Shrew, bitch, battle-axe, fishwife, harridan, she-devil, ball breaker, drama queen. Irrational, aggressive, hysterical, melodramatic, hateful, crazy, highly strung, histrionic.
“Calm down dear!”
The angry woman is subject to many negative and pejorative terms not usually levelled at her male counterpart. From an early age, society and parents make clear to little girls that anger is ugly, unfeminine, and definitely not ok. But in belittling the little girl’s right to anger, they take away her ability to express her distress. Without healthy modelling of positive ways to utilise and harness the power of anger, that little girl grows into a woman who avoids expressing her anger at all costs, or turns it inwards against herself, or has no idea how to express that she is hurt, or adopts addictive behaviours, such as comfort eating, to avoid feeling it at all.
I am currently trying to deal with my own anger issues. Recently, my unexpressed and unresolved anger has been spilling out all over the place in all the wrong places with all the wrong people. I am scared of my anger, of the depth and ferocity of it, of the feeling that I might somehow be consumed by it or completely lose control of it altogether. Recently I had a huge, shouting, swearing, totally out of control showdown with the Woman Uncut midwife. There were tears and snot and nails and hair – it was not pretty, was over something pretty petty and my behaviour was sooooo out of order. Like all the other times when I have totally lost it, I was left feeling terrible and trying to patch up some viciously inflicted wounds. I realised that I could not go on avoiding dealing with my anger issues and I needed to try to figure out what was really going on.
Anger is a basic human emotion just like sadness, joy, excitement, fear and all the others. We unhelpfully ascribe emotions to “good” or “bad” categories, as if somehow we had a choice in our feelings, and in this hierarchy anger comes top of the list of the baddies. But we have a full range of emotions for a reason and anger is a feeling that says “You are hurt”. Anger tells you what you don’t want, that something is happening which is overstepping your internal boundaries and you don’t like it. It feels uncomfortable, and that is intentional because discomfort is more likely to provoke us to take action to resolve our hurt and restore our balance. The anger itself is not the problem – it is simply the catalyst to move you to protect yourself and clearly express your boundaries.
However, if years of conditioning have left you, like me, unable to express your anger in a healthy way, then you lose touch with what it is you really want and where your boundaries are. If you have never learned the skills to stay with your anger and tune in to what it is trying to tell you, then you don’t recognise what you don’t want and lose touch with the real you, and eventually you react emotionally in a display of fireworks and cursing. Or, if your conditioning has left you in the passive-aggressive camp, you sulk and pierce imaginary daggers into the skull of whoever is pissing you off.
As I am beginning to understand, anger can be a positively powerful force if you make the choice to own it, accept it for what it is and trust the messages that it is giving you. The next time you feel the red mist descending, catch it, feel it, breathe – what is really going on? Is it really the socks on the floor in the kids room, or is it that your partner forgot to do the really important thing that you asked them to do this morning? Is it really about the guy in the car park who took “your” space, or the fact that your friend let you down at short notice again? Once you know what it is about, you are in a very powerful position to respond deliberately and proportionately to what the issue actually is. Thank your anger for showing you where your boundaries are being transgressed, and then let it go.
Until then, I’ll be punching pillows,
How do you deal with your anger? What things make you angry? Do you blow your lid over seemingly small irritations? Share your thoughts below.