Anger Issues In Middle and Later Life
It’s not unusual for people to encounter anger issues in midlife, and throughout the second half of life.
Sometimes, people have issues with anger without even realizing it.
Often, we associate anger with childhood, or with adolescence. Yet adults often carry considerable anger, for a lot of varied reasons. Depending on the individual’s life journey, awareness of this anger can become particularly acute during the midlife years, or at later points in the life journey.
What Does Anger Look Like?
Anger appears in ways that you might not expect! A person may be extremely busy, as a way of defending oneself against having time to feel anything. Workaholism and codependency (always being focused on the needs of others) are often powerful defenses against feeling difficult emotions, like anger.
As leading trauma expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk continually tells us, the body tells the story. Excessive muscular tension is often behind tense jaws, continually tense stomach, or upper back pain. And excessive muscular tension can have everything to with anger that is repressed, as can nervous habits like nail biting, pulling out hairs, or picking at your skin.
Also, chronic pain or ongoing fatigue can be related to repressed anger, as can always being sick with colds or flu. Repressed anger can lead to anxiety interfering with sleep and impairing the immune system. Various kinds of addiction — shopping, exercise, food, internet gaming, porn — can all be ways of distracting ourselves from inner pain, which can often be associated with anger.
Anger: Not Just a Male Thing
In our culture, it’s still more acceptable for men to express anger than it is for women. However, this doesn’t mean that women experience less anger than men. It may be more of a process for women to get into the feeling of their anger, though, because there are many cultural taboos standing in the way of its expression. Yet, if anger goes unacknowledged and unexpressed, in individuals of either sex, it can have a lot of negative impacts.
Anger Issues In the Second Half of Life
Many factors can contribute to anger issues in middle-aged or older people. Some of these have long roots in our lives. The individual’s early family environment may have given him or her the sense that expressing anger is dangerous, if there was ongoing serious family conflict. Or, a family environment where emotions were rarely or never expressed, or led to punishment or rejection can give the individual the sense that expression of strong emotions like anger will lead to rejection by loved ones — leading the individual to shut off their emotions, and quite possibly experience depression.
Yet, at midlife, or at later points, or during major life transitions, there may be plenty of experiences that generate anger. Just a few are listed below.
- Work. Today work environments are in constant flux. People deal with constant change, and the degradation of meaningful work or work social experiences into something much less meaningful, for any of a number of reasons, including takeovers, corporate re-organizations, role change and job loss.
- Physical Health. Changes in physical health or capability, issues of pain or physical limitation — these are all often experienced from midlife onward, and can all lead to significant anger and a deep sense of loss.
- Family Issues. A wide range of issues, including spousal health, divorce and issues with children, including adult children, may all leave the individual dealing with significant anger.
- Sense of Regret; Feelings of Unlived Life. It’s quite common for people at midlife and later to experience a sense of regret for directions not taken in life. It’s not uncommon for individuals to feel angry about particular events or even about the entire course that their lives have taken.
Anger and Individuation
Depth case studiess take the individual’s experience of anger in middle and later life very seriously. For many health-related and emotional reasons, it’s important that this anger be dealt with in safe and life-giving ways.
Depth case studies works with the individual to identify creative and generative possibilities that might actually emerge from his or her anger. It seeks to understand the energy in the anger, and then go further, by asking the question “where does the energy in the anger want to flow?”
This can often be a key part of the journey towards wholeness.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst