doesn’t distract the angry person from thinking about it, the person’s anger remains high, and perhaps even higher.
So, what’s an angry person to do, then?