The Good Girl’s Guide to Being Angry

Sometimes we have to burn things.

I got to experience this firsthand as a young Girl Scout. Our troop volunteered to help with a controlled burn at a nearby fen preserve. It turns out that natural wildlands become pretty flammable as dead branches and undergrowth pile up. Eventually, it will burn on its own, or choke the life out of the ecosystem. So we humans will let the land have a little fire, just enough keep it healthy and safe.

A controlled burn at Helderberg Nature Reserve in South Africa. Photo source.

It was a cold, wet winter and I chose my shoes poorly. I spent the day trudging through snow and slush to drag dead branches to the fire line. I was sweating from the blaze while my toes were painfully numb. The burn was a success — well controlled and effective. When I got home I had to soak my feet in lukewarm water for a while, but in the end they were okay too. I didn’t lose any toes.

The winter burn at the fen was both hot and cold. It burned in all ways, and when it was done the land was healthier. So it is with anger, too.

Of course women are taught to suppress their anger, even when it is a completely rational response to what they are experiencing. Anger is empowering. It’s the part of you that stands up against a world that doesn’t want to be stood up to.

My anger is cold, and righteous. It believes in me. It tells me that I’m being treated poorly, or that I can do better. My life is full of controlled burns and a few uncontrolled ones. Anger is what fuels the fire that makes room in my life for new growth.

It’s okay to be angry if you’re passed up for a promotion that you deserved. It’s okay to be angry if your partner doesn’t treat you as an equal. It’s okay to be angry if people don’t respect your privacy or your personal space. It’s okay to be angry when someone makes a generalization about you based on how you look. It’s okay to be angry when someone explains something to you that you already understand. It’s okay to be angry when you witness injustice in the world.

Pay attention to this anger. Feed it, nurture it. Listen to what it has to say to you. By no means are all expressions of anger healthy or appropriate; however, the more you can be with it, and the more you understand it, the more productive it will be for you.

Sometimes you’ll give someone a piece of your mind. Sometimes you’ll walk out of a job, or a relationship. Sometimes you’ll go to a protest and yell until your throat is sore. For all of these things, you will be stronger and more whole.

Sometimes we have to burn things.