Is Anger a Sign of Strength or Weakness?
Growing up as a female in our culture, I learned that getting angry was BAD and a signal that I wasn’t “holding myself together” enough. And the boys around me were taught the opposite: that anger was the ONLY acceptable emotion for them to have.
For men anger is seen as a sign of strength, and for women as a sign of weakness.
Men are taught that it’s acceptable to lash out and abuse others to showcase their anger, and women are taught that it’s acceptable to undermine and ridicule others in subtle and manipulative ways in order to hide their anger. But are either of those responses to anger helpful?? Clearly not.
The way I see it, by giving this message that anger is either “strong” or “weak” we completely miss the point of what anger REALLY means and how it can actually help us.
What I have now learned is that anger is simply an emotion (equal in value to every other emotion) that is giving us information that we can use to benefit us in our lives.
Here are a few simple steps that will help you develop a helpful relationship to anger no matter what your gender, age, or experience:
Stop and notice the sensation of anger. What does it actually FEEL like? When we get angry, we become so caught up in our thoughts (“I can’t believe she did that...how dare he have said that etc”) that we forget what’s really happening - we’re FEELING something. Noticing it as a SENSATION helps slow down our usual reaction that can damage ourselves and our relationships.
Give yourself space to calm down - go for a walk, take some deep breaths, do something physical. Anything where you are releasing the tension and getting a broader perspective will help your mind expand past the narrow vision that anger brings.
Ask yourself: if this anger was a character within me, what would it look like? What age would it be? What exact part of me is so angry? You will probably find that you can imagine a specific aspect of your personality - maybe a younger version of yourself, maybe a character that comes out in you sometimes. My anger is often coming from my 4-year-old self - the part of me that feels SO helpless and just wants the world to be FAIR.
Find out what is UNDERNEATH the anger. Once you have identified the part of yourself that’s angry, ask that part of yourself what it WANTS and NEEDS. Anger is always a protection, trying to guard our more vulnerable and soft emotions. If you can find out what that deeper emotion is, you can start to understand your anger and therefore it no longer rules you. For example, my anger often comes from feeling UNIMPORTANT - like people don’t actually care about me and my needs.
Take whatever action is necessary based on the emotions you uncover. How can you listen to this part of you that needs something? Is there a boundary you need to set with someone, or something you can ask of yourself or others? For example, when I notice that I am feeling unimportant, the best thing for me to do is listen to MYSELF first. I remind myself that my worth is not dependent on how other people are responding. And then if I’m feeling brave enough, I tell the person who I feel unimportant around - not to blame them or force them to be different, but just to share how I feel so that there is a chance for us to change the dynamic.
If you can take these 5 steps when you feel angry, then any unhelpful messages you have been given about anger and any patterns you have formed that are damaging yourself or your relationships can be completely and utterly changed! We don’t need to get it perfect or even remember every time (I certainly don’t!)
All it takes is pausing and making the effort to do something different and your brain patterns automatically start to change.
If you want to hear an inspiring story from a 17-year-old Californian boy about how he changed his relationship to anger, check it out on my youtube channel here.