Don’t Ignore Your Anger

Imagine that you are driving down the street and you notice that the red warning light in your car has come on. You are running a bit late and don’t have the time to check the source of the problem. You decide to simply ignore it. After all, if it just came on, it can’t be that serious. After driving a few more miles, the red light begins to bother you. You reach across the seat into your briefcase and pull out a small yellow Post-it-note and place it over the red warning light. Now that you can’t see the warning light you feel much better.

Does ignoring the red warning light make good sense? Will it help your car run better or get to its destination faster? Of course not! It’s interesting that what many of us would never think of doing with our automobiles we do on a daily basis with our emotions and thus our bodies.

Anger myth: The best way to deal with anger is to ignore it. If you ignore anger, it will go away.

One of the many potentially positive aspects of anger is that it can serve as a very powerful and effective warning system. Healthy anger can help us identify problems and needs and provide us with the energy to do something about them.

This anger myth really has two parts and both are erroneous. The first part suggests that ignoring anger can be healthy. The second part suggests that anger and the issues that led to it will somehow magically disappear. To say that ignoring our anger is healthy makes about as much sense as saying that it is healthy to ignore chest pain. Ignoring anger can be hazardous to your health.

On a short-term basis, it may seem like ignoring our anger is a wise choice. Just like our imaginary driver, we cover up the red warning light. There are usually few, if any, immediate consequences. At the moment the light was covered, the car didn’t stop. In fact, not only did the car keep running, but there was no longer any irritating red warning light to contend with. Unfortunately, in most cases the car would not run very long. And when it did break down, the repair bill would invariably be much more expensive than if the driver had heeded the warning.

When we ignore the hurts, frustrations and fears that lead to our anger, they don’t just go away. In fact, they tend to get worse and become an even greater problem for us to deal with in the future.

Over the years, we’ve discovered that whenever we ignore or bury an emotion, it is buried alive. At some time and in some way that ignored or buried emotion will express itself – physically, psychologically or spiritually. This principle is especially true as it relates to the powerful emotion of anger. What are some of the long-term costs of ignoring our anger?

There is a growing body of research that strongly suggests that ignoring anger has detrimental effects on your health. A twelve-year longitudinal study of ten thousand people revealed that those who suppressed anger were more than twice as likely to die of heart disease as those who expressed anger in healthy ways. A twenty-five-year study showed that people with high hostility scores had higher incidence of heart disease; they were also six times more likely to die by age fifty from all causes of disease than their low-scoring counterparts. Other research over a twenty-year period correlated higher hostility scores with increased rates of not only coronary heart disease but also cancer, accidents, and suicide.

Anger fact: Anger is one of the most powerful of all the God-given emotions, and ignoring your experience of anger is almost invariably hazardous to your emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual health. Ignoring anger is an unhealthy choice. In the short run it hinders us from dealing with real issues, and in the long run it significantly increases the probability of developing real physical problems. When we do experience the emotion of anger, there are a variety of healthy ways in which this emotion can be expressed – ignoring it is far from the only option.

Dr. Gary Oliver has over 40 years experience in individual, premarital, marital and family counseling and for the past 20 years he has had an extensive nationwide teaching ministry.