Anger is an important emotion like happiness, sadness, frustration and disgust. It evolved as a survival emotion and belongs to the fight and flight response in the face of danger
I am always composed to the extent that I have been accused of never getting angry. For the longest time I took that as a compliment. For sure anger is something that I don’t want to be identified with. None of us want to. I thought I was being Zen. Every time I faced a situation where I should have technically lashed out in anger, all I would do is compose myself to be this perfect woman who didn’t shout out. Most perfect women I meet don’t lash out in anger. From a very young age girls get subtly trained by everybody around. We see our grandmothers, mothers, sisters and daughters bite their anger or displace it. Children being hit because wives cannot express their anger to husbands is a common example.
And truth be told, in a conflict, I would freeze up. And even though I may seem calm on the outside, in the privacy of my thoughts I have composed myself to avoid seeing the situation as is. I rationalised through an angry situation. That was my defence.
When I was asked if I was angry, I would say, not really. It was not that I was lying. I truly could not express anger normally, although it was totally justified.
I have come to understand that there are small life lessons woven into our fabric of experiences, and if we don’t learn it the first time it will knock us harder till we face it.
And so be it. I found myself in exactly the same place that I left the anger at. There came a time when I knew it was pure injustice and I had to lash out but didn’t or couldn’t. What happened next was interesting. My body responded; my jaws clenched. They refused to listen to my rational mind. I knew this was something I would have to deal with. I had this raging negative energy in me and didn’t have an outlet.
I engaged in physical activity. I ran, did Zumba and I ran some more. It helped but not to the extent I hoped. The reason being, I didn’t know it was anger that was searching for a vent. I still felt my jaws tighten up, my blood pressure spiked and I began feeling anxious over small things. Of course it freaked me out. That was not the composed, rational me at all. One day I witnessed a boxing class right outside my complex lawn. For some reason I found myself attracted to it. So I signed up for a
It took my sensei just one class to figure out that my punches had a ‘pow’ loaded with anger. This kind-eyed teacher had almost a spiritual smile on his face as he let me jab and punch out my fury. And it felt good. For the first time in a long while I got in touch with my anger, I became aware of something that I didn’t want to acknowledge and it was not so bad. He didn’t judge me in fact he encouraged me and that did the trick.
Anger is an important emotion like happiness, sadness, frustration and disgust. It evolved as a survival emotion and belongs to the fight and flight response in the face of danger. It motivates us to take action. The expression of anger is important for human survival. Like every other emotion we need to manage it for our benefit and not for our
People in general, especially women, have a problem expressing anger and often may find indirect ways to express it. They seek passive aggressive means of expressing anger and use methods like silent treatment, sarcastic jabs or even sabotage the situation. For women, it’s difficult because they are afraid of the consequences. A woman weighs the options of being viewed as angry, because for her it carries a value judgment. She becomes a bad person if she is angry. She is afraid that she may jeopardise the relationship, especially because she is made to believe that maintaining the relationship is on her. Most women choose to internalise their anger and end up with physical symptoms such as aches and pain, anxiety and eventually depression. With men it is the opposite. Most men express anger and not their sadness. In therapy, when women deal with their depression they begin to get in touch with their anger, whereas when men in therapy deal with anger they begin to get in touch with their sadness.
Dealing with conflict is natural and normal in all relationships. It’s normal and healthy. What you need to understand is that anger doesn’t define you. Actress Tracee Ellis Ross in her TED Talk called women to recognise, accept and honour their anger as one of the many emotions that makes us human. I end with her quote ‘Your fury is not something to be afraid of. It holds lifetimes of wisdom. Let it breathe and listen.’
(Writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and the HOD of psychology at Carmel College for Women)