Are you an Exploder, an Underhander, a Somatizer, or a Self-Punisher? Psychologists have come up with different ways to categorize anger styles, but I like these four from Neil Clark Warren (1990). Since understanding our anger style and the styles of those around us is the first step toward expressing anger in a healthy way, let’s take a quick look at them.
The Exploder is the angry person most of us imagine when we think of anger. This is the person who holds it in right up until they don’t – then they explode along the spectrum of yelling, screaming, cursing, threatening, throwing things, punching holes in walls and, at the most extreme end, being physically violent toward others.
But there are other styles. The Underhander is the classic passive-aggressive. They often have no conscious experience of being angry, but they leave no doubt in them minds of those around them how they feel, thanks to their sarcasm, door slamming, and pouting. This is can be the most complicated style of anger to unravel and I’ll devote a future post to it in its entirety.
For The Somatizer (soma = body), one’s own body becomes both the voice and target of one’s rage. Because the adrenalin produced in anger is not used adaptively, their immune system is weakened and the anger may be expressed in physical symptoms such as ulcers, high blood pressure, migraines, and fibromyalgia, and other chronic, difficult to manage conditions, although again the person may have no conscious experience of anger.
The Self-Punisher may be chronically depressed. Like The Underhander and The Somatizer, this type may also not know they are angry, but they know for sure that they are unworthy failures, shameful losers, and the sole source of every problem in their life and in the lives of those around them. Self-Punishers often turn to drugs, alcohol, pornography, and other addictions in an effort to turn off the shame and depression.
Both The Exploder and The Underhander can be understood as turning aggression outward, toward others. The Somatizer and the Self-Punisher can be understood as aggression turned against self.
When I taught anger management classes, I often found that people easily identify their spouse or partner, parents, children, colleagues, friends or neighbors from these categories. It is also possible to exhibit a combination of any or all styles, perhaps in different settings (home vs. work, for example), or with different people (spouse vs. boss, for example) or based on different triggers (receiving an incorrect bill vs. the dog making a mess).