Many women identify anger as a reason they are seeking therapy. They feel angry and they don't like it. In reality, anger is not the problem, it's the way our anger plays out that usually bothers us. Are we yelling at our kids? Boiling over toward a spouse? Avoiding, becoming distant, shutting down, etc.?
And, getting "meta" for a minute, how you feel about feeling angry can cause issues too. The great new is, anger is just another normal emotion that we feel and we shouldn't be distressed if we feel angry. Our anger can just be a clue that we need to change something in our lives.
Harriet Lerner's The Dance of Anger is an excellent resource for women dealing with chronic anger in family relationships. Sometimes in intimate relationships women can be too concerned with being "nice" and going along, not rocking the boat, and denying their own needs and concerns. Dr. Lerner states,
“Although “nice ladies” are not very good at feeling angry, we may be great at feeling guilty. As with depression or feeling hurt, we may cultivate guilt in order to blot out the awareness of our own anger. Anger and guilt are just about incompatible. If we feel guilty about not giving enough or doing enough for another, it is unlikely we will be angry about not getting enough.”
Have you felt excessively guilty about something? Feeling guilty can be more comfortable than feeling anger, but guilt can leave us feeling stuck and unable to resolve underlying issues in relationships. Once we feel this anger, we can use it as a step to refine our wants and needs in relationships.
“In using our anger as a guide to determining our innermost needs, values, and priorities, we should not be distressed if we discover just how unclear we are. If we feel chronically anger or bitter in an important relationship, this is a signal that too much of the self has been compromised and we are uncertain about what new position to take or what options are available to use. To recognize our lack of clarity is not a weakness but an opportunity, a challenge, and a strength.”
Sometimes feeling anger can make us feel out of control, but addressing our anger head on instead of stuffing it actually leads us to be more in control of our anger and less likely to blow up or lash out. Dr. Lerner clarifies that it's ok if we don't know exactly what we need, but if deny our anger we will never be able to get there.
“Our anger can be a powerful vehicle for personal growth and change if it does nothing more than help us recognize that we are not yet clear about something and that it is our job to keep struggling with it.”
And finally, I love this advice about what to do with our anger:
“There is no shortage of advice about what you can do with anger in the short run. In the long run, it is not what you do or don’t do with your anger at a particular moment that counts. The important issue is whether, over time, you can use your anger as an incentive to achieve greater self-clarity and discover new ways to navigate old relationships. We have seen how getting angry gets us nowhere if we unwittingly perpetuate the old patterns from which our anger springs.”