Dr. Denise Renye, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Sex Therapy, MED MA, PsyD San Francisco, CA
Recently, anger has been a topic that comes up in many of my sessions. This feeling is often perceived as a dangerous or “bad” emotion that can harm you and others. People are often afraid of anger and are told that they should do everything possible to squash it. This is especially true for women and folx who are closer to the feminine end of the gender expression continuum. Instead, we are encouraged to be kind and to not cause trouble by expressing anger. We’re encouraged to be “nice,” and anger isn’t a “nice” emotion. Men (and folx who fall closer to masculine on the gender expression continuum) experience the opposite – they are socialized to feel and express anger, but not sadness. (Think of common, old school sayings like “Boys don’t cry” or “Don’t be a sissy.”)
Don’t Fall for the False Dichotomy
However, I’m here to say both are false! Emotions can be good or evil, right or wrong. It’s healthy for all people to express anger and for all people to express sadness. We need both emotions — they provide us with important information. When we feel angry, and we don’t take it seriously or make enough room to feel it (very different from expressing it), we abandon ourselves. In that abandonment of self, we might turn our anger on someone else. Subverting anger can also lead to over- or undereating, misusing alcohol, using other drugs, vegging for hours, binging on TV or video games, or other self-destructive behaviors.
Our Culture’s Relationship with Anger
I’ve always been interested in studying society and, more specifically, sociocultural expectations. I first read the book in my early 20s. The Anger Advantage: The Surprising Benefits of Anger and How It Can Change a Woman’s Life. The authors state that, as a culture, we don’t learn how to process anger. I agree. Again, we are taught to push it away — or indulge in it.
Lessons from the Magic of Anger
As a clinical supervisor in a Philadelphia early intervention program, I learned a lot more about anger and its potential implications. (And, let’s be real, I know a lot about it from being a Philly native. This city is not afraid to express its anger. I worked with families with children aged 3 and under who were being assessed for developmental delays. As they dealt with the fact that their child was delayed developmentalally, anger was a major part of their internal struggles.
As a social worker, I had to meet with many families, many of whom were not only receiving diagnosis for their child but also struggling with poverty. They were dealing with many devastating blows and their feelings were valid. I tried to support them by allowing their anger. We discovered deep grief beneath their anger as we did this. They were feeling a loss that no words could describe.
Make the most of your emotions
That’s what emotions do – they inform us about the impact the world has on us and help us process it. Expressing emotion is different from feeling it. Some ways to express anger are better than others. Anger is an internal process. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming and overwhelming. But again, when anger arises, it’s for a reason. Pay attention to the sensations in your body. Follow the embodied feeling of the feeling. You’ll find anger brings a message with it. What message is it trying to send you? Is there a boundary that was broken? Do you see injustices in the world?
From there, it’s important to take a pause. You can cause harm to yourself, others, and inanimate objects by rushing to express anger. (For example, throwing your phone at a brick wall. What I’m describing here may sound like a tall order, and it is. We aren’t taught in our culture how to deal with anger. Our entire country was founded on reducing the anger of others, including Native Americans and African Americans to name a few.
These Feelings can be used to help you sit comfortably
I know it’s hard to pause in the moment when the fire is blazing inside. But it is possible! It’s possible to take a moment to reflect and notice your feelings. This is different from trying to suppress, dissociate from, or deny them. Yoga and meditation are two practices that can help you cultivate pause. It will help you make better decisions if you can be present with your anger and pay attention to its subtleties instead of reacting. It can be a benefit to your life rather than a disadvantage. If anger isn’t controlled, it can become a train that runs amok. Meditation and yoga are two ways to train your bodymind. You can gain useful information about situations you wish to avoid or move towards. This information is invaluable for living a holistic, whole-person lifestyle.
I recommend expressing anger in healthy ways by screaming into a pillow, running, dancing to angry music and sending letters to your government officials. You can also attend protests and journal. There are many options. The important thing is that you find the one that works for your needs. Anger will surface again and again. The question is: How will you handle it? If you’d like support doing so, Reach out to me. I’m here.
Cox, D. L., Bruckner, K. H., & Stabb, S. D. (2003). The anger advantage: The surprising benefits of anger and how it can change a woman’s life. Broadway Books, New York.
© Copyright 2021 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Dr. Denise Renye is a licensed clinical psychologist and sex therapist, MEd., MA, PsyD, San Francisco, CA. Permission to publish granted