Why expressing rage may be good for your health and mind.
April 17, 2000 (San Francisco) -- Before her divorce, Jane, a 52-year-old
attorney, had a hard time dealing with an emotionally abusive husband who
badgered their son and verbally attacked her. Sure, she was angry at her ex,
but when researchers quizzed her about her experiences, she never once used the
term "angry" to describe her feelings. Ditto when detailing a difficult
situation at work. "Frequently I will say: 'It upsets me that I can't
express this without the depth of my emotion showing,' " she says. "I
try to kind of temper my reactions."
Jane's reluctance to say she's riled isn't surprising. Let's face it: Angry
women have a bad rap. The bitchy boss. The mad mama. No wonder so many women
opt to hide their rage. Well, scientists who spend their time figuring out why
fuming women suppress this form of self-expression have news for you. It's good
to get galled. "It's more than okay to get angry," says Deborah Cox,
PhD, a psychologist at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield.
"It's a part of being really alive."
By Jessie Knadler
You didn't see it coming. You didn't even feel it land — until a split second
later when you suddenly realize you've had the wind knocked out of you. What
just hit you? Someone's nasty comment, and it's cut you to the core.
Sometimes a faultfinder disguises her disapproval as a quasi-compliment:
"I would have never had the courage to talk to my boss the way you
did." Other times, a jab takes the form of a cautionary tale: "You're
going on a cruise? I still get nightmares...
Why, then, do women need to give themselves permission to get piqued? An
ongoing anger study by Cox and her colleagues reveals that women are just as
likely as men to become angry when they need to assert themselves, for
instance, when challenging an inaccurate restaurant tab. But, unlike men, women
report feeling ashamed and apologetic when they get ticked off. In marked
contrast, men feel like failures if they don't show their rage, says
Cox, who presented her findings in January at the 11th International Congress
on Women's Health in San Francisco. Cox is the co-author of the book Women's
Anger: Clinical and Developmental Perspectives.
Cox and her co-investigators found that women like Jane tended to view anger
as a liability, preferred using less loaded words like "frustration" or
"upset" to label the emotion, and were more comfortable than men with
suppressing anger. "The taboos against women feeling and expressing anger
are so powerful that even knowing when we are angry is not a simple
matter," writes psychologist and psychotherapist Harriet Goldhor Lerner,
PhD, in her popular self-help book, The Dance of Anger.
That's not a good thing. "When you're angry, you know your needs,
rights, and opinions in a way that you don't at any other time," Cox says.
"When you're happy or sad, you're not necessarily as aware of your
individual stake in things as you are when you're angry." So shake off that
shame, Cox advises, and try to remember that anger can help you think more
clearly, act more decisively, and initiate needed change. If an outburst spurs
guilty feelings, Cox suggests it might be helpful to have an "anger
buddy" -- a good friend you can call to give you a reality check on your
reaction. "Women help each other all the time to normalize their
anger," she says. "Making that relationship more overt and deliberate
may help women better use this resource."