I see many women in my clinic who struggle with communication of their emotions, in particular anger. Our social and cultural norms tell us that women are supposed to make everyone else feel better and are only allowed to be sad and vulnerable, but not angry. When women are angry, they’re labelled as “aggressive” or “hysterical” which causes an immediate shut-down and blocks a relationship. Men have the opposite problem, in that anger is understood but they are not ‘allowed’ to express other emotions. Men getting physically aggressive with each other – while looked down upon – is seen as ‘boys being boys’; men being vulnerable and/or regularly crying makes some people uncomfortable.
Humans have a range of emotions and all of them are necessary. You are not going to live a life free of anger or anxiety, they are essential for our wellbeing as they give us messages that something isn’t right in our world. Learning to express anger effectively takes practice and a shift of habits, because when the problem is expressed with intense anger, the message behind the anger isn’t heard, because our brain goes into ‘fight/flight/freeze’ mode and the frontal lobe shuts down, meaning it can’t take in the message or meaning behind the anger.
Some tips for communicating anger effectively include:
- Discharge some of the adrenalin and cortisol produced when you feel angry by having a physical release – go for a run, scream in your car, punch some soft furnishings, journal out your feelings.
- Write down what the issue is for you and what you’d like to communicate using “I” statements. E.g. “I feel angry at the way I was talked to because I found the tone to be dismissive and demeaning” has a far better chance of being heard than “You are being so rude!”. Remember all you can only control how you communicate, not how it’s received by the other person.
- Choose a time to talk. Many of us make the mistake of thinking we have to solve every issue in the moment, using the right words and tone but in reality, this is impossible. If you find your emotions too intense, park the issue, and agree to return to it at a set time. In an hour, a day, a week, it doesn’t matter. The important part is that you will return to debrief it and not let it fester.
- If you feel better/safer writing down your feelings and sharing them this way rather than verbally, this is OK too. It gives you time to think about what you want to say, and the other person time to digest it. Ideally, you’d come together to discuss it further if necessary, but even if that doesn’t happen you’ve aired your truth.
And airing your truth will always be the healthier option than keeping it inside.
Jacqui Manning, The Friendly Psychologist xx