Women and anger: Permission to Feel Angry
Many of my female clients have a difficult relationship with their anger. I spend time in therapy working on giving women permission to feel their anger, learn how to understand it, accept it, and figure out what to do with it when they experience it.
I believe anger can be helpful and informative, but we need to understand how to pause, recognize it, and understand why it’s there, and what it’s trying to show us.
Unfortunately, most of us are programmed to believe it is inherently bad, and so we try to get rid of it or ignore it.
Why is it so hard to feel anger if you are a woman? I think there are several reasons.
Firstly anger is uncomfortable, it doesn’t feel good physically. It can make our heart rate go up, our face flush, and we may even shake. All of these sensations can be very scary and overwhelming.
Secondly, anger is often seen as a negative emotion. We are told that good girls don’t get angry, that anger is ugly and unattractive. We learn to stuff down our anger or express it in a way that is not threatening or offensive.
And lastly, I think many women have a hard time owning their anger because they don’t want to be seen as difficult or bitchy. We have been socialized to believe that anger is not an acceptable emotion for women.
Women are taught to be ashamed of anger by society
From a young age, girls are shamed and scolded for expressing anger and boys are not. The message we are given is not to show or communicate anger. Because women are socialized to be ashamed of their anger, they learn unhealthy ways to express it. Passive or passive-aggressive behavior is much more common in women, and this is a result of society not giving us permission to feel our feelings and ask directly for what we want. This kind of communication creates unhealthy relationships with others and with ourselves.
Women learn about anger from their families
Women also learn about anger from their families. Did you see your family express and work through their anger in a healthy way? We receive messages about anger and how to handle it without being aware of it. For example, if you were rewarded for being quiet and compliant than the message was to not express anger. Or, if your mother handled anger by being passive-aggressive than you learned this was how to express anger. Or, If you grew up in a family with a lot of conflicts, you may have learned that anger can only bring conflict, fighting, and discord and so you avoid it at all costs.
As you move through life, these unhelpful ways of dealing with anger will begin to create problems for you.
Anger is a normal and legitimate emotion that arises in a variety of circumstances. Just like a certain weather pattern will cause rain, certain causes and conditions in life will give rise to anger.
Anger can be a clue that:
- something is wrong in our life
- others are crossing our boundaries
- we are afraid, embarrassed or hurt
- we need to make adjustments in how we are treating ourselves or a path we are following
Women’s anger is often based on very real and legitimate grievances.
In 1993, Thomas conducted the Women’s Anger Study, a large-scale investigation involving 535 women between the ages of 25 and 66. The study revealed women get angry about three things most often
powerlessness, injustice, and the irresponsibility of other people.
This study demonstrates how anger can be a source of wisdom. These are issues to attend to!
To be healthy and wise we need to be able to recognize, allow, and investigate our anger.
We need to pause and reflect before acting on it. Instead what most of us do is suppress our anger, or discharge it onto others.
Key questions to help you with your anger:
- What is it trying to tell you?
- Can you open up to it?
- Accept it?
- Where do you feel it in your body?
- Can you pause and allow it?
- Ensure you take the space to prevent aggressive action or words against another.
- Are you in control of your anger or is your anger in control of you?Have you thought through and processed what your anger might mean? Anger is a secondary emotion which means there are often other emotions underneath it. Below are some of the most common ones.
Women have long been taught to suppress their anger. We’re told that it’s unattractive, that it’s unladylike, and that it will only alienate those around us. As a result, many women bottle up their anger until it explodes in an outburst or manifests as passive aggression. But anger is a normal and healthy emotion. It’s a natural response to feeling hurt, frustrated, or powerless. And women have every right to feel anger just as men do. The key is to learn how to express it in a constructive way. Many women find relief and release through therapy, where they can explore the roots of their anger and learn healthy coping mechanisms. Learning to express anger in a healthy way can help women to assert themselves in all areas of their lives.
“Anger across the Gender Divide.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/monitor/mar03/angeracross.
Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.