Women & Anger: Finding empowerment in your anger
Updated: Dec 12, 2022
Anger is meaningful data. It’s a feeling that deserves our attention and curiosity as it can signal to us we are being hurt, our needs and wants aren’t being met, or we are being violated in some way. When used well, anger can propel us into action, empowering us to step into the position of being an agent of personal, relational or social change.
Women have long been discouraged from the awareness and expression of anger. When women do express their anger they are more likely to be dismissed as irrational or “a bitch.” This societal rejection of women who express anger, has been internalized by many women leaving them afraid of their own anger and unsure of how to use it. According to Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., a leading researcher on the psychology of women, there are two common positions women assume with their anger: “The Nice Lady” or “The Bitch.”
"The Nice Lady"
Nice ladies work tirelessly to avoid anger at all costs. In fact, even knowing when they are angry is a challenge. In situations where anger is appropriate, nice ladies stay silent or they become tearful or self-blaming. Nice ladies keep anger to themselves and avoid directly expressing how they think and feel especially when it could make another person uncomfortable. Instead, their energy is directed toward protecting the other person in order to “keep the peace." Ultimately, this leads to a pile-up of unconscious anger and rage while the issue that elicited their anger goes unaddressed.
This woman is not timid about her anger. However, she often gets locked in a pattern of ineffective fighting, complaining and blaming that only perpetuates her current situation. Although an angry woman may seem powerful, she uses her voice ineffectively which leads her to be written off and not taken seriously. This only fuels her bitterness and anger, while again the real issue remains unaddressed.
Both styles of engaging with anger leave women feeling stuck in a sense of being helpless and powerless. So how do we get unstuck and start using anger in a way that leaves us feeling empowered?
Identify that you are angry. For some, anger is so defended against that it is difficult to recognize this feeling. If you have difficulty remembering the last time you were angry, you likely fall into this category. Think about times you have felt wronged, missed, hurt, or guilty. Tracking these feelings may lead you to some of your anger. Additionally, utilizing therapy can help you better recognize and become familiar with this feeling.
If you recognize you’re angry and feel activated take time to cool down. When emotional intensity runs high, we can’t think clearly and we often return to familiar and unproductive ways of expressing ourselves.
Once you’ve regulated your emotions take some time to self-reflect and get clear. It’s easy to get stuck in a place of assigning blame and/or venting when we are angry. This only leaves us in a nonproductive use of our energy because we are solely focusing on changing the other person. It’s important to consider how you are part of this dynamic. Be honest with yourself when you ask yourself the following questions:
What am I really angry about?
What is the problem and whose problem is it
How can I sort out who is responsible for what?
If this is a pattern, how am I contributing to the maintenance of it?
What do I want to change?
After taking some time to reflect on these questions and have determined that you want to speak up consider how you want to communicate effectively:
Avoid “below the belt” tactics such as blaming, warning, name-calling, interrogating, etc.
Speak in “I” statements
Be direct and clear about your needs
Be mindful of your tone and body language
Remember that change occurs slowly in close relationships. Keep practicing the above steps, while holding in mind the person who you are communicating with is also an individual with their own unique set of feelings, beliefs, and histories.
Be gracious towards yourself in this process. You are strengthening a new muscle which takes time, patience, and practice.