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Angry Face

As I wrote about here, in Chinese medicine we believe that the primary cause of disease in adults is unresolved emotions.

In my clinical experience, unresolved and/or unrecognized anger is particularly common and troublesome. It is unusual for me to encounter patients whose health problems are not caused (at least in part) by unresolved anger (Liver Qi stagnation, in Chinese medicine parlance).

At times it can be difficult to identify unresolved anger in ourselves, however. We are so adept at hiding it, even from ourselves, that we think it is not there. How do you know if you are suffering from unresolved anger?

According to John Sarno, M.D., the vast majority of chronic pain, as well as other common ailments such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, repetitive stress injuries, headaches, interstitial cystitis, and many others are caused by unconscious anger leading to a condition he terms Tension Myoneural Syndrome (TMS) in which tissues are deprived of oxygen as a result of tension related to emotions. This oxygen deprivation results in pain and other dysfunction. I would urge anyone suffering from a chronic or stubborn health concern to this book with an open mind:

In addition to chronic health conditions listed above, here is a list of signs of unregonized or unresolved anger:

  1. Procrastination in the completion of imposed tasks.
  2. Perpetual or habitual lateness.
  3. A liking for sadistic or ironic humor.
  4. Sarcasm, cynicism or flippancy in conversation.
  5. Over-politeness, constant cheerfulness, attitude of “grin and bear it.”
  6. Frequent sighing.
  7. Smiling while hurting or feeling angry.
  8. Frequent disturbing or frightening dreams.
  9. Over-controlled monotone speaking voice.
  10. Difficulty in getting to sleep or sleeping through the night.
  11. Boredom, apathy, loss of interest in things you are usually enthusiastic about.
  12. Slowing down of movement; feeling lethargic.
  13. Getting tired more easily than usual.
  14. Excessive irritability.
  15. Getting drowsy at inappropriate times.
  16. Sleeping more than usual.
  17. Waking up tired rather than rested and refreshed.
  18. Clenched jaws – especially while sleeping.
  19. Facial tics, fist clenching and similar repeated physical acts done unintentionally or unaware.
  20. Grinding of the teeth – especially while sleeping.
  21. Chronically stiff or sore neck.
  22. Chronic depression – extended periods of feeling down for no reason.

Part of the reason that unresolved anger is such a common problem is that few of us are adept at expressing or handling our anger in a healthy way. In fact, most of us are clueless about just how angry we are simply because anger gets shunted to the unconscious mind without our awareness.

Anyone who has been around a two or three year old child for long knows that when a child encounters a situation that provokes anger or frustration they don’t stay quiet about it. Children will cry, yell, or lay down on the floor and kick and scream. Temper tantrums can challenge the patience of the adults nearby, but the child benefits from this outward display of his or her emotions. Shouting, screaming, crying, and kicking discharge the intensity of the child’s feelings and enables him or her to carry on after the storm has passed without any lasting effects of pent-up or unresolved emotions.

We as adults have emotions that are just as intense as the emotions of children are. But we have learned that it is not socially acceptable to lay down and throw a temper tantrum when we are angry or frustrated. Our relationships and professional lives may be smoother in the short term because we do not express our anger outwardly, but the energy associated with our emotions does not vanish. Instead it accumulates and over the course of months, years, and decades can do serious damage to our health.

It is critical for each of us to find a means of discharging the tense energy associated with every day irritation, frustration, and anger. What works for one person is not helpful for another. Here is a list of things that have helped my patients:

  • Exercising on a regular basis. This is probably the most effective means of dispelling TMS and it’s associated discomforts.
  • Finding a private place and having a good cry.
  • Writing out your frustrations or angry thoughts on a piece of paper and then burning it or putting it through a shredder.
  • Speaking aloud to yourself all of the things that you’d like to say to others but cannot (alone in your car is a good time to do this).
  • Punching a punching bag.
  • Kicking an empty cardboard box around your garage.
  • Yelling into your pillow.
  • Going to the range and shooting a firearm (safely, of course).
  • Listening to loud music.
  • Keeping a journal.
  • Writing an email to the person you’re frustrated with or angry at and then sending to a trusted friend or yourself (or deleting it). Don’t send it to the person you’re angry with — this only tends to make the situation worse.
  • Getting acupuncture on a regular basis.

Blowing off steam in these ways should leave you feeling more relaxed. From this clear-headed position you can then take proactive steps to address situations and relationships that may be causing you anger. Think of doing at least one of these things on a daily basis (as needed) as scheduled maintenance. Like taking out the trash, if you take care of the chore on a regular basis it really isn’t a big deal. If, on the other hand, you neglect it for weeks, months, years, or even decades, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the backlog of negative feelings you’ve accumulated. If you find yourself in that position, connecting with a good counselor may make all the difference.