Many women are afraid of their anger. We’ve all been taught that “nice girls don’t get mad.” In our attempts to be nice, we tend to fall into one of three styles:
- The Exploder: She holds it in as long as possible, then vents in fury and collapses in shame
- The Ruminator: She goes round and round in her mind, fuming internally, unable to either express herself effectively or let it go
- The Denier: “I’m not mad,” says this woman, who then proceeds to take it out on you in passive aggressive ways.
Does any of these sound familiar? Anger, whether you explode or not, does have destructive effects. Did you know that when you get mad, you flood your body with stress hormones that suppress your immune system and tax your heart? And that those destructive hormones stay in the body at least thirty minutes and up to twenty-four hours?
However, inside this destructive emotion is an important message, usually that some boundary of ours has been violated. And it’s vital to our emotional and physical well-being to understand what the message is.
If you are an Exploder, your job is to catch yourself when you’ve been hijacked and take yourself offline to calm down before you engage. Otherwise you will be acting from your more primitive brain rather than your highest self. A simple technique is the stoplight: As soon as you are aware you are angry … red light, stop. Leave the room. Calm down. Wait till you can think rationally again, then yellow light … proceed with caution. What’s really important to you here? What’s your part in what happened? What’s your request of the other person? Once you’ve figured that out … green light, go and re-engage.
If you are a Ruminator, get the problem out of your head and down on paper. Write about what is bothering you and answer the same questions I offered to the Exploders. Then challenge yourself to take action, whether verbally or in writing to express yourself. Do what’s easiest for you.
If you tend to be a Denier, be willing to consider that you are indeed mad when someone suggests it may be so. Try it this way:
- If I were angry, what would I be angry about?
- When I’ve been mad in the past, how has it shown up in my behavior?
We can learn to mine our anger for its important messages and communicate them effectively. The rewards are not only less relationship tension, but actually getting more of our needs met.