Sarcasm & the Stealth of Anger

By: Brian M Murray, MS, IMH

A little tiff breaks out between two friends and suddenly one of them has enough and blurts out a common saying “whatever” and stops talking. While this seems meaningless and benign in nature sarcasm unseen intention is often a defensive move. Anger is a natural and common emotion and what we do with it makes a big difference. The use of sarcasm with phrases such as “whatever” or “just saying” is a withdrawal defense mechanism intended to defend and protect true feelings. It is a pulling back by being passive and becoming emotionally uninvolved.

What happens over time is the person using these types of phrases keeps stuffing their feelings down inside. If someone stuffs their feelings unconsciously the defense mechanism is known as repression. Over time the continual stuffing of these feelings begins to build up leading to self destruction. It is at this point the anger, being stealthy, morphs into another defense mechanism known as displacement. Displacement is directing the stuffed feelings onto someone or something that is not as threatening. For example, someone gets angry, says “whatever” (withdrawal) and then walks away and punches a hole in the wall (displacement). There are many different types of defense mechanisms and these are a few for demonstrative purposes.

Defense mechanisms are emotional coping responses to stress and anxiety in an unpleasant situation. The intended purpose is to reduce feelings of apprehension. When anger is expressed appropriately it can signal to others that you are upset leading to resolve. This is about being assertive as opposed to being reactive, aggressive and destructive. One important factor to remember in dealing with anger is it belongs to the person who has it. Take ownership of it and manage it. Projection onto others is another defense mechanism in an attempt to avoid dealing with the feelings associated with being angry.

Some questions to ask while trying to manage anger are; what am I reacting to? What is pressing my buttons? Is my reaction appropriate to the event I am faced with? Reaction formation, another defense mechanism, is about accepting beliefs that are exaggerated beyond the degree of the stressor. There are many more defense mechanisms that can be associated with anger. Anger will and often does change from one defense mechanism to another. Anger can and is often stealthy and shape-shifts until is it is appropriately released.

While there are many ways to deal with anger, here are a few steps that can help get started; recognize anger by taking note of the situation that triggered it; express yourself in conversations using “I” statements in a respectful manger toward others; exercise or take a walk and cool off; find a friend or other person to talk it out and finally start journaling. Talking, walking and writing can be healthy and effective ways to express yourself and release anger.

“Consider how much more you often suffer from your anger and grief, than from those very things for which you are angry and grieved.”  ~Marcus Antonius

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