This month, we hosted dinners in 8 cities worldwide on the topic of ANGER. From Barcelona to Montreal, to Mumbai and Seattle, women around the world are experiencing anger in all of its visceral potency. Whether we bury it, cry it out, or when it simply erupts, anger is a powerful emotion demanding to be felt, which leaves many of us wondering: what is anger all about, and how can we deal with it in a healthy way?
First, an anonymous story from one of our attendees…
Growing up, my mom never expressed anger. It was an emotion that simply didn’t exist in our home. But now, thinking back on it, there were moments that her anger would come out. She would literally explode over the tiniest things. It always seemed so…bizarre.
Now I’m in my 30’s, and I’m constantly angry at my partner. I suppress it so much that I often find myself stewing in it. I get so angry that I can’t move or speak. The emotion is so big and feels so insurmountable, that sometimes I think emotional paralysis is the only “safe” way to deal.
Recently, I got into an argument with a good friend. I could tell she was really angry at me. But instead of shutting down and shutting me out (like I would probably do), she expressed how she was feeling, and told me what she needed in that moment. I was in shock, utterly amazed at what I was witnessing. I felt I was given a gift, a window into a new way to process anger, one that is productive, creative and honest. I had never seen anything like that before…
Now, our key takeaways…
Culture tells us to suppress our anger
Anger is a visceral emotion. When we feel anger, we know it. Its potency shoots through our body like ungrounded electricity, making us want to hit something and scream. Yet, society tells us that women are supposed to be calm and beautiful. We’re the ones who are always supposed to “keep it together” for the benefit of grounding everyone else. Within such an idyllic, one-dimensional motif, there isn’t much space for women to experience or process anger in a real, healthy or beneficial way.
Our anger role models showed us the way
Our relationship with anger frequently originates from what we observed with our parents or caregivers. For the women around our tables who grew up in environments of abuse and cruelty, anger and violence can be inextricably linked. There were other women around our tables who grew up in “anger-free” homes. For them, anger felt foreign and unrelated, but would at times appear in the form of seemingly isolated explosions (e.g., “I’m a really nice person, but sometimes I have these outbursts.”) A smaller group grew up in “anger positive” homes, environments where all emotions were present and welcome. For these women, anger was perceived as an asset; it fueled their passion and drive. Whatever home we came from, we tend to mirror the dynamics of our anger “role models,” perpetuating these patterns and/or projecting them onto others as we proceed through life.
Anger lives on a spectrum
Depending on how we relate to it, anger can be a source of power and creation, or, a source of stagnancy and limitation. Anger limits us when it is suppressed and stuck inside. In this form of anger, we may feel a sense of victimhood, stew in resentment, or even have one of those “unprompted” (or explosive) outbursts. On this “repressed” side of the emotional spectrum, anger is debilitating and often feels like it is eroding our insides.
On the other hand, anger can be a powerful and creative force when we are able to convert it into something emotionally constructive. Whether that motion comes in the form of rebellion, purposeful activism, or in the way we assert and express ourselves with clear boundaries, anger can propel actions with impressive momentum. When we let ourselves fully express our anger, it can be a gift with the power to create real change.
Anger needs to move through the body
Anger requires an outlet. When left to fester for too long in the body, it can make us feel anxious, overwhelmed, or even physically ill. Many of the women around our tables had various “anger release” tactics that they use to get things moving. Whether it’s a good cathartic cry, punching a pillow, writing or dancing, we all have our tricks to ensure this emotion doesn’t get trapped inside. Oftentimes, we developed these coping tactics in childhood as a bodily defense mechanism to process and release our hurt and pain. What do you do to move anger through your body?
Anger is a messenger
If we allow ourselves to connect and listen to it, anger shows us what we value most in life. In order to truly learn from (and grow with) our anger, we need to understand our triggers. For example, if you repeatedly feel anger towards your boss when she makes you feel restricted or controlled, then you may be triggered by micromanagement. Acknowledging this pattern is an opportunity to look inside and see what messages that emotional trigger has to relay. In this instance, your trigger tells you how highly you value freedom and independence, and that, perhaps the current work dynamic with your boss is not reflective of these internal values. Our triggers are our mirrors; they show us what we value most, and if interpreted correctly, can serve as a lens for how to move forward. Anger can be an incredible portal of positive change, ultimately opening us up to more love, acceptance and compassion for ourselves and others.
Growing up in a culture of systemic racism and discrimination, women of color around our tables have a unique culture relationship with anger. As Audre Lorde wrote, “Every Black woman in America lives her life somewhere along a wide curve of ancient and unexpressed angers.” For some, anger has served as a positive force for change, self-assertion and confidence in their lives. For others, there was a sense that their fluency in anger didn’t always translate across cultures, lending to miscommunication at work and amongst certain social circles.
As it goes with most meaningful discussions, we have more questions than answers in the end, and we look forward to continuing the conversation.
- How do you move anger through your body? The next time you feel anger, take a moment to notice your “anger release” tactics — whether it’s crying, screaming or dancing. What works? What doesn’t? What else can you add to your repertoire?
- What are some of the things that trigger you? What do these triggers tell you about yourself? How can your anger ultimately be a portal to more love, acceptance, and compassion in your life?
Written by Dinner Confidential in NYC and Barcelona, in collaboration with our hosts Neeti Savla in Mumbai, Meaghan Kelly in Montreal, Amy Subach & Danya Rose-Merkle in Portland, Rebecca Roebber in Seattle, Claudia Espinel and Angelica Chayes in Chicago, and Cecilia Sibony & Ariela Wenger in LA
All artwork lovingly made in collaboration w/zanda.
Curious to learn more? Follow us on Instagram where we’ll be sharing more nuanced learnings and takeaways from our Anger.