Mental Health Treatment for Anger and Resentment

Americans are more focused on mental health than ever. We’re in a strange time in this country’s history, both culturally and emotionally. The Internet has us more connected than ever, yet many of us feel increasingly isolated. 

If you think people seem angrier and more confrontational than they were just 10 years ago or so, you’re not alone. Several studies and informal surveys suggest that Americans are angrier than they used to be and, worse, they’re acting on that anger. 

In this article, Cottonwood Tucson examines the rise of anger and resentment in America, how they are upending our mental health, and what can be done about it. 

What is Anger?

At its most basic level, anger is an intense emotional response triggered by a perceived threat, violation, or injustice. Note the word perceived there. Feelings of stress, frustration, and irritation typically characterize anger. 

Chronic anger in particular has negative consequences for our mental health and the mental health of others. People can, and often do, become angry about things they really shouldn’t or due to misunderstandings. Anger contributes to depression and anxiety in ourselves and others.

When we become angry, our judgment is often compromised. Making important decisions or taking irreversible actions when you are angry is rarely a good idea. Angry impulses have led to innumerable tragic consequences.  

What is Resentment? 

Resentment is a widely misunderstood emotion. It is a form of anger — or byproduct of anger, in a sense. But unlike most anger, resentment doesn’t reach a climax and then resolve (for better or worse). Instead, resentment festers and robs us of joy and leads to depression and anxiety

When we look at the word’s origins, we find the prefix “re”, which generally means to repeat something. The second half of the word comes from the Latin sentire, which means “to feel”. So resentment is to “re-feel” something again and again. That’s an important part of understanding resentment.

When someone feels anger about a perceived slight or injustice in the moment it occurs, that’s just garden-variety anger. When that person is still reliving that moment days, weeks, months, or even years later and still feeling visceral rage or simmering fury  — that’s resentment. 

Resentment is:

  • Holding a grudge or refusing to let go of anger toward someone or something. 
  • A major contributing factor to depression and unhappiness for many people. 
  • Much more dangerous to mental health and wellness than most people realize. 
  • Something that can be overcome with mental health treatment and therapy. 

Why Are Anger and Resentment Bad for Your Mental Health?

Most people are aware that being angry much of the time is not good for their mental health and often indicates deeper problems like depression or other mental health conditions. But why is that the case? It can feel good to be angry sometimes. Some people are even addicted to being angry in a sense. These so-called rageaholics only feel fully alive and in control when they are angry.

The reality is that anger, resentment, and other negative thinking patterns don’t serve our best interests. They not only make us unhappy and stressed while we’re experiencing these feelings — but they also lead us to make decisions and take actions that cause more unhappiness. 

The old Biblical adage “do unto others” has merit for more than one reason. The anger and negativity we project out into the world come back to us. Many people respond to it with their own anger. This in turn gives us more and more reasons to be angry or discontented. 

It’s a toxic cycle of behavior that people can become trapped in. Being trapped in negative thinking and behavior patterns is detrimental to your mental health. It contributes to other mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety

Anger and resentment are bad for your mental health because:

  • Anger alters your perception and judgment making things seem worse than they are.
  • Anger often triggers other negative mental health symptoms like depression.
  • Resentment and anger put negative energy out into the world that returns to you.
  • Holding onto anger prevents you from moving forward and it gets in the way of love. 

Physical Health Effects of Anger and Resentment

Even though some people seem to legitimately enjoy being angry — we all know it’s not good for us or others. Anger and resentment not only undermine your quality of life and that of the people around you but they also have been proven to have negative effects on your physical health. That’s right — anger can damage the body. 

Anger impacts everything from blood pressure to cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone released during stress and consistently high cortisol levels. High cortisol can contribute to weight gain, slower healing and regeneration, digestive problems, muscle weakness, and fatigue, just to name a few. 

There is really no “upside” to being angry most of the time. Some people imagine their anger is what makes them successful, or that if they let go of the anger, they may be less effective. The truth is your anger and resentment may be slowly killing you. 

Anger can impact physical health in these ways:

  • Weight gain/fat distribution
  • Muscle weakness and fatigue
  • Delayed healing and regeneration
  • Greater risk of heart attack and stroke

Where Do Anger and Resentment Come From?

There are innumerable places from which anger or resentment may sprout. Everyone feels anger, it’s a natural human emotion. It usually only becomes detrimental to our mental health when we are easily stirred to anger, angry much of the time, or holding on to old grudges (resentment). 

People who grow up in a household with a parent who has anger control issues are more likely to exhibit anger problems themselves or to be depressed or anxious. Often it’s all of the above. 

Some people just seem to be “wired” for anger. They emerge from the womb with a scowl on their face. The sources of anger may be situational and based upon experience and trauma — or they may come down to brain chemistry. The human brain is still a mystery we continue to explore. 

As we said in the previous section, it’s not necessarily important which came first, the anger or the accompanying mental health disorders. What matters most is that you recognize that you have a problem with anger and it’s hurting you and the people around you. If you have that awareness and the willingness to do the work required to change — you can overcome your anger with the right help. 

Some sources and causes of anger and resentment include:

  • Unresolved conflict
  • Stressful or especially challenging jobs. 
  • Substance use disorders, drinking, etc. 
  • Biochemistry or a chemical imbalance in the brain.
  • Childhood trauma, sexual trauma, survivor’s guilt, grief and loss.

Anger and Mental Health: The Chicken and the Egg

Anger is natural. It is part of our survival instinct, just like fear. But, the emotions of our Stone Age ancestors interface differently with the modern world. Most of us don’t have any real and immediate threats to our survival. We’re not running from lions and bears or defending a precious water hole from a neighboring tribe. 

Still, these emotions are present. Sometimes they are aroused by situations and conditions, such as psychological abuse, neglect, or gaslighting. When we lash out at the world in anger, we get anger back. This creates a vicious cycle of rage that can keep a person from finding happiness and satisfaction out of time 

In other circumstances, a person’s anger and mental health disorders may have biological and genetic origins. We still have a lot left to learn about the brain, so there is much we do not understand about the role brain chemistry and genetics play in mental health. So, which came first? The anger? Or the mental health disorder? The answer isn’t always clear, but the solutions to anger can be — if you are open to them. 

Mental Health Solutions for Anger and Resentment

Even though some people seem to legitimately enjoy being angry — we all know it’s not good for us. Even if you’ve always been a grouch or a bit of a tyrant, there is hope. If you want to change, you can — with the right type of help. This is where mental health treatment enters the equation. 

Many people with anger issues can’t begin to tell you where they came from. Oftentimes complex trauma, grief and loss, sexual trauma, or other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are part of the story.

Of course, we cannot hope to transcend anger and resentment until any underlying mental health conditions are properly identified and addressed. This is the work of overcoming anger and pursuing the happiness you deserve. We won’t tell you it’s easy. Making real progress in mental health rarely is — but it is incredibly rewarding and transformative and well worth doing. 

Some mental health treatment approaches that can help with anger management:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy and emotion regulation
  • Anger journaling and processing in talk therapy.
  • Relaxation techniques, like Wim Hof Breathing or meditation.

Transcend Anger and Find the Peace You Deserve

If anger is robbing you or someone you love of the life they deserve — Cottonwood Tucson can help. The first step in solving any problem is awareness. If you’re aware that anger is a problem for you, the next step is to ask for help.

You don’t need to face your anger and resentment alone. You don’t need to allow it to keep destroying your relationships, undermining your career, or preventing you from becoming your best self. That is a choice. If you are aware of your anger though, you can choose change

Whether addiction is part of the equation or not — Cottonwood Tucson’s nationally recognized treatment program has the mental health care you need to live the life you deserve. 

Find peace and joy on our 35-acre campus in Arizona’s majestic Sonoran Desert country. Call us anytime at  (888) 727-0441.

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