Updated: Aug 17
Article written by Alix Johnson
Published in Family Circle Magazine / May
It's not wrong to get angry - indeed, it's a case of better out than in. But you do need to be able to express your anger healthily.
Silverfish gnawed through your favourite cashmere sweater. Someone scraped your car and didn’t leave a note. The airline lost your baggage. Life doesn’t always go smoothly, and we must all handle frustrations and irritations, but sometimes they can overwhelm us and we respond with anger. At least, advise the experts, that’s what a healthy person does.
The reality is that few women feel comfortable when the heat of anger rushes through them and, as a result, they may not always express it appropriately. We might fume, snap, get irritable, rumble with dissatisfaction, fly into a disproportionate rage or spiral into despair and depression. Few of us feel it’s our emotional right to assert our anger as we would happiness or sadness. And there’s a reason why.
Anthropologist Stephen Juan at the University of Sydney says women are conditioned from a young age to view anger as a masculinising emotion. It just isn’t ladylike! On the other hand, sadness, melancholy and tears are usually seen as feminine qualities. And so, the stage is set for internal conflict.
Inevitably conflict comes because, as psychologists unanimously confirm, all emotions are healthy. What is not healthy is to deny – or suppress – an emotion or not to be in touch with those emotions (this is also called dissociation).
Amanda Ferguson, a Sydney psychologist and author of Life Works (HarperCollins, rrp$34.95) likens the gamut of emotions to a rainbow – you should aim to feel equal amounts of all emotions, not too much of one and not too little of another.
“Anger is not a dirty word", insists Ferguson. “It’s just one of the many feelings in our vast emotional repertoire. Often anger is the result of perceived powerlessness or injustice to ourselves or others. It tells us about what we value and believe in. And once our anger is provoked it’s because a boundary has been crossed.”
If being in touch with our emotions and knowing we are angry is the first step, then the next is to identify the real source of that anger. “Is the anger a simple response to a situation, such as being angry when someone takes our seat on the train?” asks Ferguson.
“Or is it tapping into deeper sources of emotion, such as feeling extraordinarily angry because as a child our sibling took our belongings or got things we didn’t?”
This step involves self-reflection and requires honesty and ownership of our feelings.
Knowing the real source of our anger will then dictate whether or not our expression of it is appropriate in the context or situation. If you want and rave at a person for accidentally taking your seat on the peak-hour train it might be worth reflecting on why it provoked such a huge response. If you’re unsure how to judge the appropriateness of your response, suggests Ferguson, imagine someone else in the same situation and whether or not you would consider their reaction as justified and in proportion to the event that triggered it.
However, it is important to let yourself feel all emotions, including anger, no matter how much discomfort this might trigger. Ferguson warns suppressed anger can have serious consequences. “A long-term habit of repressing anger can lead to depression” warns Ferguson. This is because anger is your body and mind saying “no, something is not right!”, and supplying you with a rush of energy to make that situation right. If not acted upon, that energy will spiral from anger to despair to depression to detachment where you no longer feel anything and can’t respond to the situation. This may manifest itself as irritability, poor concentration, moodiness, depression, addictions and can even go as far as suicidal tendencies.
Beating pillows and screaming so no one can hear you are useful tools to vent anger in a safe way. So is physical exercise, crying, chatting with a friend or therapist, and even talking to yourself.
“Talking over issues with a good friend gives insights, reflection and understanding “says Ferguson. And then there is the option of professional help with a counsellor or therapist to clarify issues and help you relearn healthy behaviour.