Anger

I have been dealing with some anger in my life in recent years.

You could detect some of my anger-influenced articles like this one about hormonal contraceptives or this one about Tantra.

It’s not directly related to women’s sexuality, but indirectly, it does.

Did a partner ever ask you if your period is nearly due simply because you were angry with him?

As women, we are expected to not display anger. And when we do, it’s only because something is “out of balance”.

But the truth is, feeling anger is a very natural part of being a human being. There is nothing wrong with anger.

However, if somewhere along the way we received the message that anger is “bad”, then we will most probably bottle it up, and then when it ends up overflowing – there’s a good chance we’ll express it in an unhealthy way.

This is true for both men and women. However, the way we, women, tend to deal with anger is different from the way men do.

The expression of anger.

I grew up in the Mediterranean. In most Mediterranean countries, anger is expressed by shouting/yelling/screaming at someone else. There’s no problem with this form of expression. No one gets fazed by it. In most cases, especially when expressed with family members, the connection that ties us all penetrates the anger. So we shout a bit, shake the anger out, and then we forget about it. There is undeniable love underneath it.

There are other cultures with similar allowance for the expression of anger. Latin America, for example.

However, in most Anglo-Saxon influenced cultures, the expression of anger is not allowed whatsoever. No raising of your voice. No changing of your intonation. And children who ever display any type of anger are being frowned upon.

As women, we are conditioned to believe that anger is not feminine. And while boys are being scolded for their anger-induced behavior (“don’t hit” etc), girls are quite often told that they shouldn’t be angry.

Women tend to express anger differently than men.

Have you ever been asked by your partner if anything is wrong, just to say “No” – and at the same time thinking –  “Can’t he tell that I’m angry?”… Well. He can’t guess you’re angry because that’s not how he would express his anger…

Thing is, because we learn that anger is not allowed, both women and men tend to express it in hurtful ways. If we need to bottle it up for years, no wonder that when it does come out, it is massive.

However, men tend to express their anger quite aggressively. They become loud, and in some cases – verbally and/or physically abusive. That’s when they are being sent to anger management programs.

Women, on the other hand, tend to express anger in indirect ways. That’s why, according to Dr. Laura Petracek, women who attend anger management workshops are often puzzled. She developed an anger management program directed towards women.

She points out that women are more likely to express anger in any of the following ways: being punitive;  being rude; giving the silent treatment to our loved ones. Some of us use sarcasm. At times, we’ll yell and scream at the wrong person – knowing perfectly well they are not the trigger of our anger.

But let us go back to the beginning.

Anger and other emotions.

We can define emotions as a combination of sensations in our body accompanied by thought patterns.

Humans experience a vast array of emotions. Some perceived as negative, some perceived as positive, and a few are neutral.

When I say we perceive an emotion as negative, I mean we don’t want to feel it. It might be uncomfortable, or socially unacceptable, or even painful.

Anger is on the negative side of the scale. Although compared to some other so-called “bad” emotions like apathy, shame, and guilt, anger is not the worst. It has some energy to it, which means it can at least propel you to action. But it is still considered “negative”. We still don’t enjoy feeling it.

As a side note, I want you to realize that no emotion is either good or bad. We perceive an emotion as negative when we don’t like feeling it; we perceive an emotion as positive when we want to experience more of it. From an absolute perspective, though, all emotions are neutral. Ideally, they should be felt and released and that’s it. All of them – the good and the bad. But in order to fully grasp this, we first have to understand that the way we relate to our emotions is unhealthy.

The three ways we relate to our emotions.

This is the real reason that we think one emotion is good and the other is bad. It’s because we never learned how to deal with our emotions in a healthy way.

And we are dealing with our emotions by:

Repression: That’s when we are not allowing ourselves to ever experience the emotion. We are subconsciously blocking this emotion completely from our lives, fearing the consequences of ever feeling it. We’re usually not aware that we’re even doing it.

Suppression: When we suppress an emotion, we feel it surfacing and bubbling up but we push it down. We don’t want to feel it because it’s too painful – so we distract ourselves. We’ll do anything but let this emotion stay with us.

Expression: Expression is when we let it all loose. We cry, we laugh, we scream, we let everyone know what we’re feeling. It is, by all means, better than repression and suppression. But there’s a huge fault due to the way we were conditioned to understand our emotions and their triggers. As we believe someone (or something) is responsible for our emotion, we express it that way. And when it comes to anger, this can be particularly dangerous.

What is anger?

If you ever felt anger, you don’t need me to explain.

Although different people might experience it differently, when it takes over, you know.

It can be more intense or less, but it’s easy to detect.

I once heard that we feel anger when we want someone else to feel guilty. Think about it: when we feel anger, it’s because someone else did something “wrong”. If they apologize, if they correct their “mistake”, we might feel some relief.

Finding healthy ways to express anger.

The first trick is to even recognize that we are angry. It’s not easy after years of suppression. Even me, with my Mediterranean background, I had to turn 35 before realizing that I can, in fact, feel anger.

I remember seeing a therapist when I was in my early 30’s. telling her ever-so-proudly that I never feel anger. I was quite stupid and naive at the time (even though I do say so myself…).

Fast forward some 5 years, and with the help of a very emotions-conscious loving partner, I finally got to experience anger. And boy did it surface! It bubbled and boiled alright.

And now, happily angry, I can tell you I feel anger. A lot.

It comes up and I don’t try to hide it.

But I also learned that unhealthy ways to express anger can – and do – hurt others. And ultimately, my relationship with them.

So here’s how to express anger in healthy ways:

  1. Say: “I’m angry!”

I refrain from the dreadful saying: “You made me feel angry” or it’s many variations, such as “I’m angry because you [did something that upset me]” etc. This implies that someone else is responsible for my emotions, which is something we all grew up believing but it’s just BS. No one is responsible for anyone else’s emotions, period.

If I really want to explain myself, I will use the NVC formula (see Non-Violent-Communication by Marshall Rosenberg) which details an objective observation that triggers my emotion.

2. Take a break.

I go to a different room. (If I manage, I say in advance: “I need a few moments by myself right now”). There I let it all out: scream quietly, or into a pillow, whatever I want to scream at the other person.

I also tried the physical activity to release the anger. Some people recommend jumping, running, whatever gets the energy through your body. It never worked for me but I think it works for some people so I better mention it.

With my 4-year-old daughter, a pillow fight can do the trick if I can’t leave the room.

3. Letting go.

Truth be told, letting go is not a way to express anger. But it is the healthiest way of dealing with it. There are plenty of ways to learn how to let go of an emotion. I use the Sedona Method whenever I can.

It’s rather simple and quite profound. Basically, you give yourself permission to feel the anger. All the sensations in your body, all the thought patterns, the images that come up. Then you ask yourself 3 little questions: Could I allow myself to let the anger go? Would I? When?

It doesn’t matter if the answer to any of the question is yes or no. It is still effective in letting the anger – and any other feeling – go. You repeat the process as many times until you feel the anger lift out of your system. If that sounds interesting to you, I urge you to learn about the process more thoroughly.

Word of caution re makeup sex.

Talking about anger: makeup sex is not the best way to deal with anger…

If you dealt with the issue with your partner and you don’t feel the anger anymore, makeup sex can be awesome.

But if you are still charged with anger and are also feeling desire arise for your partner, that’s a different story.

It might mean that your patterns of connecting to your partner (A.K.A attachment style) need to be worked on. For more on this topic, I would highly recommend (again!) reading Emily Nagoski’s wonderful book Come As You Are.

Anger as an opportunity to practice patience.

I came across this proverb from the Bhutanese Guide to Happiness: words of wisdom from the world’s happiest nation.  I think it is a wonderful way to conclude my thoughts on anger:

Anger is a golden opportunity to practice patience.