Anger is an emotion that says something is wrong. It can be expressed to tell others about your personal limits, values, rules and boundaries. Learning how to express anger assertively and constructively can improve your personal interaction and your health.
Being angry and expressing it is normal and healthy; yet, from an early age, most women are taught that such expression is unacceptable. The result is many women aren't in touch with their anger or they feel it but don't know how to express it.
"But just because you have blocks to expressing anger doesn't mean you're not angry," says Laura J. Petracek, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., a psychotherapist in private practice and author of The Anger Workbook for Women. "And it's the anger you don't express that can do the most damage to you and your relationships."
Because of their socialization, many women express anger indirectly by sulking, being sarcastic, taking revenge or being hostile. The following habits or tendencies also can indicate hidden anger: excessive irritability over little things, chronically stiff or sore neck or shoulder muscles, being overpolite, anxiety attacks, heart palpitations, panic attacks or compulsive overeating, overworking or overexercising.
Women who become conscious of their anger, however, can learn how to express it in constructive ways.
"Most women keep their angry feelings to themselves," says Dr. Petracek. "Women who fall into this category try to act as if everything is OK, as if nothing is wrong, when in fact it is. Women who direct their anger at themselves often become depressed, overeat or hurt themselves in other ways."
Some women express their anger too aggressively, venting their rage, attacking or blaming another person, sometimes to the point of physical attack.
"The goal, in fact, is to be assertive and to walk a middle ground when it comes to expressing this powerful emotion," says Dr. Petracek.
The process of learning to positively express anger can be divided into three parts:
1. Recognizing your feelings. Almost all emotions are connected to some sort of physical reaction. Being aware of your physical reaction when you're angry can help you identify this emotion when you feel it.
2. Owning your feelings. The anger is yours. Another person may have said something or done something that punched your anger button, but the anger is yours and so are the feelings it triggers.
3. Responding to your feelings. "Anger demands expression; if you have recognized it and owned it, then you'll have a choice as to when, where and how you express it," says Dr. Petracek.
A better way
Learning and practicing constructive problem-solving can help you express and manage your anger.
The following strategies will help you approach problems in a controlled effective manner:
Make sure you're in a calm state of mind before confronting someone you're angry at.
Don't bring up a long list of backlogged complaints. Instead, tackle one issue at a time.
When bringing up or discussing a problem, always focus on the other person's behavior (what he or she is doing or not doing) rather than his or her personality. For example, say, "I would like you to become better at being on time," rather than "You're such an unreliable jerk."
Be aware of your body language. Maintain eye contact and keep a relaxed and open body posture when talking.
Speak in a normal tone and at a normal pace. Don't shout, yell or talk too fast or too long.
If the other person disagrees with you, listen to his or her point of view, then restate what was said.
Be willing to negotiate a solution. Avoid getting into an "I'm right, you're wrong" battle.
Be patient with yourself and others.
"Personal change takes time," says Dr. Petracek. "The important thing is to keep trying. Making a commitment to work on anger can improve your relationships and your mental and physical health."