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December 15, 2022

Why Are We So Afraid of Feeling Anger?

I was sitting with a friend the other day when she told me a horrific thing her co-worker did to her.

Apparently to get more business and to keep a client happy, she asked my friend to go out with this man who is a bit obsessed with Asian women. This man and my friend have never met each other. They haven’t seen each other’s pictures or bios. They know nothing about each other. They didn’t meet online. They have no mutual friends. The man is white; my friend is Asian American.

When my friend shared the whole story and showed me the messages, I was livid. It was wrong on so many levels. Her co-worker’s sense of entitlement. Her lack of ethics where she thought it was okay to “pimp out” a colleague for business growth. The way she handled the entire situation. Most importantly, her co-worker broke the sister-code, which is unacceptable to me.

My friend apologized for being angry. She is a well put together woman otherwise. She felt guilty about being terse in her message exchange. She looked at me to ask if her words were too much. She sought my permission for her anger. I laughed, “Do you want me to go punch her?” This non-violence-loving-woman said, “Yes, will you do that?” I had to remind her that I was kidding. I could tell that she wanted to avoid feeling angry, and it helped when I took on the responsibility of infuriation.

I have been thinking about anger a lot since our meeting. My friend was apologetic for owning her rightful feelings. Why do we prefer to avoid anger? Is it because many of us were raised to fear anger? Many of us have been rejected in the past for expressing anger. We were taught that anger weakens bonds. Anger represents lack of control over your mind and thoughts. Anger has been misunderstood as a negative and weak emotion. Remember the cliché: Angry woman is not a “good woman.”

I get that it’s human nature to avoid conflict. But it’s also understandable to get upset when we have been wronged. People can interpret situations differently. I was angrier at the co-worker for gaslighting my friend and making her feel like she did something wrong. That’s emotional manipulation. My friend was angry because her co-worker made assumptions about her situation and integrity. So, a situation that made my friend and me angry may not make someone else feel livid at all (for example, other reactions could include laughter at her co-worker’s insipid behavior). But just because she interpreted things a certain way, it doesn’t mean that she was interpreting things “wrong” because she got angry.

We have rarely been told that anger can be on a spectrum. We think of anger and associate it with violence, or aggression, or lack of safety, or unruly behavior, or hurtful words. Why does anger always have to be understood as uncontrollable? Do we associate danger with anger? Why do we feel “impure” when we get angry? Why does the ego take over so deeply and fertilize the perfectionist tendencies to be “proper” all the time? Does anger have to represent contempt? Does it have to bring out defensiveness? These are questions I have been thinking out loud.

I feel that anger doesn’t have to be raw and untamed. I am extremely passionate as a person and devoted to my work, relationships, and life. When you care a lot, you hurt a lot and express it. I am aware of my triggers and pay close attention to them. I have never neatly folded what bothers me and kept it on the side. I get angry, and I own it. To me, anger—like love or joy or sorrow or grief—is a human condition. That’s why I never hold a grudge. I believe that if I don’t work with the full range of my emotions, my growth will be stunted both in my personal life as well as professional career. I believe that “healthy anger” brings us closer. In fact, I don’t trust anyone who chooses to pretend that they only feel positive emotions. If someone doesn’t express their anger with me, I feel stonewalled. To me, that represents fear of intimacy and vulnerability.

Anger doesn’t have to translate as caustic and incorrigible behavior. To better cope with angry feelings, can we lean on open communication instead of criticism? Won’t we build stronger relationships if we express our frustrations without lashing out or berating somebody else? The more open we are with anger—just the way we are with love and joy—the more monumental our growth.

Learning how to properly deal with anger can make a huge difference in the way you’re able to live and enjoy life.

~

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