And how to constructivly use anger to change your life.
Anger is one of the 6 universal emotions. It is one of the core human experiences. Chemically speaking, when you experience anger, the brain releases the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline. This process helps the body control the heart rate and blood pressure and regulates the pancreas, controlling blood sugar levels (Boerma, 2007).
Generally speaking, anger is being experienced as something negative. It is often interlinked with aggression; at least, that is how it often becomes noticeable to others. But anger can move two ways: introvertedly and extrovertedly. Meaning you can be angry about someone else or mad about yourself. Just like any emotion, anger starts with a chemical reaction towards outside signals. The signal that transforms into anger is the experience that our boundaries are being breached without consent.
Like any other universal emotion, anger results from the internal mechanism to scan our environment and understand how we should behave. In the case of anger, if understood correctly, you know that you need to clarify your boundaries and protect yourself. At its core, anger is a mechanism that alarms the mind to restore the boundary.
In my experience, many of my clients suppress their anger because they are afraid to be judged or be taken less seriously. Many feel like anger feels like they are not having everything under control, especially their affects. Anger is often perceived as control loss or the inability to keep yourself in check. Especially for women, anger is socially not accepted and leads to loss of social status. On the contrary, men gain power through the expression of anger. Often end up being portrayed as insane, inarticulate, uneducated, or even uncivilized.
Positive external anger is reserved for white men. Everyone else that shows this emotion is either aggressive or insane. Anger, just like shame, is being used to define the power-statues relationship within society. On top of that, it has been highly culturalized.
Culturalization of emotions.
On the contrary to one of the most renowned research studies, understanding and expression of emotions are not universal. It has taken decades to debunk Eckman’s theory of universal emotional expression- but Lisa Barrett showed in her incredible study that each of us uniquely constructs emotions. The environment that we live in and our experiences and culture determines our relationship with emotions.
Nevertheless, anger is a taboo subject for women in most cultures. Thus, it is unseen to express anger as a woman, even though many Western cultures value individual emotion. Further, often create space for personal expression to the extend of overemphasizing the individuum (see for more in the individualization of emotions).
That determines how often we express emotions and how we express them. This becomes even more profound, as Arlie Hochschild described 1979 in her research on emotional labor. We don’t just feel our emotions, but we feel rules through socially shared norms, which inversely influences how people want to try to feel emotions in given situations.
Why do women have to suppress anger socially?
Your emotional understanding starts in the early stages of childhood. Some sociologists might even say that it already begins during prenatal socialization. During these early stages, you learn to associated anger with masculinity and manhood. Research shows that toddlers already associate angry expressions with male faces.
Boys are often discouraged from expressing softer emotions such as empathy, fear, and sadness. These feminizing weaknesses are the opposite of masculine markers such as anger. On the contrary to men, women are being discouraged from expressing “negative” emotions such as anger or jealousy. These so-called “negative” or “strong” emotions are being seen as unfeminine. In addition to that, women are being discouraged from talking about negative feelings or focus on their own needs.
How patriarchal societies teach women to detach from themselves.
Usually, we tend to complain about the inability of men to express their emotions. The story goes somewhere along the lines that men are not sensitive and don’t feel everything women feel. The funny thing is, women have a very similar issue. Neither gender can experience, evaluate and express the full spectrum of emotions. We might believe that women are superior in that regard, but we forget that many of us have been socialized to focus just on the side of “positive emotions”.
The problem starts with labeling emotions as positive and negative. This goes deep down in our cultural understanding dominated by patriarchal structures that place anything around us into boxes. But emotions are not black and white, or right and wrong; neither are they positive or negative. They are up-lifting or down-lifting. Mostly they give us an understanding of our environment. They act as an internal self-preservation compass, ensuring that we create the best possible outcome. They are survival as well as self-development tools. More so, they help us to develop a well-functioning brain.
What happens if we suppress anger or any other emotion.
Suppressing emotions is never a good idea because it can lead to physical stress. No matter if it is anger, frustration, or any other emotion.
Emotions that are not appropriately addressed and expressed can negatively affect relationships. Further, they can impact your thinking and behavior. And can even cause health problems. We often see suppressed, diverted, or ignored anger can even cause eating disorders, autoimmune diseases, depression, pain, chronic fatigue, and many other so-called “women’s diseases.”
But here is the thing, I am not a big fan of just going ahead and starting to express whatever you feel. After years of suppressing your emotions, your internal compass is deregulated. And you might be even feeling things that don’t belong to you.
Before you start expressing what you feel, start by acknowledging your emotions and feelings. Create space and time to listen and feel. Start even an emotion diary and become an observer. Then take small steps to understand what’s happening. Emotions are powerful, and in the process of recalibrating, we don’t want to hurt others.
Addressing and expressing anger appropriately can be difficult, primarily when you have grown up in a family and surrounding that has never taught anything about anger and how to deal with it.
Many of my clients, students, and even prisoners I have worked with have shared similar reasons for suppressing their anger. Fear of hurting others, disappointing others, not living up to expected norms, and being shamed were the typical responses. Especially for women, putting other first is a priority. It is no surprise that more women have psychological disorders than men. Though, it is surprising that even with increasing awareness of gender differences and discrimination and new safe spaces for women, the number of depression, anxiety, and auto-immune diseases isn’t dropping.
In my opinion, one of the reasons for the constant increase is the inability for us to reconnect with our emotions. As a society, we continually fail to address the sources for many of the prevailing issues. Courses on emotional intelligence help leaders and high-achievers to become more sensitive to the emotions of others and their own. But what if we need to start a step before and redefine what we feel, how we understand it, and then learn to express the full spectrum of emotions in a safe manner.
And one last question for you: How can you be authentic if you don’t connect with your emotions in an undisrupted way?