You hang up in disgust after a friend’s call. You were counting on her to help you with an important project, but she called to cancel at the last minute.
Her current love interest asked her to join him for dinner and she couldn’t say no.
“You understand, of course,” she says after gushing about how excited she is.
She’s just been through a difficult divorce and you’re sensitive to her needs cutting her a lot of slack. You’re happy for her that she found this new relationship.
But these incidents are happening way too often and your patience is wearing thin.
You manage a few snide comments like “Have fun, I guess,” or “Would have been nice to get some warning, I have a life too, you know.” Then you hang up seething with unexpressed anger.
Immediately guilt sets in and you feel terrible about your angry response. You blush when you recall your snide remarks and worry that you may have damaged your friendship for good.
You remember the excitement of a new relationship and remind yourself “that’s just the way women are when they fall in love. I shouldn’t let myself feel angry. Surely I’m a better person than that.”
Meanwhile, under the guilt, your anger continues to simmer threatening to boil over at any moment. You are impatient with your children and short with a clerk who tries to help you at the grocery store.
You feel miserable. Overcome with anger and guilt, you despair over finding a way out.
Fortunately there is one, and it starts with understanding how your early life set you up for all of this misery.
You Were Raised to Believe Your Anger Is a Bad Thing
Remember when you were a little girl and something made you mad? Maybe you yelled or slammed a door or stamped your feet. How did the adults in your life react? They probably said something like “It’s OK to be angry honey, anger is normal.” Then they taught you effective ways to express it. Right?
Studies show girl babies are more likely to be rewarded with smiles and food when they express positive emotions while boys, even as infants, are expected to be tough, macho.
And it only gets worse. By the time kids reach preschool, they associate anger with men and believe it’s OK for boys, but not girls, to express themselves this way.
No wonder you feel guilty about your anger. As a woman you’ve been programmed to believe it’s not ladylike almost since the day you were born.
And getting older doesn’t help. You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn about studies that show men can effectively use rage as a tool to influence others. But don’t try this if you are a woman.
Angry women are seen as emotional, unstable and definitely not believable. No surprise then that you learned to hold on to your anger, stuffing it deep inside where you hoped no one would notice it.
But What If Expressing Your Anger Is Actually Good for You?
When guilt causes you to keep your anger firmly in place, you invite problems with both your physical and mental health.
Hormones released when are angry cause your breathing to speed up, your heart to beat faster, and your blood pressure and blood sugar to rise. If you let yourself experience this powerful emotion and then express it in a positive way, your body calms down and returns to normal.
But when guilt blocks expression of your anger, your stress hormone levels remain high. This increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and auto-immune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, MS or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Unexpressed rage can also be deadly. Women who hang onto anger have double the risk of dying from heart disease compared to those who learn to express it.
And stifling your frustration exposes you to mental health risks as well.
Remember the time your boss refused to give you a well-earned raise and you didn’t speak up about it? Or the time you learned a much younger man was promoted over you or is paid more in spite of your longer service and better skills?
Did you express your anger? Or did you smile and tell yourself “well maybe next time,” while continuing to fume inside.
If so, you may well have ended up in a funk that sent you to your doctor’s office. There, no doubt, you were issued a prescription for anti-depressants. All of this is well and good, but doesn’t address your underlying issue: failure to express your anger.
Maybe other mental health symptoms such as fatigue (this is a big one), mysterious pains in your neck and shoulders, headaches and insomnia also intrude on your life.
I finally sought medical help when pain and overwhelming fatigue became my daily experience. A brilliant naturopath helped me with some of my symptoms, but severe shoulder pain persisted.
One day I realized the pain was connected to anger I had held onto for a long time. Early experience had taught me it was not appropriate to feel frustration about some incidents that had occurred years ago.
With journaling I uncovered the guilt and released my rage. The shoulder pain I had experienced for weeks disappeared almost overnight.
Miracles like this are not uncommon when you let go of the guilt that keeps you from expressing your anger.
Imagine the Relief of Releasing Your Anger without Any Guilt Whatsoever
Imagine how wonderful you will feel when you no longer feel guilty every time someone or something makes you angry.
When a colleague runs half an hour late for a critical meeting or doesn’t respond to an urgent text you take a deep breath, relax and know the anger you feel is natural.
Free from guilt you understand that holding on to your anger only makes it worse. Then you find positive ways to express it.
For example, when a friend shows up late for lunch for the third time in a row, you tell her nicely how you feel without blaming her. You say something like, “I feel angry when you run late so often because it makes me wonder if you respect me.”
When you speak from how you feel about the situation you are able to express your anger without berating your friend for her lateness.
This may encourage her to open up about what is going on in her life. Maybe her mother is seriously ill or she just lost her job. Or maybe she has no idea how much her friendship means to you.
Other powerful tools are also available and can help you even when dealing with incidents that have been buried for years.
Go for long walks or take up jogging. Hit a punching bag or beat up on pillows. If no one can hear you, try screaming your anger out.
Journaling about past frustrating incidents, or talking about them with a trusted friend or therapist (who won’t encourage your guilt) can also help.
When you express your feelings in any or all of these ways, there will be a smile of relief on your face.
Not only do these tools offer a way for you to release your anger, but using them consciously shows you are free of the guilt that has burdened you for so long.
You Deserve to Express Your Anger (and Rescue Your Sanity)
Picture how different your life will be when you no longer feel guilty every time something makes you angry.
When someone cuts you off in traffic, a friend stands you up, your colleague makes fun of you in a meeting or a relative embarrasses you in public, you respect your angry feelings and don’t push them away.
Guilt is no longer part of the picture.
Enjoy how it feels to be relaxed, have more energy and experience better health because you express your anger instead of stuffing it.
Notice how you are more patient and better able to navigate your inter-personal relationships. Taking out your anger on family members and unsuspecting retail clerks and customer service people is a thing of the past.
Most of all, enjoy the relief of knowing there’s no reason to feel guilty about experiencing the anger that is natural and beneficial to your well-being.
Letting go of the guilt that keeps you from expressing your anger is life-changing. Give it a try.
*Photo by Egor Barmin on Unsplash