Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Anger Can Be A Tool For Change

Anger, especially for women, gets a bad-rap.  Studies show that women do a great deal of tap dancing to avoid expressing anger.  We may feel comfortable enough feeling the anger, but it is not always clear to us women how we should express it.  Often, anger is disguised and shows up through tears, submission, withdrawal, self deprecation, even despondency. When our fuse is at it's end there may be a scene with shouting and blaming.  None of these responses are helping people harness the power behind anger.

Yes, anger is powerful.  That might be one reason why women are not comfortable feeling it.  Some people aren't comfortable with that sort of power.  Women are historically conditioned to be more pleasing and caring and thus don't "do" anger.  In Harriet Goldhor Lerner's book "The Dance of Anger", she explores why women collectively have this unfulfilled relationship with anger.  We live in a culture that doesn't value angry women and so we aren't taught how to manage or communicate this emotion effectively.  Women usually don't think anger is an acceptable feeling and strive to "rise above it".

True, screaming like an angry child doesn't usually work for adults, but when harnessed effectively anger becomes more about asserting oneself, righting a wrong, and reorganizing the balance of power.  When we work with our anger it can become our ally in our pursuit for fulfilling our needs.  Anger tells us when change is in order. When an individual attends to their anger with respect and acceptance it can be one of the most motivating, life altering states of consciousness.

Here are four steps to take in order to make anger more effective in your life...

To begin with, try taking a breath and consciously recognizing that you are angry.  Allow yourself to be okay with simply feeling the anger. 

Next, ask yourself what is making you angry; what is the belief behind the anger...this is harder than it sounds and takes some practice.  Rather than staying stuck on the view that a person made you angry, try asking what about this person has violated a belief or principle you have.  It is your anger; recognize that it is about you. "Anger is a tool for change when it challenges us to become more of an expert on the self and less of an expert on others" (Harriet Goldhor Lerner).  

Thirdly, take responsibility for getting your needs met. Affirm them to either yourself or verbally to the person with whom you are in conflict with.  Speak up before you build resentment.

Lastly, be prepared to confront. Even if you do it with the jitters or an edge to your voice.  You don't have to say it perfectly the first time; strive to make your position clear.  Feel free to phrase your dialogue with, "This is difficult for me to address, but"...

It can be helpful to substitute anger for an alternative variation like assertiveness when you are struggling with discomfort around feeling anger.  Remind yourself that assertiveness is a positive and accepted expression of anger.  This may help you become more comfortable with your experience around anger.