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Unseen Forces: Exploring How Anger, Sadness, and Betrayal Shape Society



Like someone stuck in a midwest goodbye long after the party's over, unresolved emotions—anger, sadness, and betrayal—often stay hidden in our minds' corners, waiting for us to finally address the fucked up party they've thrown in our psyche. Unresolved emotions like these act as silent disruptors in the path towards healing, a struggle you’re very familiar with if you’re working on overcoming pain that was never acknowledged by others. This post is the first in a multi-part series based on the affirmation ‘I hope you heal from the things no one ever apologized for’.  In this first installment of my blog series, I'll be getting into the complex layers of anger, sadness, and betrayal—emotions that are often felt deeply yet understood superficially, and of course with the aim of analyzing what this means for society as a whole. As I started to get into the world of neglected emotions from a sociological perspective, I realized how crucial it is to confront feelings like these three in particular. Our emotional health is closely linked to how we interact with others and the society we live in. In this post, I explore the sociological significance of confronting unresolved emotions, emphasizing how they not only affect our personal well-being but also profoundly impact our interactions and place within society. I specifically chose to focus on anger, sadness, and betrayal because these emotions often linger beneath the surface in our social interactions, subtly shaping social dynamics in ways that go beyond the immediate. I now view them as powerful forces in human relationships, influencing everything from personal connections to broader social patterns.


Anger


Anger, often thought of as simply a fiery outburst, is in fact a complex emotion that arises not just inside us, but also between us. From a sociological lens, it's fascinating to see how this intense emotion can be triggered by social injustices, unmet expectations, and even cultural misunderstandings, acting as a thermometer for societal tensions. From a sociological standpoint, anger exists on a spectrum, ranging from being mildly irritated to a full on fucking meltdown of rage. It’s influenced by various social factors like cultural norms, personal experiences, and societal expectations, and these things shape how we understand anger in different contexts. Anger shows up in both physical and psychological realms. From a physical standpoint, it prepares our bodies for a perceived confrontation, a response deeply rooted in our evolutionary past. As much as modern fuckboys want it to be a thing, we really don’t need to be getting in fist fights anymore. Sociologically, this shows how our natural responses to anger are shaped and sometimes constrained by the cultural and social frameworks we live in, highlighting the tension between our innate emotional wiring and the roles we are expected to play in society. I believe it manifests behaviorally along a spectrum from verbal outbursts to physical aggression, and sociologically, these expressions of anger have profound impacts on our relationships and collective decision-making. While my post doesn't get into the specifics of self-help or offer detailed coping mechanisms, it's important to recognize the societal benefits of healthy expression and communication strategies in managing anger. Emphasizing the role of therapy and anger management techniques not only helps individual people, but also contributes positively to our collective well-being. It is super important for a more empathetic and understanding society. 

Let me illustrate my point with 'John Doe,' a fictional individual who self-identifies as an 'incel.' Overwhelmed by unresolved anger stemming from personal and societal frustrations, his inability to process and communicate these emotions in a healthy way leads him down a super destructive path. It culminates in a horrific act of gun violence, a tragic outcome that underscores the dire social consequences of unaddressed anger. This hypothetical scenario not only devastated the individual lives of his victims but also sent shockwaves through his entire community, highlighting the urgent need for societal awareness and intervention in managing deep-seated anger. I chose to use a fictional example because it's impossible and unethical to speak for the emotions in someone else's mind. However, considering the self-reported anger among the 'incel' community and the documented instances of violence by individuals identifying with this group, it's not far-fetched to hypothesize a potential link between unresolved anger and such extreme actions in a future scenario. 


Sadness

As I shift my focus to sadness, it's important to clarify a common misunderstanding: sadness is not the same as depression. I would classify sadness as an emotional response to specific situations, like a setback or loss, and it's something most everyone experiences. It usually passes with time. On the other hand, I would classify depression as more of a persistent health condition that affects how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities that not everyone experiences. It's more than just a fleeting feeling of sadness, it's deeper and requires more support to manage. Both sadness and depression are valid, normal parts of the human experience, and it's often challenging to distinguish between the two. Remember, if this is something you are struggling to figure out for yourself, you don't have to figure it out alone – seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness. While a natural emotion, I contend that when not addressed it can have both mental and physical repercussions, such as lethargy or a lack of motivation, that not only affect our personal well-being but also move through society by influencing our social interactions and collective mood. Sadness can lead to behaviors like social withdrawal and reduced activity levels, which is easy to see how that would impact a person’s daily life. But I encourage you to contemplate how this can also influence society as well. Sad people might be less engaged in their social and professional worlds, affecting the collective energy of their communities. In exploring sadness, it's super important to acknowledge the societal benefits of approaches like acceptance and emotional processing, support systems, and other therapeutic interventions. While again not getting into self-help territory, I support evidence-based methods for managing sadness not only because I want people as individuals to get the help they need but also to positively influence society.


Betrayal

Betrayal, from the complexities around perceived intent to trust violations, can show up in a variety of settings from intimacy of personal relationships to the formalities of professional settings. It’s easy to think of this as just a personal issue but it’s definitely a sociological issue too. When betrayal breaks trust, it really affects society because trust is key to getting along together. This break in trust can start a chain reaction of suspicion, damaging all sorts of relationships and making communities weaker. When betrayal is intentional, it really makes us think deeply as a society about our relationships and what values are important to us. Betrayal leads to a lot of different emotional reactions: ranging from shock to anger and sadness. Over the long term, these experiences can lead to deep-seated trust issues and impact self-esteem, profoundly affecting how people interact with and perceive the world around them. As with anger and sadness, it's worth recognizing the societal value of healthy coping and recovery processes when it is necessary in regards to betrayal. These steps, especially things geared towards rebuilding trust, not only help individuals but also have a broader positive effect on social relationships and community resilience.


The Interconnection of These Emotions

Anger, sadness, and betrayal all have the ability to influence and intensify the others. The interplay of the three emotions don't just color individual experiences, it creates a cumulative impact on society, influencing collective behaviors, societal norms, and even shaping our cultural narratives. I want to do a deep dive on some of these examples:


Social Dynamics and Relationships: 

Take for instance the The Volkswagen emissions scandal, aka "Dieselgate." In 2015, it was discovered that Volkswagen had been using software in their diesel vehicles to cheat on emissions tests, trying to make the public think these vehicles were environmentally friendly .


The initial betrayal by a corporation extended beyond individual consumers, affecting employee relations, public perception of the automotive industry, and even trust in regulatory systems. This is why I contend that something that seems like a simple act of betrayal can have far-reaching societal implications. This revelation had several sociological impacts. Customers who believed they were making environmentally conscious decisions by purchasing Volkswagen's "clean diesel" cars felt betrayed. This led to a broader distrust not only in Volkswagen but I would argue also in the automotive industry and regulatory groups who were supposed to prevent that exact thing from happening. Many employees of Volkswagen (and even associated industries) experienced feeling betrayed by their employer. The scandal caused a lot of public skepticism about corporate accountability and transparency. Many people felt distrust in large corporations and the systems meant to regulate them. The betrayal also impacted environmental advocacy groups and people concerned about climate change, leading to skepticism about corporate ‘commitments’ to environmental issues.


Workplace and Productivity:

That leads me to reflect on how emotions like anger, sadness, and betrayal can drastically influence workplace environments. Anyone who has even had an as much as an after school job in fast food job or retail with toxic leadership can tell you how instances of management or leadership misconduct can disrupt the entire organizational ecosystem, affecting everything from individual employee well-being to the broader economic and social health of the organization. If you want to go down a massive fucking rabbit hole of specific examples I suggest: the Enron scandal of 2001, the Wells Fargo account fraud scandal of 2016, the Uber leadership controversies of 2017, and the Fox News sexual harassment cases of 2016-2017. Discovering that leaders who are supposed to be role models are engaged in unethical actions can lead to feelings of betrayal among employees. This can result in a significant drop in morale, as employees might feel disillusioned and unmotivated to work in an environment where trust has been ruined. As someone who has worked in retail, an industry known for toxic leadership, I know firsthand how an atmosphere of distrust and betrayal can hinder effective teamwork. Employees may become more guarded or less willing to collaborate, fearing further instances of dishonesty or getting shit on if they speak up. Anger and sadness stemming from these situations can distract employees from their jobs. The emotional toll of working in an environment perceived as unethical or unjust can make it difficult for employees to give a shit. Unsurprisingly, high turnover can be a direct consequence, as employees who are unhappy or feel betrayed then want to seek employment elsewhere. This not only affects the solidarity of the organization but also incurs additional costs in recruiting and training new staff. If the organization relies on peer precepting, the disillusionment will be the first thing that the new employees see during their training and will color the beginning of their experience at their time at the organization, which in my opinion can serve as the start of a downward spiral for the organization. All of these things can lead to a situation that eventually harms the organization’s external reputation.


Public Health and Welfare:

A real life example of some public health effects of things like anger and sadness can be observed in the aftermath of economic recession such as the 2008 financial crisis. During and after this crisis, many people experienced prolonged periods of unemployment, financial instability, and uncertainty. This situation led to widespread anger and sadness that lasted for a long time. I want to speculate on some of the ways I think these emotions could’ve mixed with the financial insecurity and job loss and potentially been a factor for the increase in mental health problems seen at that time. Chronic stress, which I would argue brings along with it things like anger and sadness, has been linked to other physical health problems like hypertension, weakened immune system function, and heart disease. Source. When countries go through a recession, unemployment rates go up and living conditions get worse. This is thought to have a bad effect on the health of the people living there and I found another study showing that tough economic times might be linked to more mental health problems as well. Source. Rising mental and physical health issues increased the strain on healthcare systems, something we were reminded of recently with Covid. So I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine how the emotional distress people experienced during this crisis ended up having broader societal implications. 


Cultural Shifts:

So the emotions I’ve been talking about can lead to cultural shifts and one of my favorite examples is the ‘Me Too’ movement. Beginning around 2006 and gaining global momentum in 2017, this movement became a prime example of how collective emotional responses can drive significant societal change. In this example, the shared emotions of anger, sadness, and betrayal over systemic injustice and traumas joined into a powerful social movement, reshaping cultural narratives and leading to changes in societal values, policies, and even some legal action. Unfortunately we still have a long fucking way to go, but if I get started on that, this blog post will never end so I need to reign it in. The movement finally started gaining traction after high-profile allegations of sexual abuse in the entertainment industry came to light. It triggered widespread feelings of anger, sadness, and betrayal, particularly among women who had experienced similar situations, and I am making the bold claim that without these intense emotions it might not have had that exponential growth in 2017 that it did. I tried finding trends to show this shift and wasn't successful finding stuff for the movement prior to 2017, yet there is an entire interactive website where you can track Me Too search analytics. And it is much more aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly than anything else I’ve even searched for, which tells you that they want people to care about the history of this, yet they don’t give you any information prior to the flash point of 2017. Think about that. Source (Read more on the Me Too Movement's original Founder's thought's on that here). The collective expression of these emotions led to the start of a (much-needed) cultural shift on the topic. There had been long-standing norms of silence and stigma around speaking out about sexual harassment and rape. The movement empowered people to start speaking up, leading to a somewhat broader societal acknowledgment of the prevalence and severity of these issues. The widespread anger and call for accountability led to some policy changes in some workplaces and schools. It also influenced some legal actions and reforms in some cases. It’s hard to speak about anything relating to rape culture positively because there is so much left to do but it’s important to acknowledge that the Me Too movement was successful in a variety of ways. Despite originating in New York and gaining traction because of issues with Hollywood, the Me Too movement has had a global impact, inspiring similar things worldwide and highlighting issues of gender-based violence and inequality. This is especially important considering situations like in Bangladesh, where reports indicate that over 54% of women who are (or have been) married have experienced physical or sexual violence from their spouses at least once in their lifetimes (far exceeding the global average of 30%). Source. 


Political and Economic Decisions:

An example of how societal emotions can influence political and economic decisions is the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom in 2016. I am American so I am not going to pretend to understand the nuances of this. But it was clear to anyone paying attention to global news that it was significantly influenced by public opinion, and the whole thing involved a range of emotions including anger, frustration, and a sense of betrayal among a portion of the British people. I think it illustrates how the mix of these emotions can significantly drive major political and economic decisions, with wide-ranging consequences for a nation and beyond. I also am still learning when it comes to economics so I am not at all going to pretend like I understand a damn thing about markets or anything about foreign currency but it was really obvious as an onlooker how the uncertainty and emotions surrounding Brexit had immediate economic consequences for British society. The decision also had long-term implications for trade, investment, and economic policies, both in the UK and in the EU. The outcome of their referendum has continued to have a lasting impact on policy-making in the UK, affecting their decisions on things like immigration, trade agreements, and economic policies to this day in 2024.


Impact on Mental and Physical Health

When I started studying the works of ‘The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma’ by Bessel van der Kolk and ‘Forgive for Good, A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness’ by Dr. Fred Luskin (that I introduced you to in the introduction to this blog series) I gained a new understanding of how unresolved emotions impact our bodies as well as our minds. I had been told to read 'The Body Keeps Score' by a doctor before but never did so I was really excited to finally read that for this series. These emotions don't just burden our minds, but also leave serious effects on our physical health that often seem completely unrelated, so might go overlooked. Exploring what I learned from Bessel van der Kolk and Dr. Luskin, I also have some fascinating connections between unresolved emotions and mental health to share, not from a self-help or purely psychological standpoint, but through a sociological lens. These emotions are not just personal experiences, they also influence societal norms, relationships, and collective behaviors, showing how our social environment and mental health are connected. These authors helped me understand that unresolved emotions don't just exist in our minds but also resonate in our bodies. As someone who has experienced this personally, I do have to say it wasn’t completely surprising to me but it was really affirming to know that it is an actual thing. If you have anyone in your life who is ableist or who gaslights you about anything you experience in your health journey, I highly recommend these books so that you can be affirmed in your experiences. So anyway, for the physical health stuff (as with the mental health stuff) this connection goes beyond individual health or medical analysis and speaks to the broader sociological idea of our collective condition. I would argue it can show up in physical ways across communities, affecting everything from the overall health of the public to how people behave as a group, highlighting the hidden connection between the health of our society and our overall physical well-being.

In this complex journey of healing, I firmly believe in the efficacy of things like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), not as universal solutions, but as valuable tools in personalized treatment plans. It's super important to recognize that encouraging self-help and empowerment play significant roles in building resilience and self-awareness in society. We can't overlook the importance of affirming support systems. The family and community you are born into isn’t always the best source of support and so it is vital that we create a culture where we encourage people to find a healthy community if this is not the case. In a context like the US, where healthcare accessibility is a challenge for many, the role of social support in healing becomes even more critical, underscoring the need for strong community networks to aid in the healing process. Of course there's no one-size-fits-all approach but I’m basically just arguing in favor of increasing accessibility to concepts like these for positive steps in dealing with these feelings. I think it’s important to promote healthy evidence-based coping strategies and to make them accessible on a wide scale.


Further Action

I don’t think there is enough research being done on how unresolved emotions are impacting society at large and so this blog post serves as a call for researchers to fill that gap. I am advocating for more in-depth sociological research into how anger, sadness, and betrayal manifest and influence societal structures, norms, and behaviors. I think there is a desperate need for more cross-disciplinary research such as psychology, sociology, healthcare, economics, business, academia, parenting, and criminal justice, to form a more holistic understanding of the societal implications of these emotions. Future studies could explore the long-term societal impacts of these emotions, considering variables like culture, socio-economic status, and gender. Maybe if funding is an issue, businesses would be interested in funding research into how these emotions affect productivity and relationships in professional and educational environments? I think there is a need for more policies and public health strategies protecting individuals with mental health conditions, personality disorders, or neurodivergence, and helping to end the stigma against us. The potential benefits of CBT, DBT, and other therapies in addressing these emotions outside of formal medical settings could encourage further research into refining these techniques and making them more accessible and tailored to diverse populations. This could include more accessible mental health services and community-based support systems and should definitely include policing reforms.

In conclusion, my exploration into the unresolved emotions of sadness, anger, and betrayal has hopefully shed some light into influencing the health of us as individuals and as a human family. These emotions impact how we connect, interact, and function as a community. I've advocated many positive steps to dealing with these things with the realization that these things are dealt with within the context of shitty systemic barriers in the US healthcare system. It's clear that by advocating for addressing these unresolved emotions and accessible support, we not only hope for individual healing but also potentially contribute to the betterment of society as a whole.


Coming Up Next

As I mentioned this is the first in a seven-part series on the sociology of topics like this, so stay tuned for Part 2, “The Social and Psychological Complexities of Apology." I plan on doing another long-form post where I want to get into the fascinating world of apologies, from their role in personal relationships to their impact in public spheres and even how technology is reshaping the way we express remorse. Expect a blend of sociological insight, case studies, and some hilarious examples of public apologies. Although my research isn’t done yet, it seems the range for that last one is from ‘pandering gone wrong’ to massive fucking disaster’ so I think it will be fairly entertaining. Don't want to miss out? Be sure to sign up for email alerts and stay tuned for the intriguing next installment in my journey through the human emotional landscape.



Crisis Resources

I fully recognize that accessing healthcare, particularly mental health services, can be a significant challenge, especially in the United States where barriers such as cost, availability, and stigma are real and pervasive. While I encourage seeking professional help if you’re struggling, I also understand that this advice is easier said than done in our current fucked up healthcare system. Please know that this statement is not meant to be dismissive of the very real obstacles many face in accessing healthcare. Your journey towards healing and well-being is valid and important, no matter the path you take to get there.


For Immediate Text Support
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 this is to connect to a trained crisis counselor, available 24/7 in the United States


National Helplines
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) (https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org) is national network providing 24/7 support and online chat to those in crisis

  • SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357) has free, confidential treatment referral and information


Specialized Support
  • The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678678, they have suicide prevention services and crisis intervention for LGBTQ+ youth

  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) : 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673) this is the United State's biggest anti-sexual violence organization with a 24-hour hotline


Online Resources

Support Groups and Community Resources
  • DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) (https://www.dbsalliance.org) in-person and sometimes online support groups for people with Depression and Bipolar, and their loved ones

  • NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness): (https://www.nami.org) support and resources for various mental illnesses and personality disorders

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