Carol the Coach: Can Anger Be Productive?

Women and Anger: The Onion Theory

Learning how to identify and express anger is an investment in yourself and in your relationship with others. Women typically avoid anger. They ignore it because it is such an uncomfortable feeling. They have not been taught that anger is energizing, liberating, productive, and invigorating. Conflict and anger is natural, necessary and normal and it can motivate you to take necessary steps to change your work environment, assert yourself with your family and get motivated about what you are doing. Not only is it a necessary emotion to process conflict, but it actually can bring people closer, if handled appropriately. You heard me right...in healthy relationships, when conflict is experienced ...it may cause strife at first but then it breeds intimacy and you should feel closer as a result.

Men have been socialized to recognize their anger as a normal emotion. They have been taught to channel it appropriately by directing it verbally, dealing with it competitively, and “physicalizing" it through sports and activities. Were you taught to use any of these methods?

Imagine women’s emotions like being an onion. When you peel away the top layer of the onion, you see the emotion sadness. If you peel away the sadness, there would be anger underneath. Often times women don’t get past the sadness. Sadness is an important emotion, but it typically doesn’t mobilize us into action. Anger is much more proactive and moves you to a place where you can resolve issues.

Women need to get more comfortable with their anger. Here are some techniques to help:

Acknowledge what you were taught about anger as a child.

What messages did you receive about anger as a child? It is unlikely that your parents taught you how to channel your anger, or they may have given you advice that wasn’t physically healthy. Women historically have been encouraged to suppress their angry emotions. When you deny your anger, you naturally lose touch with your wants and desires. You create an internal sense of numbness, and lose a sense of who you are.

Acknowledge it!

Write down three things in the past that have made you angry. Anger is a necessary emotion. You may have gotten angry in the past about your husband clipping his toenails in the living room or your teenager who doesn’t pick-up after himself or the boss who doesn't recognize your work. By writing it down, you externalize it and move it from inside the body to outside the body.

Talk about it!

Find a supportive person who can encourage you to share your angry feelings. Find a safe person or place to share your anger. Your best friend or a women’s support group can be a tremendous resource as a vehicle to acknowledge anger.

List the ways that you usually express anger.
Do some self evaluation and decide if you believe that you channel anger in a healthy way. Some women avoid it, or become passive-aggressive which will not assist you in using it productively.

Find a role model who deals with anger and conflict directly.

Is there someone in your life who expresses anger directly and then is able to let it go? Look for role models and then talk to them about your thoughts, feelings and fears about expressing anger.

Remember anger is natural and a necessary emotion. Practice assertiveness and share your angry feelings and discuss ways to move beyond it. Stay steadfast in your desire to work out conflict. It can guide you in positive ways!