Women and Anger

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, 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. Also, we have been taught it isn't okay to our feel anger, and that it is bad. 

We are socialized this way.

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.

Our families model this for us.

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.

Women and Anger: Learning a New Way

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

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!

Women and Anger: Using Anger to be Healthy and Wise

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.
  • Jealous
  • Threatened
  • Disappointed
  • Humiliated
  • Sad
  • Overwhelmed
  • Afraid
  • Guilty
  • Embarrassed

“Anger across the Gender Divide.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/monitor/mar03/angeracross.