If you haven't had a chance to see Pixar's latest animation Inside Out, definitely watch it. One of the central ideas of the movie is that it's OK to be sad, angry, disgusted or fearful. These emotions are a healthy part of development and also have a purpose in bringing us closer to others.
Yet, anger seems to be an emotion that women disown. An angry woman, after all, is a real threat to the world:
"After several thousand years of patriarchy, we're used to masculine anger and rage, even when we fear it. But the rage of the feminine -- the terrible face of the mother -- seems to threaten the very ground of existence. It reminds us that the earth itself could turn on us...erupt as a volcano or a tornado." -- Sally Kempton, Awakening Shakti)
So, in hopes of becoming "nice" and "agreeable," we swallow our rage. But any emotion that is repressed could express its way through some kind of symptom in the body like a tight jaw, fallen swats of hair, knots in the back, or full blown illness.
Anger needs an outlet or it builds up like pressure in a pressure cooker. For women who think they are too angry, I want to press them about it: Is it that you are too angry or not letting yourself express your anger? When anger doesn't express, it can turn inwards and burn like a motherfucker. In my experience, repressed anger takes the form of self-shaming and blaming -- a delicious feast for the inner critic.
As Dr. Estes writes in Women Who Run with the Wolves:
Many women are in recovery from their 'Nice-Nice' complexes, wherein, no matter how they felt, no matter who assailed them, they responded so sweetly as to be practically fattening. Though they might have smiled kindly during the day, at night they gnashed their teeth like brutes -- the Yaga [the wild woman archetype] in their psyches was fighting for expression.
Here are the top four reasons to feel and express anger:
1. Anger can clue you into your values and purpose.
If you're angry at something, odds are that something has violated a value that you hold dear to your heart. If you are angry at patriarchy, you probably really care about the injustices that women endure around the world everyday. Anger can be a compass pointing towards your North star. Don't be afraid to let anger lead you to your calling.
2. Anger can bring you closer to others.
In relationships, anger lets you and the other person know that something isn't working and doesn't feel right deep inside. Anger brings up the subject and allows the problem to be worked through. If you're feeling angry about something, let the other person know so you can both figure out how to course-correct.
3. Anger can be a way to transmit wisdom.
Have you had the experience of someone shouting at you, in a way that let you learn a lesson? My mom comes to mind. I feel like there have been times where her anger, when well directed, taught me something about how I could be a better person. I've heard many stories of spiritual teachers directing anger at their students to get a point across, as a way to teach a lesson and transmit knowledge. I think when properly used, anger can be a powerful vehicle for wisdom.
4. Anger can be a way to set healthy boundaries.
In Awakening Shakti, teacher and author Sally Kempton shares:
One of my students, whom I'll call Annie, is a graduate of a Catholic girl's school, and a really nice person. As a "nice girl," the product of twenty-five or so years of acculturation, Annie had disowned her own anger, her jealousy, and sadness. When she became a yoga student, these qualities began to seem particularly unacceptable. Then she found herself in the midst of a knotty sibling battle over the care of her bedridden mother and the disposition of the family property. As she attempted to make herself heard by her strong-willed sisters, Annie... saw into the fear that lay behind her politeness...Annie began working with her Kali [Indian Goddess of] energy [and] imagined herself shouting "No!" to her siblings and also to her own passivity...[Eventually] she was able to insist that she and her siblings put her mother's money in a trust... Annie's sisters began to listen to her views and treat her as an equal.
Like all emotions, too much of anything brings us out of balance. Anger has its shadow side. If your anger is extremely reactive (and/or chronic), instead of proactive and skillful, then definitely be careful and consider seeking professional help. But at the end of the day, a healthy dose of expressed anger is probably better for you than years of repressed anger stored in your body, all in the name of seeming "nice" or "good."
So let it out, sister. Show me your teeth.
Comment in this post: What are some healthy and skillful ways you let yourself be angry? I want to hear from you!
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