Anger is like water. No matter how hard a person tries to dam, divert, or deny it, it will find a way, usually along the path of least resistance. As I will discuss in this book, women often “feel” their anger in their bodies. Unprocessed, anger threads itself through our appearances, bodies, eating habits, and relationships, fueling low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, self-harm, and actual physical illness.
From the book, Rage Becomes Her, by Soraya Chemaly
Did you know that studies show men and women have about the same amount of anger? Yet why, in the 21st Century is it still so risky for women to show anger? Why are we so likely to hide it, putting other people’s feelings of comfort and ease ahead of our own? Because we know if we express it, there will be consequences. While anger is the weapon of choice for alpha males everywhere, when displayed by females, it’s perceived not as strength but as irrational, emotional and weak.
Continuing from Rage Becomes Her:
“Anger has a bad rap, but it’s actually one of the most forward thinking of all our emotions. It begets transformation manifesting our passion and keeping us invested in the world. It is a rational and emotional response to trespass, violation and moral disorder. It bridges the divide between what “is” and what “ought” to be, between a difficult past and an improved possibility. Anger warns us viscerally of violation, threat and insult.”
Author Soraya Chemaly goes on to point out that people who express anger are even more optimistic –perhaps because they feel an empowering energy to change things for the better.
You don’t have to know much about yoga to know that “authenticity” is a buzz word. “Live authentically” implore numerous ads in Yoga Journal, as if you could be “authentic” by using a bamboo water bottle or taking a “Yoga Journey” to Nepal. Most of these ads are targeted at women. I contend, however, that regardless of what kind of water bottle you wield, if authenticity is what you’re shooting for, then sister, learn how to express yourself in a way that leverages your anger, propels your forward and keeps you from succumbing to the depression/ anxiety quagmire.
Not so sure, are you? Gee, but people might get offended; you might lose friendships, or even a job. What’s the downside of not expressing anger adeptly? As mentioned above: anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and a host of physical diseases. Those are high prices to pay. I wonder how many women seeking treatment for these conditions are able to connect the dots back to the likely origin: unexpressed anger. My guess is very few.
In the yoga world, we often view emotions in energetic terms. Anger is energy, energy that can be harnessed and directed toward “unstructured,” creative thinking and problem solving. Heck, this very post came to me moments after hanging up the phone from my battle-royale with Alamo Car Rental. The trick is in leveraging the energy boost into something productive, not kicking the dog or driving 50 in a 30.
In reflection, I think I have typically expressed anger in a more masculine way. I pity the fools who poached my brand new pink tennis balls I received for my birthday, around age 10. I chased the pair of boys down and beat the crap out of them w/ my shiny metal tennis racket. I remember my Dad beaming when one of the Father’s phoned and my own father replied, “My recommendation to your child is not to steal tennis balls.” They never bothered me again!
Later, when working in a male dominated field in a male-dominated culture, I deliberately took note of how men expressed anger. I realized that to be taken seriously, I was going to have to raise my voice, throw around some coarse language and, ideally, beat them at sports –at the risk of making them mad, as opposed to the typical feminine role of putting men “at ease.” I quickly realized that expressing anger wasn’t that big a deal in the wolf pack; what was probably more harmful was holding a grudge, an area in which many of my female colleagues exceled. I deliberately avoided that age-old, passive-aggressive play. Amends are fairly easy to make in Man World –usually a beer does the trick in keeping future collaborations on the table/bar.
But what does this have to do with yoga? It has dawned on me that perhaps what drew me to the practice in the late 90’s was the way it helped me manage the anger that was “trapped inside my body” as mentioned above. Years of working in sexist countries in IT, plus a health condition dismissed by male doctors took its toll.
Anger is energy that needs to be processed productively, and ideally, in “real time.” That can take many forms, from taking a long walk to chatting with a sympathetic friend. However, sometimes those things aren’t available. But, there’s always a floor. There’s always 10 minutes. There’s always the breath.
As a teacher I have numerous female students confide in me that they’re on anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. But maybe they’re not sad, maybe their Sad + Mad =SMAD. They’re bottling up years of ill-processed anger and it’s fermenting into sadness and “unexplained” anxiety. Yoga meditation trains us to feel feelings with subtlety and skill; so much so, I often compare it to wine tasting. We move well beyond defining things as red or white, noticing layers, complexity and even “notes” of emotions—It’s how I came up w/ “SMAD.” I could hold anger and sadness together, but crying seemed more socially acceptable than punching someone in the nose or shouting them down in a crowd.
Meditation, yin, self-study (avidya), breathing exercises for controlling energy—Yoga offers us a wide array of time-tested techniques. The issues are in the tissues. If you’re a woman living in a #metoo world, get real, get angry and get to your yoga mat!
Finally, have you ever noticed, a lot of old ladies aren’t exactly “sweet”? I’m thinking of the ones who outlive their husbands by decades, continue to live independently, managing their own affairs. In my experience, the longevity bet is on fit and feisty, stubborn and assertive!
PS. Some of you reading this, male and female, will be tempted to dismiss me as a ball buster, feminazi, or worse. You are living in the past, and maybe that works for you. Yoga, however, challenges us relentlessly to be here, in the present. And, for me to care what you think would mean putting your feelings (a complete stranger) ahead of my own, which is another way women end up miserable. Please don’t feel like you need to share your thoughts with me on the subject. This post is meant only to encourage and validate those who are wanting to break out of typically “feminine” ways for expressing anger that aren’t working for them. If this isn’t you, then kindly run along! Namaste.