I’ve been feeling angry a lot recently. Angry at the people around me, frustrated by ideas that differ from my own and angry at how the world is. I’m finding it hard to work out how to handle my anger.
Women are always taught to control their anger, to accommodate others and not ‘put themselves’ on people around them. We’re told that we’re irrational, hysterical, that our anger comes from our biology, our femininity, our inability to ‘just be rational’. This means we can’t see our anger as having a real source. Our anger doesn’t come out of nowhere but rather, like everyone else, it comes from a place of pain, frustration, or stress. Because we are conditioned to think this way it makes it all the more difficult for us to acknowledge our rage, let alone deal with it constructively.
I want advice on how can we first recognise we are angry and then how can we turn our anger into something powerful and productive.
Thanks R x
Hey Angry B*tch! (you didn’t actually introduce yourself, but we may as well beat the internet to saying as much of you, and myself, and any non-male who expresses anger)
Thanks for a lovely question which is close to my heart! In honor of its central concern, in this response I am going to leave in all the expletives that I would usually edit out.
Before we get any further into this, there are a couple of important things I want to say right at the start. The first is to state outright that I have absolutely none of the qualifications that would make my answer well informed. My archaeology degree is useless here, as usual. The second is to say that it would be remiss of me not to make it explicit that race compounds this issue for most women. I’m not going to go into this in depth, this is just a reminder to go into this topic with the consideration that most women also have eight feet of racist bullshit to wade through on top of the rest of this.
So let’s begin to answer your question by saying that you’re fucking right! I too am angry all the fucking time and you know what, it’s just shit because I haven’t learnt any ways to process it. As any good writer would, I began my research for this question by googling ‘how to handle anger as a woman’. There is so much introspective emotional advice out there that is specifically aimed at women: how to deal with sadness, friendships, mental health problems, study stress. How to make yourself soft and functional for the use of others. Already, I’ve proven you right; it is so far apparent that women are not meant to engage with their anger. In fact, most of the articles I found were titled ‘how to handle an angry woman’. How fucked up is that? A lot of these were aimed at men who have found themselves alone, face to face with an angry woman in the wild, with their phones out of charge and pockets out of anti-woman spray. I can only imagine what kind of person is writing these articles and doesnt think the solution could be to ‘stop pissing off the women in your life, you infantile fuck.’ But I suppose that’s the point you and I are both making here: we are taught that one should be able to treat a women like shit without having to deal with her anger.
That established, you first asked about how to recognise anger in yourself. Again, I have none of the relevant qualifications to answer this as a mental health professional would. I have google and my own infinite opinions. That said, here’s what I think: the first step, is to accept that you can be angry. Like you said, “we can’t see our anger as having a real source”, which results in an inability to think that anger is ok, that it can be a rational response to something. For me, the feeling that there’s something inherently wrong with being angry gets in the way of accepting or even knowing that I am. As an antidote, maybe find images of anger that you can accept (the one that always comes to mind for me is Charlize Theron, covered in dirt and spitting in Mad Max as she pulls back her arm and punches Tom Hardy in the face despite the metal covering half his head. For something less visceral, think every argument in Grace and Frankie.) After that, have a think about when you have been angry, and then how it felt. Anger, like all emotions, is physical, and being attuned to the sensation of it or what you tend to think when you’re angry will help you recognise it in the future. To be able to recognise anger you’ll probably have to accept that you, like all people, experience anger, and then know how you feel when you’re angry.
Then, how to make our anger powerful and productive, as you say? First of all, I love the entirely correct implicit assumption here, which is that anger can be a useful tool. As I’ve already said, anger like all emotions is a physical sensation. You can feel your body hum with an energy, right to your fingertips and toes. You might even feel it in your teeth, or a twitchy impulse to act, scream. There’s this electric adrenaline to the sensation of anger. All this to say that anger is uniquely energising. It’s a catalyst, it begs change. Your anger can power you to do things you wouldn’t normally. This isn’t inherently good or bad, but it does make sense of barrier between traditional femininity and anger.
There are three responses to anger: turning it inwards, turning it outwards, and expressing it with assertivity and control. The first results in passive aggression and/or hurting yourself. The second is just regular aggression, and hurting others. Unsurprisingly, to manage your anger healthily, and to make it useful to yourself, aim for assertivity. After having understood that you are angry, you can use that to act on it: to have a difficult conversation or change something about your life. You don’t need to feel angry in the moment of acting, but recognising that you were and behaving in a calm and assertive manner that honours the way you felt – that is powerful.
I want to finish with some grains of salt to take this article with. Firstly, it’s meant to apply to a particular situation; in which someone does not experience excessive anger or true difficulties as a result of their relationship with anger, but is thinking about how they can better use their anger to make changes. Secondly, again, I really shouldn’t be taken as a source of authority on this or any other emotional issue. I’m really pushing this one because I don’t know you, I don’t know the context of this question. If your anger is destructive, if you find yourself regretting things you do when you are angry, if you are angry incredibly often or get angry over small incidents, you might want to consider trying some forms of anger management. I’m going to put a list of some mental health resources at the end of this answer (credit to my dear friend C for having this list to hand).
To round up; yes the world is shit, the patriarchy still exists despite whatever men in Hollywood think, and so a lot of women have never really gotten in touch with their anger. That rightly pisses of you and me both. To be able to recognise your anger, be ok with it, then try to learn how being angry manifests in you. To be able to use it, practice being assertive, and let your understanding of your anger be a good enough reason for you exercise that assertivity. And finally if anger is really a problem for you, don’t take my advice aside from this last bit: get help from a credible source.
All my fucking love,
Hey everyone, I love people asking me questions as much as I love doing anything to avoid having to write more job applications (and that’s a lot). Please donate questions generously at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Angry All the Time: An Emergency Guide to Anger Control – Ronald Potter-Efron
- Dealing with Frustration and Anger – Tara Koellhoffer, Madonna M. Murphy, Sharon L. Banas
- Rage: A Step-By-Step Guide to Overcoming Explosive Anger, – Ronald Potter-Efron
- Overcoming Anger and Irritability: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques – William Davis
General Mental Health Resources
- Signposts to local mental health services
- 0300 123 3393
- Emotional support and specialist information for anyone affected by mental health problems
- 0845 767 8000
- Expert, accredited advice and information for anyone affected by mental health problems
- Culturally sensitive emotional support for adults effected by mental illness and domestic abuse
- Helpline able to offer support in a number of Asian languages, such as Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and Gujarati
- 0121 522 7007
- Here is a link to a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) self-help course you can work through by yourself