Women and Anger

How women can learn to make room for their anger, develop a voice, be assertive, and stop worrying about "rocking the boat" or being a "difficult patient"

I believe that all people, women included, have a right to feel validated in their emotional experiences, no matter the emotion in question. This means that happiness deserves just as much space and validation as sadness, and that contentment deserves just as much as anger. In Western society, women more so than men have been conditioned and educated to believe that certain emotions such as anger are not "ladylike" and should either not be felt or expressed or should at least be otherwise greatly watered down. But to what end? What good does suppressing a normal human emotion do? What purpose does this truly serve? People are simply uncomfortable with anger; both those who are experiencing the emotion and those who are around those experiencing it, and this occurs for various reasons. Usually, individuals who are angry have not done the best job at handling or managing the emotion and "act out" in ways that are externally or internally destructive which in turn has given anger a bad name. But anger is not the problem my dear friends- the behaviors and actions that follow the emotion are the problem. And women are just as much capable of controlling their actions as men or anyone else, and thus deserve to feel and express these emotions.

Women have just as much right to anger as men or anyone else. Anger serves a purpose just like any other emotion. It communicates to us that something has gone wrong. That a situation or event has occurred which is in some way going against something we are comfortable with or against our values. Maybe a person has done something to betray your trust or made a hateful or hurtful comment. Anger is one emotion that will be experienced when we feel wronged, and it allows us to determine what next course of action to take in order to make possible changes in our lives that may be helpful and necessary. For example, if I am in a relationship with someone who repeatedly lies to me, I will likely begin to feel angry towards this person and towards the situation. This emotion is letting me know that something is amiss, and this is my opportunity to confront the individual with an open conversation about how I am feeling and how his or her behavior is impacting me. I get to have a voice here; and it was anger that provided me with the cue that I needed to speak-up.

Women can begin to feel comfortable speaking up for themselves if they learn to speak to their emotions in a personal way; by taking ownership of their own feelings and experiences and being specific about what has resulted in a feeling of anger. For example, one might say something to the effect of, "I feel angry when you make hurtful comments about my appearance." or "I feel frustrated when I try to talk to you and you don't appear to be listening". It helps to own the emotion and use "I" statements, and to be specific about the behavior or situation that you are referring to- the more detail, the better. This also helps to keep the other person from being on the defensive in the conversation. While not everyone you choose to open up to will be receptive or make changes, you get to preserve your integrity and practice honesty and vulnerability. These latter practices will serve you well moving forward in other relationships as you continue to use your voice, I assure you.

On a different note, I think that women need to realize that having a voice is not the same as being difficult. There is so much harmful rhetoric out there about women who speak their minds and this unfortunately has been internalized by women. If you have a need or a concern, you have a right to voice it. I think that not doing so is much more problematic, particularly in the long run. Think of it this way: if you go to multiple doctor's appointments and you are worried about being a "difficult patient" to the extent that you never mention the pain you have been experiencing in your stomach (let's say this goes on for years and slowly builds) who knows the consequence of holding this information in. Things could be very minor and due to just basic dietary issues or could be very significant and cause a whole host of medical complications resulting in needed scans, medications, surgeries, and other issues. Your desire to people-please and not rock the boat actually leads to further complications for yourself and the doctor as well as those who love and care about you, so please, rock the friggin' boat! Who cares if a little water gets in? It's much better than not pointing out the small hole in the boat that could turn into a huge crater later on if it goes untended. 

And this brings me to a whole other topic- and sorry for the slight tangent: When it comes to dismissive doctors, first of all, you have to be an advocate for yourself in the medical community, particularly if you are a woman. And if the doctor is not listening to you, please, FIND A NEW ONE! I am so tired of hearing about physicians who are not taking women's symptoms seriously or are downplaying things or putting things under a label of stress or anxiety without so much as a scan or blood test or series of questions or thorough history. I get that we exist in the age of managed care and insurance delegating much of the work that is done, but I also believe in listening to your client's/patient's needs. So again, speak up for yourself. Ask for that scan or test. Always trust your gut. And if your doctor won't oblige, find one that will.

Back on topic now. Regarding dealing with anger and developing a voice, some things that can help women to be more assertive are to think about whether they want the relationship to be successful or not, because your partner or friend or family member deserves your honesty. And communicating your emotions and working through these issues is part of that work. Moreover, you will eventually let the anger out; no one is a steel trap forever. The anger will come out in subtle ways at first, but will likely result in an explosion of some sort later on, whether it will be you lashing out at someone that didn't deserve it or whether your health suffers or whether your job performance suffers. The emotion will win because it needs to be expressed because it has something to say. It is better to face it head on than to try to play the losing game of holding it all in. So find a way to express it. The best way is to directly address the situation or person that has contributed to the feeling you are experiencing, that is, again, YOURS to own. And if all else fails, use an alternative method such as music, art, exercise, or some other coping technique you have learned over the years. But by all means, give space to the emotion. Give it a voice. You and the emotion deserve it.

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