For years I have disconnected from every emotional response that I have considered negative. Anger is the one that I most disconnect from. I deny it even from myself, using all the power that my logical brain can give me to squash it down inside and explain away whatever catalyst brought me to feel it.
“I probably misunderstood….” “It wasn’t really intended that way…” “They were just having a bad day and I’m over-reacting…”
I blame it on the patriarchy. I am not alone in my efforts to rid myself of my steaming ears and flaring nostrils. Anger is simply not an emotion that is often owned by women. For generations it has been frowned upon, just as boys and men are discouraged from displaying emotions, like sadness or fear, which lead to them being seen as ‘too sensitive’. As a woman, I have been brought up to believe that anger is not for me, that it is unhelpful, unnecessary and unattractive. But this could not be further from the truth. The fact is, all emotional responses are healthy for all human beings, male or female. And denying them is simply making us sick.
You see anger is actually one of our body’s greatest truth-tellers. It is a compass against wrongdoing, a self protection mechanism sending alarm bells to our brain when someone is doing or saying something that harms us.
When we own it, anger is in our control. It becomes this fantastic tool which can help us to go through life in a way that minimises stress and guilt and frustration. It helps us to set boundaries in relationships, and avoid unhealthy patterns, social situations and people.
In my situation, I think I repressed anger as a sort of control. It was something I felt that I could control when everything else had been out of it. But I repressed it so deeply and for so long, it was only a matter of time.
But when our inner voice screams at us and we continuously deny it, it doesn’t just go away. It just stores up.
Every event where you were wronged and didn’t defend yourself is stored in the body, coal after burning hot coal, mounting up within your belly. It lays dormant, like a volcano, until finally something harms us so much that the whole mountain of anger explodes out of us uncontrollably.
Years and years of unresolved anger, triggered by anything and everything reminded my inner voice of unresolved wrongdoings in my past. Except my reactions were no longer, at times, quite in proportion with the current trigger. A dirty sock left carelessly on the floor became a symbol of disrespect for and mistreatment of womankind. A friend cuts me off mid sentence, and I am triggered back to the feeling of being invisible and irrelevant during the birth of my baby.
Without a way to reclaim anger, it burns like an emotional wild fire. There is no telling which direction it will turn and who or what it will burn in its path. It is fierce.
This is why owning anger after a traumatic event is a particularly important key to healing. We are not destined as women to burn up inside under the flames of the unresolved. There is a way, so I’m learning, to take back ownership of this healthy emotional compass. And it lies, simply, in language, as a fellow mother realised after a birth trauma workshop:
Having told our stories, we all identified ourselves as angry. Our anger was so great at times that it stifled us and perpetuated the emotional pain that we were all experiencing. One woman shared how she had consciously decided to stop using the words anger and angry and had started to use the word outraged. It perfectly described her disgust at her treatment and the system and she found that instead of stifling and hurting her, she found it empowering. Outrage can unite us and outrage can change the world.
Re-framing anger as ‘outrage’ or ‘passion’ can totally transform your relationship with it. Instead of something to repress it becomes something to harness, a catalyst for change.
And once anger becomes an empowering, healthy thing in our brain, it changes everything. We stand up for ourselves, without guilt or shame. We start to set boundaries to protect ourselves and our relationships. We call out inequality for what it is. It is truly liberating. Once set in motion, re-harnessed anger is an unstoppable force in a totally different way.
So, why should this amazing force be harnessed by men and denied to women? This is no doubt another contributing factor to more obvious inequalities between the genders.
Women, be angry and proud. Anger is a gift and it’s yours for the taking.