Has anger ever taken the best of you? Have you ever regretted your reaction because you felt out of control? Did shame overwhelm you after these incidents? You are not the only one. Many of us women with a “temper” go through this. This can definitely make us feel powerless.
Expressing Anger Is Not Socially Acceptable for Women
We women are raised to think that anger is an ugly emotion, and this perpetuates the shame that comes with anger. Due to this, some of us don’t express our anger and keep it bottled up most of the time. On the other end of the spectrum are some us who may blow-up on the smallest provocation. This usually means that a much deeper issue was triggered. There is simmering anger underneath that was stirred up by a recent seemingly small provocation. In either case, we feel powerless. If we understand anger properly, we can utilize it to empower ourselves to make significant changes that lead to a happy authentic life.
Anger Is an Important Emotion for Survival and Social Functioning
Anger can provide important information about potential danger, and it can help us navigate social interactions and relationships. When we get angry, our body sends us information that something is not OK. When our life is in danger, anger is a powerful emotion that can help us overcome fear and propel us to fight for our life.
Similarly, in social situations, anger helps us realize that someone is crossing our boundaries or denying us of our rights in some ways. Anger can inspire us to fight for justice or set clearer boundaries. If we explore it, anger can help us learn about deep vulnerabilities and feelings that we may not be aware of.
Use Anger to Understand Yourself and Become Empowered Instead of Controlled by It
In addition to helping us survive and navigate social situations, anger can help us understand our deeper emotions. When we understand what leads to our anger, we can have more control over our behaviors. This knowledge empowers us to make better choices in life that will lead to less frustration.
How can you achieve this insight and empowerment? The first step is understanding that anger is not a primary emotion. When you get angry, you are usually not aware of feelings that are underneath the anger. This is probably an adaptation for our survival. In a situation when our life depends on it, we get a boost of adrenaline, so we can fight or flee.
Similarly, when our self-esteem or ego is affected, we often can feel very threatened. We can also respond in a fight or flight mode. In this case, the flight mode is not reacting at all, while the fight mode is expressing extreme anger, such as yelling or assaulting someone. What leads us to adopt one of these two ways of reacting to anger?
We usually rely on these two kinds of responses because it was most likely the way we learned to survive in very difficult situations in our life. Our environment perhaps warranted this extreme vigilance, and these behavioral patterns stayed with us. This usually happens when we grow up in a dysfunctional family or experience continuous or repeated abuse, betrayal, neglect, maltreatment, or lack of empathy from parents or other important figures in our childhood. This kind of trauma is known as developmental trauma.
Due to these unfortunate experiences, we continue perceiving small threats as extreme, and thus naturally we resort to fight or flight responses. Dealing with trauma can help you get to the point when you don’t need to feel that everything is an extreme threat and violation of your boundaries.
Expressing Your Anger Can Help You Build Stronger Relationships
Once you become strong enough by working on your trauma, you can utilize your anger to get in touch with your emotions. When you feel angry, you can explore where this anger comes from and why this particular trigger caused you to feel angry. You can explore what fears, hurts, and other feelings are underneath the anger. Once you understand these emotions, you can feel empowered to react in an assertive manner. Instead of resorting to fight or flight responses, you can express your emotions in more empowering ways.
You can communicate with the relevant party (a person that caused you to feel angry at the moment) by saying something like: “What you said made me feel ….” Those feelings can be: angry, hurt, frustrated, unloved, etc. Depending on how important and close this person is, you can express deeper or shallower emotions. For instance, if you are talking to your partner, you can express that something he said made you feel unloved. This helps you grow closer because he will understand you better and feel flattered that what he says matters to you. Perhaps he will try to make amends with you and show you that he didn’t want to hurt you.
If you are talking to someone who is not so close to you, you can say something like “That’s annoying.” You can also ask further questions and let them explain themselves. This will put them on the spot rather than make you feel powerless. They will understand that you are not affected by their provocation. Or, if they didn’t mean anything bad, they will explain themselves, and things will be Ok.
In both instances, you take the power in your hands with your anger. You express it and allow yourself to set clear boundaries by saying that what’s done or said is not OK with you.
Being Connected with Your Emotions Helps You Feel Informed and Empowered
Avoiding feelings is another natural consequence of trauma. In some families this is customary. Thus, we distract ourselves by various things in life. Some of us may work too much, others may avoid self-care but instead focus on caring for everyone else, while others may resort to excessive eating, drinking, or shopping. Many of us resort to all of these described ways of avoiding our feelings.
In her book Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors: Overcoming Internal Self-Alienation, Janina Fisher explains how this compartmentalization allows people to function better, but therefore they suffer from feeling that they are faking, which she calls “False Self.” This pattern may further reinforce the notion that we don’t matter as a human being. Thus we start living our lives on autopilot fulfilling the assigned roles without pausing to see if we live according to our values and yearning. This usually keeps us feeling empty, depressed, or anxious.
What happens when you start feeling and acknowledging your emotions? You actually can start noticing what works and what doesn’t work for you. You can have a better idea of which people are good to be around and who triggers irritation. Being in tune helps you develop the intuition that can help you make better decisions. This is very empowering because you can start figuring out how to arrange your life in the ways that will work for you.
How Can You Become Connected with Your Emotions?
As already mentioned, if you have a lot of trauma, it’s wise to work with a good therapist that provides trauma-focused therapy. It’s helpful if you work with someone who practices somatic work in addition to regular talk therapy. The reason for this is that memory of trauma is stored in your body. This will aid in the processing of trauma significantly. In his book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel van der Kolk M.D emphasizes the importance of processing trauma through the body in addition to a talk-therapy. According to him, if we rely only on talk therapy, unresolved trauma in our body will still remain.
Besides processing trauma, this kind of therapy is very helpful in learning how to “be in your body.” Being in your body helps you be more attuned with your emotions. Other activities that can aid this process include activities that involve body movement, creativity, intuition, mindfulness, etc. Examples of these are dance, yoga, meditation, crafts, music, drama, etc. You need to choose activities that feel good because starting to feel your emotions through some of these activities may trigger your trauma.
Above everything, be compassionate towards yourself and don’t be angry for feeling angry. This is the time in your life when you can be the one who treats yourself well.