This is the second in a series of blogs about managing anger looking particularly at women and anger.
As I said in my previous blog, I first came across Harriet Lerner’s book The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships when a client told me it was the best book she had ever read. I have since recommended it to many people – several of whom have said “I knew from the first page that it was the book for me – it describes me perfectly!”
Why are angry women so threatening?
This is a question Harriet Lerner asks in her book: “Why are angry women so threatening to others? If we are guilty, depressed, or self-doubting, we stay in place. We do not take action except against our own selves and we are unlikely to be agents of personal and social change. In contrast, angry women may change and challenge the lives of us all, as witnessed by the past decade of feminism. And change is an anxiety-arousing and difficult business for everyone, including those of us who are actively pushing for it. Thus, we too learn to fear our own anger, not only because it brings about the disapproval of others, but also because it signals the necessity for change.
We may begin to ask ourselves questions that serve to block or invalidate our own experience of anger: “Is my anger legitimate?” “Do I have a right to be angry?” “What’s the use of my getting angry?” “What good will it do?” These questions can be excellent ways of silencing ourselves and shutting off our anger.”
Feelings do not have to lead to actions
Harriet Lerner is very clear that feeling anger does not have to mean venting it, losing our temper and yelling at those who have annoyed or upset us. She continues:
“Feeling angry signals a problem, venting anger does not solve it. Venting anger may serve to maintain, and even rigidify, the old rules and patterns in a relationship, thus ensuring that change does not occur. When emotional intensity is high, many of us engage in nonproductive efforts to change the other person, and in so doing, fail to exercise our power to clarify and change our own selves. The old anger-in/anger-out theory, which states that letting it all hang out offers protection from the psychological hazards of keeping it all pent up, is simply not true.
The danger of ineffective expressions of anger
What happens when we swallow our anger, simply to keep the peace, to maintain the status quo? Harriet Lerner says: “Feelings of depression, low self-esteem, self-betrayal, and even self-hatred are inevitable when we fight but continue to submit to unfair circumstances, when we complain but live in a way that betrays our hopes, values and potentials, or when we find ourselves fulfilling society’s stereotype of the bitchy, nagging, bitter, or destructive woman. Those of us who are locked into ineffective expressions of anger suffer as deeply as those of us who dare not get angry at all.”
The dangers of avoiding conflict altogether!
You sometimes come across couples who say (perhaps a little smugly) “oh we never fight!” but this is not always a good thing. Another way that we mismanage anger is by AVOIDING conflict. This leads us to avoid any CLEAR statement of self that will “rock the boat” in a relationship. So it may temporarily buy you peace, but at the cost of being fully yourself and being an equal partner in the relationship.
Use your anger effectively!
Many people use anger in relationships for purposes that aren’t useful. Many people get angry with ease, but they don’t accomplish anything useful with their anger! If anger is a way to blow off steam, but doesn’t actually generate positive change, then it’s not serving its purpose.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5r6Y9uhmL6Y Why won’t he apologise? Harriet Lerner TEDtalk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPgGfQPqyhg Interview with Harriet Lerner on The Dance of Anger
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!