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Overcoming Silent Withdrawal

Chapter 9: Overcoming Silent Withdrawal

Tools for Anger Work-Out

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


Is silent withdrawal an expression of anger?

By silently withdrawing into myself, isolating myself from others, I show anger in a passive way. I am:

  • angry over some real or perceived offense.
  • incapable of venting my anger openly and prefer to remain silent.
  • afraid of an outburst of anger, afraid I'll be unable to stop.
  • stuffing my feelings to stay in control.
  • refusing to show them that they have gotten to me.
  • so full of anger, resentment, bitterness, and hostility that I'd rather remain silent than overreact to the situation.
  • blocked in my ability to be honest with others, unable to show honest anger.
  • unaware of my anger and even find it offensive or surprising when someone suggests that I am angry.
  • setting myself up for other forms of unhealthy anger expression.
  • not giving others the benefit of my feedback about their behavior, setting the scene for a repeat performance.
  • giving others the power to intimidate me.
  • avoiding assertive behavior in letting others know how they have angered me.
  • piling up unresolved anger, adding to my bank account of unresolved anger, making me more and more emotionally silent, withdrawn, and isolated.
  • out of touch with my true feelings, denying these feelings to others.
  • incapable of showing my negative side, afraid of disapproval and rejection.

What are behavioral patterns resulting from my silent withdrawn anger?

When I withdraw from the open expression of anger I am setting myself up for alternative forms of unhealthy anger expression, which are often self-destructive. They include:


Binging and purging: This is the clearest evidence of my internal anger. Purging violates my person and masks my raging anger. It is one way to rid myself of anger without having to express it.


Escaping into alcohol or other drugs: I choose alcohol or another drug to medicate my anger and calm me down. I find myself consuming these substances to the degree to which I currently stuff or have stuffed my anger in the past. The anger is never exhausted and I need continuous medication to silence it.


Overeating: This is a figurative and literal form of stuffing my anger down. In an attempt to nurture myself, I treat myself to a calming friend: food. Unfortunately my friend food overwhelms me by adding pound after pound. The jolly fat man is often really silently anger.


Daydreaming: When I am angry at what is going on, I can withdraw into myself; escape into my imagination through vivid daydreams. My fantasies concern how I would like my life to be. My daydreams are of a perfect life where my enemies are punished and I succeed.


People-pleasing behavior: I find it impossible to be honest with people when they have angered me so I set out to please them. I either do as much as I can for them so that they are grateful and never anger me, or I put my happy, good face on so they never know how angry I am.


Entertaining behavior: Rather than confront my angry feelings honestly, I resort to jokes, stories, quips, or any other diversion to avoid the angry feelings and act happy. I push my anger down and away.


Pulling-in behavior: Recognizing that it is better to be invisible during negative situations, I pull my feelings in and avoid contact with those who anger me. I become more and more isolated from the anger stimulus. I pull my anger deep inside.


Compulsive behavior: Excessive gambling, compulsive shopping, and credit card use, uncontrolled sexual activity alone or with others, excessive reading or any other behavior gone out of control are external expressions of the anger that I harbor silently within me.


Workaholism: Escaping into my work or studies is a convenient outlet with which to avoid dealing with my anger. Because others often reward this behavior, it is a great way to hide my angry feelings, especially if they are negative and either unattractive or unacceptable to me.


Social isolation: Fearing that I will express my anger openly if people provoke me, I find it better to isolate and insulate myself from society. Being socially isolated becomes so comfortable that I choose to be a loner, a recluse, or a hermit never running the risk of interaction with others.


Depression: This takes many forms, including lethargy and exhaustion. It is unresolved anger. Helpers in my support network prescribe anger work-out sessions as therapy for my depression and it seems to work for me.


Stubbornness: I am so determined not to let others get to me with their negative attitude that I become stuck in my resolve to withhold my emotional responses. I get so stuck that I become unable to ventilate my anger even in role play or imagined anger work-out sessions.


Wearing masks: Rather than let my anger show, I wear a mask in front of those who anger me. I withdraw my true feelings into myself, often permanently hiding them behind my masks so that even I don't know what they are.


Peace at any price: I fear conflicts so that I will do anything to cover the anger and keep the peace. Peace at any price is often my motto. I work hard at keeping my anger and that of others hidden. Unfortunately, this often causes problems; the very conflicts I try to avoid happen anyway, but I am unprepared to handle them honestly and openly.


Shyness: Because I work so hard at avoiding my true feelings (especially the negative ones) I find it painfully difficult to speak with or meet people in groups. I get so used to not speaking that it becomes harder and harder for me to even try.


Stress related physical illness: Certain physical illnesses are directly related to my inability to confront my anger the moment I feel it. These ailments include high blood pressure, cardiac disease, ulcers, many kinds of cancer, gastro-intestinal diseases, headaches, muscle tension, insomnia, and many others.


Using denial: Because I constantly want life to be happy, pleasant, and more satisfying than it is, I often resort to denial. I deny anger or hostility against those people who hurt, badger, or anger me. I remain unable to resolve my discomfort because my denial blinds me to the causes of it.


Minimizing: It is so much easier to overlook or minimize the impact of negative stimuli in my life than to confront it. However, this attitude misleads people and clouds my priorities. My life gets out of focus and I'm unprepared to deal with reality.


Procrastinating: Rather than confront issues that might result in negative feelings on my part or others, I put off that which needs immediate attention. This just worsens or exacerbates an already difficult situation and eventually ends in deleterious results for me and others. I wind up with the anger plus guilt.


Over-Controlling: I control the situations in my life to avoid the discomfort of being angry. I like to control people and resort to intimidation and manipulation. It isn't honest, but I think everyone will understand why I had to do it when things finally turn out right and we all live happily ever after which really rarely ever happens.

What irrational thinking leads me to withdraw silently in anger?

  • Avoid conflict at any cost.
  • Keep peace at any price.
  • It is better to remain calm and keep the peace than be honest about my anger.
  • When I am angry, someone always gets hurt, so don't hurt anyone; keep it to myself.
  • No one really wants to hear how I feel about things.
  • I never gain by letting others know how I feel, especially negative feelings.
  • I shouldn't show my anger.
  • Anger is a bad emotion.
  • It is a sin to get angry.
  • Put on a happy face, even if I am not.
  • Never let others know I am hurting.
  • The show must go on.
  • What would people think if they knew how I really felt?
  • It is better to protect others from my negative feelings so no one gets hurt.
  • It is a waste to tell others that I am angry.
  • I will never accomplish a thing in sharing my angry feelings.
  • Getting angry always ends up getting me into a fight.
  • I will be punished if I show my anger.
  • Venting anger is a waste of time and energy.
  • I'd rather be a loner than get into constant fights, arguments, or disagreements.
  • I've been hurt badly in the past by sharing my true feelings.
  • I learned the hard way to let it go, don't deal with it.
  • No one really wants to know how I feel.
  • Being silent in my reaction to anger provoking situations is a sign of maturity, health, and social decorum.
  • I'd rather see those who anger me be left high and dry. They'll get no reaction from me when they mistreat or abuse me. It is pure revenge for me.
  • I'd rather spite them than let them know how they hurt me.
  • Keeping people happy is the best therapy in the world.
  • Why bother myself with the negative side of life when there is so much I haven't experienced yet?
  • I'd rather be silent and strong than outspoken and weak.
  • It is a sign of weakness to show others my anger.
  • I do more harm by being honest with people; it's better to lie.
  • It's better to tell a white lie to keep peace and harmony in a relationship.
  • I should protect others from knowing my angry side.
  • Put up a good front. Continue on as if nothing bad has happened.
  • If I'm quiet long enough they will ignore me, and I'll be able to live a happier life as a result.
  • What I think and feel is irrelevant and unimportant; I'll keep quiet instead.
  • Nothing good comes from my speaking up; I'll be quiet in the future.


Why do I tend to silently withdraw in anger?

I usually withdraw silently when I am angered because:

  • as a child I was rewarded for being seen and not heard.
  • I have never seen any benefit from my expressions of anger.
  • if I ever get angry, I would lose my self-control; I would become obnoxious and offensive.
  • I don't recognize my anger.
  • I'm so conditioned to ignore or avoid my true feelings.
  • I learned early on that anger could mean abuse for me.
  • anger overwhelms me.
  • I can't win.
  • it feels right for me.
  • I get so embarrassed when I'm emotional.
  • I want to hide all the more later.
  • I'm so hurt and upset that all I can do is cry.
  • I refuse to let others see that they have gotten to me.
  • people except me to be happy and carefree.
  • no one would know how to handle me if I acted differently.
  • it is safer to keep my feelings to myself.
  • I don't want to deal with others' reactions.
  • I can't tell the truth when the truth might hurt someone.
  • I take responsibility for how others will react to my anger.
  • I protect others from the negative consequences of anger.
  • I'd rather exercise control.
  • I want to keep the peace.
  • I can't deal with conflict.
  • others might disagree with me.
  • no one is looking out for me but me.
  • I can't trust honesty.

How could I handle my silent anger and improve my life?

  • By assertively letting others know how I feel.
  • By letting others be responsible for their own reactions.
  • Do intensive anger work-outs on each unresolved anger issue.
  • I need to identify the anger I have silently withheld.
  • Realize that it is the root of my unhealthy behavior.
  • Let go of the need to control others.
  • Take the risk to be honest with others about my true feelings.
  • Let go of my sense of over-responsibility.
  • Let those in my life be responsible for their own feelings.
  • Recognize that I usually end up in conflict and pain by minimizing my feelings.
  • Be vulnerable with others.
  • Take the risk of hurt, pain, rejection, and nonapproval by being assertive when I am angered.
  • Recognize that this is my opportunity for personal growth and healing.
  • Take the risk to be honest when I am angered .
  • Accept others' responses to my feelings.
  • Learn what does and doesn't work in letting others know how I feel.
  • Accept that I am a liar when I keep my anger in.
  • Make a commitment to myself never to lie again.
  • Take back the power I give others.
  • Express anger with no fear of retaliation.
  • Identify what others do to intimidate me.
  • Regain power and self-control over my own feelings.
  • Recognize that my shyness and isolation is unhealthy.
  • Take the risk to join a support group.
  • Open up freely about the anger in my life.
  • Write an anger autobiography of my life.
  • Take each event which has angered me and do an anger work-out until all anger is gone.
  • When I find myself pulling into silent withdrawal, tell myself stop.
  • Face my anger honestly and openly.
  • Give permission to the support people in my life to keep me on track.
  • Avoid pulling away from my support group when I am angry, hurt, or depressed.
How can I stop withdrawing when I get angry?


Step 1: One step toward learning control over the unhealthy way I handle anger is to rate the 20 behavior patterns described in the second section of this chapter according to how they impact my life. In your journal rate each behavior using a scale of:

1 = no problem

2 = rarely a problem

3 = often a problem                                  

4 = almost always a problem

5 = a daily problem for me


  1. Binging and purging
  2. Escape into alcohol or other drugs
  3. Overeating
  4. Daydreaming
  5. People-pleasing behavior
  6. Entertaining behavior
  7. Pulling-in behavior
  8. Compulsive behavior
  9. Workaholism
  10. Social isolation
  11. Depression
  12. Stubbornness
  13. Wearing masks
  14. Peace at any price
  15. Shyness
  16. Stress-related physical illness
  17. Using denial
  18. Minimizing
  19. Procrastination
  20. Controlling

Add up the 20 ratings. If the result is 45 or more, I am definitely bothered by silent withdrawal when I get angry.


I need to answer the following questions in my journal to complete Step 1:
  • Which behavior patterns earned a rating of 3 or more?
  • For each of these highly rated patterns, what events led me to withhold anger and precipitated the behavior pattern?
  • What damages do these unhealthy behavior patterns cause?
  • How could I be healthier, happier, and saner?
  • What unresolved anger is the result of my silent withdrawal? (List each item, if possible.)
  • How successful is my anger work-out on these anger issues?
  • How can I succeed in my anger work-out sessions?
  • What irrational thinking lies at the root of my silent withdrawal?
  • What lessons did I learn in the past (old scripts) that resulted in my pattern of stuffing my anger?
  • What are some other causes of my silent withdrawal in anger?

Step 2: Now I need to confront the fears that result in my withdrawing in anger. To do this, I'll rate the following 20 fears according to how they impact my anger and silent withdrawalyou’re your journal put down the rating for each fear for its impact on me based on this scale:

1 = never impacts my stuffing anger  

2 = sometimes impacts my stuffing anger 

3 = often impacts my stuffing anger   

4 = always impacts my stuffing anger


  1. Fear of rejection
  2. Fear of nonapproval
  3. Fear of conflict
  4. Fear of being disliked
  5. Fear of being abused by others
  6. Fear of the unknown
  7. Fear of speaking my feelings openly
  8. Fear of speaking in public
  9. Fear of being misunderstood
  10. Fear of not being accepted for who I am
  11. Fear of being ignored
  12. Fear of being ridiculed
  13. Fear of committing a sin
  14. Fear of loss of control
  15. Fear of being a bad person for feeling the way I do
  16. Fear of losing control, being unable to stop
  17. Fear of going insane
  18. Fear of being punished
  19. Fear of being immature
  20. Fear of being a fool


I need to answer the following questions in my journal for each fear I rated 3 or higher:

  • How does this fear control my anger response?
  • How did I learn this fear?
  • How does this fear impact my life?
  • What efforts have I made to reduce the impact of this fear in my life?
  • What irrational thinking underlies this fear?
  • What is the worst possible thing that would happen if I ignored this fear and expressed my anger in an open, assertive way?
  • What new behavior could I develop to overcome this fear?
  • What new self-scripts do I need to rid me of this fear?
  • How would my life change if I got rid of this fear?
  • How would I behave if I no longer had this fear?


After answering these questions for each of the fears to which I gave a 3 or 4 rating, go to Step 3.


Step 3: To overcome my silent withdrawal I now need to try each action suggested in the fourth section of this chapter with each of my fears and/or anger issues. Continue through the list in Step 1 and record the results of each action as it is used with each fear/anger issue. Which actions work best for me? What benefits am I gaining through this work?


Step 4: If after taking each of the actions suggested I still resort to silent withdrawal, then I need to return to Step 1 and begin again.