Wander Woman

Guidance for the goal-driven woman

You Can Be Nice and Still Get Angry

It's not expressing your anger that will hurt you; it's repressing it.

My parents never fought. Argued quietly, yes, but there was never any threat of violent confrontation. That just wasn’t allowed in my house. And yet if you were to ask me to describe my mother, the first word that comes to mind is angry.

Most of the time, an angry person is described as someone who has a hard time controlling his or her temper and who acts out in a range of violent behaviors from yelling to physically attacking others.

But there is another type of anger, that is not so apparent. Some of us hide our resentment and frustrations because we were taught that anger is bad. We were taught not to cry or scream. We were taught that we had to be nice, and never angry.

We were not taught what to do with anger when it shows up. So we stuff it away. But the garbage can only hold so much. When we're full of this emotional waste, we redirect our irritation toward strangers, at work, in our cars, or on the phone. Sometimes, we take it out on the ones we most love. Or we numb our rage with alcohol and drugs. We forget people are human.

We forget how to care and love.

Left unchecked, this silent desperation becomes a cloud over our relationships, at home and at work. The pain shows up as biting sarcasm, withheld compliments, unnecessarily hurt feelings, unreasonable conflicts, misunderstandings, and a lack of intimacy.

Although my mother did her best to fulfill her obligations, she didn’t dare allow herself to feel. Her anger kept her from giving and receiving love. Sadly, it took me decades to figure out that she was angry about the loss of control and appreciation she experienced from her childhood to her death. And I’m still working on how to maintain intimacy in difficult situations with those I love.

Anger can poison a work group. It can suffocate a loving relationship. It can also affect your health.

According to Dr. Candace Pert's classic book, Molecules of Emotion, it is not the expression of an emotion that weakens our system and leads to disease, but the suppression of emotion.[1] Psychologist Lydia Temoshok found that cancer patients who keep their anger under the surface recovered much more slowly compared to patients who were given the opportunity to express their anger.

The skills for dealing with anger—emotional intelligence, stress management, empathy, and assertive communications—are readily available. You can find many tips on this website.

Your rage only grows if you don’t give it a voice: If you are aware that you end your days with anger, frustration, and self-hatred (anger turned inward), you can begin your journey by being willing to identify the unmet emotional needs, or triggers, that are feeding your feelings. You can find a list of emotional triggers here. If you know what is triggering your anger—what you think you did not get that you expected or deserved—you can choose to ask for what you need, or get your need met elsewhere. You might even decide to let it go and choose love or peace of mind instead.

What do you really need but feel you are not getting? Respect, appreciation, intellectual acknowledgment, attention, a sense of control in the moment, or security about the future? Is someone taking this from you? Can you let them know the impact of their behavior and what you need instead? What would be the worst thing that would happen if you made this request? Can you live with that?

Whether you find yourself angry in the moment or you're carrying the emotional baggage of an ongoing situation, you can defuse the tension with self-awareness and by courageously making requests for what you need. 

If you want to free yourself from negative energy and end your days with peace of mind and body, you should make recognizing, voicing, and releasing your anger a primary life goal.



[1] Candace B. Pert, Ph.D., Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine. Simon & Schuster, 1997. Pages 192-193.

Marcia Reynolds, executive coach and leadership consultant, offers coaching, workshops, and books on emotional intelligence and leadership topics. You can find more articles and exercises on her website, www.OutsmartYourBrain.com.

Marcia Reynolds, PsyD., is the author of two leadership books, The Discomfort Zone and Wander Woman. She is President of Covisioning, a leadership development and coaching firm.


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