Nearly two weeks ago, many of us watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s brave testimony before the Senate as she shared intimate details of her adolescent trauma and alleged sexual assault by then Supreme Court Justice nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh’s now been confirmed by the Senate and is officially a Supreme Court Justice. Outrage from many women, sexual assault survivors, and male allies to the #metoo movement followed.
Kavanaugh’s appointment in the face of uncertainty about his history of sexual assault is just one of several events that have made many women feel like progress toward equal rights between men and women has stalled.
And that’s translated into mass protests, more open discussion about the harmful effects of a society where men largely hold positions of power, and a lot of anger.
The chorus of women’s protests isn’t always welcome — especially when society deems that we’re angry.
For men, anger is deemed masculine. For women, society often tells us it’s unacceptable.
But cultural messages that a woman’s rage is toxic can negatively affect our mental and physical health. Being told, as women, that anger is bad can cause shame to build, which can prevent us from expressing this healthy emotion.
While we can’t control how others receive our anger — knowing how to identify, express, and harness this emotion can be empowering.
As a psychologist, here’s what I want both women and men to know about anger.
1. Anger isn’t a dangerous emotion
Growing up in families where conflict was swept under the rug or expressed violently can instill the belief that anger is dangerous.
It’s vital to understand that anger doesn’t hurt others.
What’s damaging is how rage gets communicated. Anger that’s expressed as physical or verbal abuse leaves emotional scars, but frustration that’s shared non-violently can foster intimacy and help repair relationships.
Anger is an emotional traffic signal It tells us that we’ve been mistreated or hurt in some way. When we don’t feel ashamed of our anger, it can help us notice our needs and cultivate self-care.
2. Hiding anger has consequences
Believing that anger is toxic can make us swallow our rage. But hiding this emotion has consequences. In fact, chronic anger is linked to health concerns like insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Unresolved and unexpressed anger can also lead to unhealthy behaviors, like substance use, overeating, and over-spending.
Uncomfortable emotions need to be soothed, and when we don’t have loving support, we find alternative ways to numb our feelings.
Keep your feelings healthy by expressing them Even if it feels unsafe to confront the hurtful person or circumstance, outlets like journaling, singing, meditation, or talking with a therapist can provide a cathartic outlet for frustration.
3. Anger tied to outcomes can be emotionally risky
Relying on our anger to alter outcomes can lead us to feel hopeless, sad, and disappointed, especially if the person or situation doesn’t change.
With that in mind, before confronting someone, ask yourself: “What do I hope to gain from this interaction?” and “How will I feel if nothing changes?”
We can’t change other people, and while that may be disheartening, it can also be freeing to know what we can and cannot control.
4. Healthy ways to express anger
Using “I” statements is one of the best ways to verbally express angry feelings.
Owning your emotions can soften the other person’s defenses, allowing them to hear and accept your words. Instead of saying, “You always enrage me,” try saying, “I’m angry because…”
If confronting the person isn’t feasible, directing your energy toward activism can provide a sense of community, which can be supportive and healing.
In situations where people have survived trauma, like abuse, assault, or the death of a loved one, knowing that your experience may help another person can feel empowering.
Juli Fraga is a licensed psychologist based in San Francisco, California. She graduated with a PsyD from University of Northern Colorado and attended a postdoctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley. Passionate about women’s health, she approaches all her sessions with warmth, honesty, and compassion. See what she’s up to on Twitter.