Women are taught from an early age that it’s just not ladylike to get angry.
The social matrix in which we exist, moulded as it is by patriarchal constructs of what “acceptable” feminine qualities are and are not, forces women to disown parts of themselves that would be construed as outside the gendered norms expected of us.
A woman who expresses her anger is “ugly,” “erratic,” and “crazy.” It was not all that long ago that women who behaved in any way violently were imprisoned in asylums for being “difficult.”
A study conducted in 2015 observed the gender bias in a simulated jury deliberation. The Arizona State University study found men who spoke with force were perceived as more credible, whilst women who expressed their opinions with any degree of the same conviction and heat were perceived as stubborn and resistant by those around them.
It’s a double standard that is prominent in politics, at home, in society, and in the workplace.
“Over and over, we are told that women are not allowed to be angry. It makes us unattractive to powerful men who want us to be quiet.” ~ Elizabeth Warren
We are raised in a society that says anger isn’t “feminine.” That the feminine energy is nurturing, gentle, and soft, when in fact, the feminine energy is all of that and can also be wrathful, rageful, and violent.
Think of earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. These are all manifestations of Mother Earth, as much as the nourishment and grounding presence of Nature in her infinite beauty.
In actual fact, anger is one of our six primal emotions (sorrow or grief, joy, fear, surprise, and disgust being the others). It is hardwired into the brain’s reward circuits and sounds the alarm, preparing us for a fight-or-flight response.
Anger is here to let us know that:
>> something is important to us, and that we need to effectively communicate that our boundary is being violated.
>> a need is being chronically unmet and cannot go on being ignored.
>> there is an imbalance in this situation that is important to you, and you have to find a solution.
It’s important to remember that anger doesn’t hurt others; how we communicate our anger potentially can. If we’ve never been taught how to express our anger, it can become a destructive force within our lives.
We either suppress it until it becomes a bitterness poisoning our relationships, or it becomes an explosive reaction that bursts out in inappropriate and harmful ways.
In fact, studies show that chronic anger occurs when we swallow our rage, and it can lead to increased symptoms of depression, insomnia and anxiety, and substance abuse.
Here are my four steps to release anger in a healthy way.
Step 1. Acknowledge the anger is telling you something.
Recognise that you are feeling angry and that this anger is your body’s natural way to tell you that something is happening that is contrary to what you desire. Take a moment to examine whether it’s a boundary that’s been breached or a need that is not being met. When you take time to identify the underlying trigger within you, you create a safe space for taking the next action.
Step 2. Bring yourself back into a ventral state.
Anger triggers your fight-or-flight response, so make sure to get back into a ventral state before you take any action. When you’re in a fight-or-flight response, you’re more likely to be reactive. The prefrontal cortex (the thinking part of your brain) is less activated in this state, increasing your likelihood of saying or doing something that you might regret.
This could mean stepping away from the situation in order to calm down. Bring your attention back to your breath. Your breath is your most powerful tool. As you breathe in, focus your attention on your ribs moving out. As you exhale, allow them to move back in. Inhale for three seconds. Hold for three seconds. Release for five seconds.
Step 3. Rage on a page.
If you’re still experiencing anger and you’ve given yourself some space to cool down but it’s still not working, take 20 minutes to “rage on a page.” This is a method by Dr. John Sarno who specialises in psychosomatic therapies.
Turn off all notifications and distractions, set up some binaural music (you can find them free on YouTube) to activate both sides of your brain, and for 20 minutes (set a timer) get everything that has you in a rage out onto the page.
Journal your thoughts without judgement, even if it is wishing for that coworker to jump off a cliff or running your ex over with a truck. Once you’ve got to the 20-minute mark, stop and reset. Go back to step 2 and practice some self-regulating techniques like the breathing exercise to bring you back into a ventral state.
If that’s not working, give yourself a hug or receive one from someone. The technical term is “Havening.” Cross your arms over your body, touch your shoulders, and run your hands down your arms to your elbows, saying a mantra such as “calm and relaxed” in your mind. On a neurological level, this puts us in a parasympathetic state.
Step 4. Identify next steps.
If it’s a coworker who hasn’t been pulling their weight or a partner who is not keeping their word, it’s time to identify the next steps.
Now that you know why you’re angry, it’s important to express this to the other person in a healthy way. Express your need, set your boundary, define your desire and the consequences you are willing to put in place to protect your health and well-being.
Set a plan of action in place, and when you’re feeling calmer, it’s time to have the conversations.