Individuals who do not express anger can suffer significant mental and physical health problems. Suppressed anger can lead to stress, frustration, worry, and isolation. Bottling up angry feelings has been shown to cause numerous physical complications resulting from stress. Some research has even demonstrated a link between anger and depression. Depression itself can cause sleep problems, memory impairment, lack of concentration, appetite suppression, and other harmful physical issues. But until recently, little research has focused specifically on how anger suppression and expression affect the symptoms of depression directly.
To address this gap, Stephanie S. Rude of the Department of Education Psychology at the University of Texas led a study that looked specifically at how anger suppression influenced depressive symptoms compared to negative or constructive anger expression. Rude focused on the type of anger communicated within intimate relationships. She evaluated 23 women with a history of depression several months after they engaged in a monitored conflict with their partners. She assessed the levels of suppressed anger and evaluated the sadness, worry, and fear that accompanied that. She also assessed the emotions of the women who expressed their anger in hostile ways and those who used constructive communicationtechniques, or direct methods, to convey their anger.
At 6 months and 18 months after the experiment, Rude found that the women who had expressed their anger using hostile methods were more likely to experience symptoms of depression than those who used direct anger approaches. This suggests that avoiding direct communication and expressing anger through criticism, aggression, and derogatory comments can exacerbate depressive symptoms in women with a history of depression. Rude believes that these findings clearly demonstrate the negative effects of destructive anger expression on well-being and relationships of all types, not just intimate ones. She also believes that these results highlight the importance of constructive anger expression and the positive health effects it can have. “Constructive anger expression represents a new direction in emotional expression research, with important applications to clinical work,” said Rude. She added, “It deserves further exploration to understand its adaptive role in psychological well-being.”
Rude, S. S., Chrisman, J. G., Burton Denmark, A., Maestas, K. L. (2012). Expression of direct anger and hostility predict depression symptoms in formerly depressed women. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027496
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