Teenagers have to juggle emotional issues from changing relationships to struggling to find their own identity and independence. Teens’ expressions of anger and resentment are frequently in response to one of these emotional issues. Dr. Harry Mills at Mental Health.net says anger is a normal response to either physical or emotional pain. When prolonged and pent-up anger evolves to the point of destructive action, it becomes resentment. If the expression of anger is normal and healthy, how can you tell if your teen’s pent-up anger and resentment is a problem?
Teens grappling with pent-up anger and resentment typically fall into three categories, according to the Anger Management Training Institute. The “fighters” are aggressive and engage in open defiance, demeaning verbal abuse, threatening others, anti-social behavior, have fits of rage, don’t take no for an answer and believe rules are stupid and don’t apply to them. The “flighters” are passive and withdrawn. This makes them harder to identify because most of their anger and resentment is bottled up inside until they explode violently without warning. They’re frequently depressed, have difficulty expressing emotions, get walked on, are self-blaming and often have physical symptoms such as headaches and upset stomachs. The “pretenders” are the hardest to identify because they are calm on the surface. Below the surface they are seething with rage and plotting revenge. Pretenders are stealthy and can fly below the radar unnoticed. They tend to say one thing and do another, won’t admit their mistakes, blame others and avoid direct conflict.
Some causes of adolescent pent-up anger and resentment are tied to the deficiencies of serotonin, an inhibitor neurotransmitter in the brain. Dr. Billie J. Sahley, author and researcher, points out that stress and lack of emotional support during the tumultuous teen years affects serotonin production, which regulates emotions, physical ability and thought processes. Other factors that can cause pent-up anger in teenagers are genetic predisposition, trauma and grief. Family stress and socioeconomic issues such as poverty, parental divorce or single parenting, family financial struggles and estrangement from extended family also play a role in developing resentment.
When teenage pent-up anger goes untreated, it creates a host of other problems and dangers. Fighters' pent-up anger has the capacity to escalate into physical violence – including cruelty to animals and people, and property damage -- cause physical ailments, destroy relationships and can ruin a teen’s future. Flighters' anger destroys them from the inside. When they do blow up, they are destructive to themselves, others and property. Because of their tendency to seek revenge, the pretenders' anger can be more physical and more dangerous than that of a fighter.
While the internalized rage of a teenager can be scary to deal with, MayoClinic.com offers some ways your teen can defuse the anger. Counting to 10 may seem childish, but it lets her anger de-escalate. Encourage her to calmly express her feelings using “I” statements, think before she speaks and brainstorm some solutions. A brisk walk around the block will take the heat out of the moment. If your teen’s anger and resentment is out of control, seek help from a qualified doctor or counselor.