Does Your Daughter Know It's Ok to be Angry?
May 10, 2016 10:11 PM   Subscribe

"Bottling up anger is as harmful, if not more so, than anger exhibited in violent outbursts. How we think of “anger management” should more broadly include teaching girls that it is OK to feel angry. [...] The result [of sublimated anger], for many girls and women, long into old age, is a host of physical, psychological, and emotional damages. Anger impairs people’s immune systems, contributes to high blood pressure, heart damage, migraines, skin ailments, and chronic fatigue. Unresolved anger contributes to stress, tension, anxiety, depression, and excessive nervousness."Soraya L. Chemaly writes about how girls, taught to ignore their anger, become disassociated from themselves.
posted by stoneweaver (46 comments total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, welcome to the past 1 year of my therapy! This article is basically an exact retelling of my childhood and adolescence. I started therapy 1 year ago for anxiety and shitty shitty behaviors associated with that anxiety. After a session or two, my therapist said in response to something I said, "Do you think maybe you're really angry?" And I started sobbing.

No, I would not have ever said I was angry. I don't get angry. But her saying that opened the floodgates - I'm really really really angry. A lot. And I could never have labelled it that. I have experienced approximately 10 seconds of true anger in the safe confines of my therapist's office, and even just that glimmer of anger brought me incredible hope.

Yes, teach your girls that anger is ok. Experience it! I'm never having kids, but my niece is a fucking firecracker and I hope she never loses that righteous anger.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 10:35 PM on May 10, 2016 [34 favorites]

I have had trouble with allowing myself to be angry too, and I'm male! I can't imagine how hard this must be for women.

This old Sesame Street bit was useful for me, as a kid, in getting my perspective right, about letting myself be angry at the right times. Which is not meant to trivialize, or to suggest this can be easily solved by a short cartoon, but just, throwing it in in case it helps, someone.
posted by JHarris at 10:46 PM on May 10, 2016 [11 favorites]

LOL oh man, my daughters have no problem with this. I can definitely see how screwed up someone could easily get though, from the way my parents raised my sister and the way I remember girls acting and being expected to act in school (in the conservative, suburban south).
posted by trackofalljades at 11:06 PM on May 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yes! Thank you. Anger is what, the expression of frustration, a response to your intent being frustrated. Or the beginning of the defense of a boundary crossed. And we aren't allowed to even feel the energy it takes to carry out the actions that should naturally follow being stopped, or violated. If you want someone to be less than a person, training them to dissipate their intentions and dissolve their boundaries seems like a good way to go.

I often freeze when I should fight. Unless it's for someone else, that is probably the only time I really feel I can sort of step into anger. (Usually kind of awkwardly :/)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:54 PM on May 10, 2016 [17 favorites]

What does it look like when women and girls express anger in a way that is healthy?
posted by aniola at 12:03 AM on May 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

Well, to qualify re the freezing, it depends... If someone is being directly confrontational, I just don't know what to do with that. Or if someone is saying something really nasty with the intent to be hurtful - that actually makes me feel ill. I'm much better than I was as a kid/young person about standing up to the phone company or what have you.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:06 AM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

What does it look like when women and girls express anger in a way that is healthy?

the wicker man
posted by poffin boffin at 12:29 AM on May 11, 2016 [76 favorites]

[A couple of comments deleted. As a quick note, let's avoid that inevitable drift from [topic specifically concerning girls / women] to [but what about anyone / boys / men], since that then tends to completely sideline and dominate the discussion, and folks have asked us to discourage it. Thanks, all.]
posted by taz (staff) at 12:45 AM on May 11, 2016 [28 favorites]

I'm up early because I'm angry.
I couldn't sleep till 1 because I was angry. It's not an earthshaking thing; I will be able to handle it. I just cannot immediately do it, for Reasons. And so I am sitting here stewing, and today I will be tired, because I cannot let things go.
I posted too much yesterday, I think. It was about things I couldn't let go of, because I was angry.
I wish I had learned some kind of middle ground between "easygoing and forgiving" and "nursing a grudge till it is old enough to give me grandchildren."
posted by Countess Elena at 2:38 AM on May 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

I have no idea what healthy anger looks like.

I know it isn't biting my tongue and keeping my words behind my teeth because they aren't nice because they aren't kind and they aren't good until my throat is aching long and hard and won't stop for months until...

I know it isn't going ice queen and no longer caring how hurt people are, I cannot be in their company any more without feeling that anger and fear of it and turning it inward until...

I know it isn't holding it in until my body begins to shut down with my thyroid shutting up shop and my joints clicking in and out of place as muscles too tight with it shift and ache and I don't sleep any more either and my brain throbbing with it until my vision goes funny until my menstrual cycle goes so completely haywire it is no longer a cycle it is just endless spotting and bleeding and the jokes about periods are so funny that I blank out momentarily from it and there is no infection so mild that my body will not capitulate to its demands and it goes on and on and on until...

I don't know. I don't know if what I'm doing now is healthy but my body sure thinks so. My throat only hurts if I am genuinely sick. My thyroid has evened out. My cervix is no longer infected, I am no longer sick alongside every single person inside my house and in between times. I still get migraines, but birth control has started working to control my cycle again. And all it took was not melting. Instead of being an ice queen until they made me feel bad enough to shove myself back in that bonsai form, to ignore my boundaries, I decided this was how it was going to be.

My anger now looks like walking out of the house when I see the guy who sexually harassed me, instead of going in and making nice and being polite. It looks like telling my partner that I don't care what his brother says, my child is never ever ever to be around that guy or his children again. It looks like saying 'no' often and with force. It looks like saying 'I never want to appease your family'. It looks like 'stop'. It looks like 'I am done with this conversation'. It looks like 'fuck all this bullshit'. It looks like 'don't be salty with me for doing what you do'. It looks like an email deleted, and people unfollowed, and ignored, and hellbanned, and bookmarks deleted.

It looks like taking time to have a coffee by myself instead of carving myself to the bone for people who don't even think to throw me one. It looks like napping on the couch watching cooking shows with my kid and not making her do empirically unsound activities designed to appease assholes. It looks like a bald head and a tattoo and a raised eyebrow at the 'so are you a dyke then?'.

It looks like over two months between dr visits for the first time in two years. It looks like a therapist who is no longer pleading with me to consider anti-depressants. It looks like planting myself in space and time and believing in my own damn self.

It looks like protecting every stomp my six year old takes up the stairs and telling her what a good and hard thing it was for her to angry at her friend and say something and the both of us singing loud and angry songs in the car. It looks like her yelling at me and crying and sitting with her as she feels that rage and letting her know it has a place and it isn't something to fear. It looks like telling her it's ok to think of people as jerks and not be around them because she is important and her safety and sanctity is more important than nice and kind because ever though those are important? The world is gonna use them to sacrifice her on the altar of womanhood and I am not offering up that blood and bone any more and I sure as shit won't let my kid go up there in my place.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:30 AM on May 11, 2016 [129 favorites]

Oh man, this hits so close. When I was growing up, if I showed the least bit of anger I was tickled until I stopped making everyone uncomfortable and started "acting like a lady".

And they wonder why I've distanced myself from the family. I'm in my 40's and I'm still told I'm too angry and hysterical. God I hate that word.
posted by lootie777 at 4:13 AM on May 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

When I saw the first Avengers movie I laughed at Banner's cute little "That's my secret, I'm always angry" because I've been walking around like a scaled-down indignant Hulk my entire life. I really, really wonder about women who aren't angry. How can you possibly be a woman in this day and age and not be all the time?
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 4:38 AM on May 11, 2016 [35 favorites]

For me, appropriate anger over regular things looks like saying, "Look, I'm pissed off and I'm going to be pissed off until I'm done being pissed off," and using my words instead of biting heads off for unrelated reasons. Big showy acting out anger doesn't really help me, but being able to SAY I'm angry and stew about it for a while does. Learning the there was a place between suppressing and pretending, and acting out a tantrum like I was on a children's show, was very healthy. When I dramatically act out my anger I feel sick and more upset (and when I suppress it I become crazy and unpredictable because it pops out in weird places that make no sense), but when I can just calmly name and claim it, that helps. It was nice to figure out that I can just SAY I'm angry and be angry and I'm not obligated to put on a show to convince other people my anger is valid or real.

When it comes to big societal rage I've tended to sublimate my anger into work, like with volunteer groups or by running for office, which is possibly its whole own pathology and I don't know that it does a lot to reduce the rage, but at least the rage becomes productive.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:40 AM on May 11, 2016 [34 favorites]

I have a lot of conversations with a friend about anger and it comes back to that Hulk conversation often.

I experience some kinds of anger. I can do anger at large, diffuse, systemic injustices. I can experience anger on behalf of friends - there are people who have done things to my friends, that make me shaking-with-upset angry.

But when it comes to being angry on my own behalf I do not know what that would feel like. I don't remember ever feeling it and knowing that I was feeling it. And I don't know whether that's because I've repressed it so far / gotten so fucked about it that I'm incapable of feeling anger, or whether maybe I have so much anger on my own behalf all the time that it's my only state. Maybe I'm just angry every second of the day and I don't know it because I don't know what it would be like to not feel that way. One of those things is probably true. I don't know which one and I don't know if I'd survive finding out.

It's pretty fucked, honestly.
posted by Stacey at 5:43 AM on May 11, 2016 [16 favorites]

That's so true about naming the anger and owning it. It's the middle path, and so much more useful than bottling it up or throwing a tantrum. Just allowing it to be, to sit with it and actually experience it. It took me too many years to learn, and I was so afraid of what it might mean. But it doesn't mean anything. It's just a feeling like all the rest, a signal that something is wrong. I mean, it feels like shit, don't get me wrong! But it's not as bad as the alternatives.
posted by harriet vane at 5:56 AM on May 11, 2016 [10 favorites]

One thing the article doesn't touch on - I think women learn to suppress anger because they [and some AFAB people*] learn quickly to be afraid that they will face violence or severe, immediate social sanction because of it.

That's something I really struggle with - I am always afraid, if I need to have some kind of conflict with someone, that they will hurt or attack me in some way, and that generally keeps me from showing any kind of anger/displeasure even when I know I should. It's not at a rational level, like "I know that people perceived as women face negative social sanction for anger", it's "if you get angry the other person will get angry, and they will be stronger than you, and then you'll get hurt".

*Different AFAB people feel differently about how they experienced childhood; for me, I feel like I learned and internalized most of the stuff that cis women are forced to learn and internalize, even when it was in conflict with how I felt about my gender. This is not true for all AFAB people, though.
posted by Frowner at 6:40 AM on May 11, 2016 [19 favorites]

A very long term project found not just that women live longer than men, but it's more a matter of personality type. Women who were more like men didn't live as long, men who were more like women lived longer.

So, even though it's emotionally costly to repress anger, it may not be as bad for your health as showing it.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 6:42 AM on May 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

The above is not a real study, it's just unscientific anecdotes and rehashed bits of research on optimism and I find the claim that repressing anger is actually good for your health very dubious.
posted by yoHighness at 7:41 AM on May 11, 2016 [15 favorites]

Serving justice requires remembering, it requires standing up against harms and holding people accountable. It is a painful debilitating burden at times, like swimming upstream. Being unliked, being seen as unappealing. You lose the benefits of social cohesion and supports from people who like an agreeable compliant friend and ally. Health benefits for falling in line and being gentle and sweet, the lovely bliss of ignorance, are wonderful.

They also come with their own costs. Research tends to focus on how relaxed people who "let go of anger" are and health benefits but it's harder to find research willing to explore the negative aspects of being quick to forgive and living without anger. I can't find any studies accessible without pay (feel free to link!) but if I remember right a few that found forgiving attitudes predicted higher rates of returning to abusers and seeking reconciliation. It's harder to keep walls between harmful people when you love and don't think badly of them. Anger can help maintain those boundaries and to speak out strongly at injustice and abuse. It's not fun, and like fear could help you run from a lion it could also cause you to freeze and work against you. It tells you something is wrong and can provide energy to tackle the problem or for self defense, and can help with getting comfortable making someone else uncomfortable-- something people with higher levels of empathy for all may find more difficult even when needed.


The field of positive psychology rests on the assumption that certain psychological traits and processes are inherently beneficial for well-being. We review evidence that challenges this assumption. First, we review data from 4 independent longitudinal studies of marriage revealing that 4 ostensibly positive processes—forgiveness, optimistic expectations, positive thoughts, and kindness—can either benefit or harm well-being depending on the context in which they operate. Although all 4 processes predicted better relationship well-being among spouses in healthy marriages, they predicted worse relationship well-being in more troubled marriages. Then, we review evidence from other research that reveals that whether ostensibly positive psychological traits and processes benefit or harm well-being depends on the context of various noninterpersonal domains as well."

The dark side to forgiveness"
"Despite a burgeoning literature that documents numerous positive implications of forgiveness, scholars know very little about the potential negative implications of forgiveness. In particular, the tendency to express forgiveness may lead offenders to feel free to offend again by removing unwanted consequences for their behavior (e.g., anger, criticism, rejection, loneliness) that would otherwise discourage reoffending. Consistent with this possibility, the current longitudinal study of newlywed couples revealed a positive association between spouses' reports of their tendencies to express forgiveness to their partners and those partners' reports of psychological and physical aggression. Specifically, although spouses who reported being relatively more forgiving experienced psychological and physical aggression that remained stable over the first 4 years of marriage, spouses who reported being relatively less forgiving experienced declines in both forms of aggression over time. These findings join just a few others in demonstrating that forgiveness is not a panacea.
posted by xarnop at 8:11 AM on May 11, 2016 [9 favorites]

This pullquote "In general, starting when they are toddlers, boys in the United States are given more leeway in terms of being “out of control.” Parents and teachers expect girls to be able to control themselves more and hold them to higher standards, and so girls exhibit better self-regulation. Many parents not only think that boys can’t control themselves, but they unconsciously expect boys to be angry and girls to be sociable." resonated for me.

Recently I heard a radio interview with Monique Morris, who wrote a book called Pushout, which is about the extra stresses on black girls in the education system. There's clearly an intersectional dimension to the girls and anger issue that I'm not qualified to address, but it seems like the US school system is really poorly designed to allow and appreciate emotional expression from black girls.
posted by puddledork at 8:22 AM on May 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

I've seen that McNulty article before, xarnop. I think its conclusions end up being a bit victim-blamey (it's a woman's job to train her male partner to not be abusive? Slap him on the nose so you won't get bit?) but probably also not untrue :/

I've read in more than a few places that repressing, or not expressing anger is good for you (or for your CV system), and that expressing anger typically just begets the expression of more anger, that it's less like a hydraulic system with a valve that could burst under pressure than a fire that can get stoked out of control and eat you from the inside.

I don't think that's usually the main worry for most people socialized this way, though. If you don't have the means or manners for efficacy in your own life, which I think anger's sort of important for in some ways, the consequence is helplessness, resignation, depression. (I knew I was past depression when I was able to feel a flicker of outrage again. Staying in that feeling for longer than half a minute - inhabiting it rather than rationalizing it away, or letting it just slide from your body, is still something else :/)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:28 AM on May 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

How can you possibly be a woman in this day and age and not be all the time?

if someone was like "why are you angry all the time" and i told them, if i actually had to list every reason, it would take 20 years.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:29 AM on May 11, 2016 [20 favorites]

I think since I read it in the context of another study (that I think was theirs too?) that found the exact same traits of forgiveness and agreeability and resolution seeking caused severe harm in relationships where the offender continued to abuse vs actually changes behavior or does not involve violent harms results in opposite results.

The same traits increase the benefits of healthy relationships, and increase the damage of unhealthy relationships. So to me this shows me the problem is not the lovers and the peaveweavers but what happens when people who find love, kindness, the sort of person who will work to get through anything with you and love you through it all- and see it as an opportunity to abuse over and over.

Love is powerful stuff and can get us through all sorts of things, can open doors to redemption and reconciliation difficult to walk; those who abuse it are tampering with something beautiful and meaningful that could have created a powerful long term relationship. This is meaningful to me because too often those who continue to love abusers are viewed as pathological when I think it is they possess is deep and unstoppable love and understanding. A wonderful quality as long as it's not being abused and something that leads to being able to work through the wrongdoings that are sure to occur in any relationship so that will have to be there. Some forgiveness of the small stuff and at times even heavier stuff can be what facilitates health and relationships- in the hands of ongoing aggressive/abusive people can be the wrong way to handle it. But I can't read the full article and I've been reading a bunch of abstracts and frustrated that important social information is so unaccusable to people to who need it. Healthy anger.. heh.
posted by xarnop at 8:51 AM on May 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

When I was describing my anxiety to my last therapist, I offhandedly mentioned still being resentful of the way my parents raised me but thought it was irrelevant. Then she said, "well you know, the root of a lot of anxiety is repressed anger."

So many things clicked in that moment. All the symptoms described in this article hit many nails on the head.
posted by monologish at 9:03 AM on May 11, 2016 [17 favorites]

Re: healthy expressions of anger. I am, paradoxically (verrrrry paradoxically), lucky because I was born to parents who did not care whether or not I existed. As a result, there was little to no policing of my actual behavior, because who the fuck cared, I was a girl, let's pay attention to the son instead.

I also got lucky in having a neighbor with two boys my age who babysat me (just me, see also: parents who did not want a daughter, parents were fine taking care of my brother, "boys are so much easier"). My friends' mother being a very egalitarian woman, there was no gender-stereotyping that I can recall. We grew up with the usual, occasional fights, arguments, what have you. We talked it out. "I don't like that you took the swing from me! I wasn't finished!" - "But I want to swing now! Why can't I swing too??" - "Oh, sorry, we should share. How much do you want to swing?" That sort of thing.

Once I got to public school, I had a really hard time getting along with girls who had been raised in gender-stereotyped households... which meant most girls. I got along swimmingly with boys, and again luck moved in my favor, our teachers didn't mind at all that I played on what I later learned were considered boys' teams. I knew what anger was. It's a thing you feel when something seems or is not fair. You handle it by talking about it. Often it's an incomprehension. The rare times it's done on purpose, often there's an agenda behind it (anything from innocent to less so), and usually that too can be discussed. It was how we learned how very many kids had unhappy home lives. They were misbehaving as a way to handle those complex emotions.

It was only once I hit puberty that society started giving me the feminine smackdown. All of a sudden being angry was "mean"... except with my friends, which meant I had a damn strong support system, so it didn't bother me too much. Then university, where, okay, in groups I played an instrument viewed as masculine – baritone saxophone – and so being loud and weird went with the territory. Again I escaped mostly unscathed.

Then adulthood. HOLY FUCKING SHIT WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, SOCIETY. YOU HAVE AN AGENDA AND IT IS NOT INNOCENT. Jesus H. fucking Christ nailed to the goddamned cross, adult men, I know for a goddamned fucking fact that you grew up learning how to handle anger, so when you come to me with, for instance, "oh gosh sorry, we decided to go a different direction with your project without consulting you" (when the whole stinking organization, in writing, confirms it's my responsibility, and I had consulted them to make sure my direction had buy-in) and I say "this makes me unhappy, I would have liked to have been consulted" and you go "OMIGOD YOU ARE SO AGGRESSIVE" I am being fucking serious when I look you in the eye and say, "You think THIS is aggressive? Where did you grow up?"

Aggressive my ass. I have seen men hit each other. I have seen men throw things at each other. I have seen men say "fuck you! This is fucking stupid!" in meetings with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. I know you're able to deal with anger, society. I know you're able to recognize that anger can be justified. Do not fucking tell me that my anger is unacceptable. Your sexist agenda is obvious.
posted by fraula at 9:24 AM on May 11, 2016 [71 favorites]

"Aggressive my ass. I have seen men hit each other. I have seen men throw things at each other. I have seen men say "fuck you! This is fucking stupid!" in meetings with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. I know you're able to deal with anger, society. I know you're able to recognize that anger can be justified. Do not fucking tell me that my anger is unacceptable. Your sexist agenda is obvious."

Fuck yes.
posted by xarnop at 9:29 AM on May 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

A 15-year study of girls and women found that there are three primary causes of anger that are not the same in men: feelings of powerlessness, injustice, and other people’s irresponsibility.

Oh hello almost all of my entire emotional composition! And why my employment as "person who advocates for the actual students" while working for a lot of egotistic snooty professors is so terrible for me.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:35 AM on May 11, 2016 [17 favorites]

This is very good. I want to pull out the part that made me nod and say "Yes that's me":

Is her heart racing? Does she feel flushed or shaky? Does she clench her jaws at night? Is she breaking out in hives? Does she cry for no reason? Laugh inappropriately during difficult conversations? Fly off the handle over something that seems inconsequential? You can see where I’m going here…those crazy girl hormones, right?

I'm not sure how much I relate to discussions of anger as an explicitly gendered phenomenon. I was not raised to be ladylike. When I was a teenager my mom smacked down my expressions of emotion much harder than she did my brother's because I reminded her of herself, which was certainly gendered but not as simple as "be a lady." So, I'm not sure if it was lack of early training or just me being headstrong or what, but I responded to her shutdowns with screaming, cursing, sobbing, throwing and hitting things. And kept that approach to anger for about the next ten years. It was my current boyfriend who finally began to teach me (or rather, convinced me to teach myself) about expressing anger appropriately. I wondered, too, when reading the article, what healthy expressions of anger looked like, because I knew my old ways (though the opposite of what was described in the article) weren't it, but when I read geek anachronism's and especially Eyebrows McGee's comments I realized that I already knew, and have been practicing it in my own life for a little while now: having boundaries, naming the anger, and feeling it. (My preferred wording, when I am angry but don't want to vomit my emotions all over those close to me, is "You just let me be cranky now!" with a mean face.)

The gendered part, for me, is that even though I used to express the hell out of my anger in a way that doesn't seem to match what these articles are talking about, I would always feel intense shame about it during and after, and I would try so hard to make things better while clearly still angry, that it would just make things into a worse clusterfuck. "Crazy girl hormones" is right - I would express things in the way that felt natural to me, but then I labeled it crazy and psycho and bitchy and irrational and all those gendered things, and figured it was just my lot as a woman.

I've been reading - stay with me now - Come as You Are (a MeFi recommendation!), which is about women and sex and psychology, and in one section she talks about how stress affects desire. I'm paraphrasing, but she says the important thing is not to "de-stress" with manicures and massages and soft music or whatever, but to allow the stress cycle to resolve. I'm still not sure I understand 100% what she means by this, but I think it's related to what we're talking about here.
posted by sunset in snow country at 9:58 AM on May 11, 2016 [9 favorites]

Sometime just after my fortieth birthday, I realized that most of the times that I'd cried had not been because I was sad but because I was angry and frustrated. Yes, it took that long to figure it out.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 10:18 AM on May 11, 2016 [15 favorites]

I know you're able to deal with anger, society.

GOD. aggression in men = we don't really know? is it murder? oh but maybe it was ~*justified because of reasons, who could ever know

aggression in women = a woman didn't meekly, passively, submissively accept the decision of a man so now she's a fucking monster, everyone look at the monster, shame the monster
posted by poffin boffin at 10:27 AM on May 11, 2016 [32 favorites]

being told my feelings were wrong if they weren't happy or at least neutral fucked me up for so many years. i'm nearing 40 and am only just now, after over a decade in and out of therapy and on various medications (and a lot of askme and crone island support) FINALLY starting to just let myself FEEEL things.

i didn't understand for a loooong time what repressed meant, actually. i knew academically what it meant.

but when a therapist would say something like someone's therapist said upthread about anxiety being repressed anger, why, that couldn't be me. not because i'm not angry but i don't repress my feelings, of course not, that would be bad and dishonest and i'm not that. nope, i'm here a good little girl, smiling and totally fine. yep. nothing to see or repress here.

realizing i had been repressing things was a huge revelation to me. like hearing about a flavor all my life and finally tasting it. it's still hard to just feel things but i'm a lot better at it.
posted by sio42 at 11:34 AM on May 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

and fuck those people who told me it was bad to feel things.

and bless the people that tried to just let me BE, however flawed their attempts.
posted by sio42 at 11:49 AM on May 11, 2016 [9 favorites]

I have it, xarnop; from the article abstract: "...forgiveness may increase the likelihood that offenders will offend again by removing unwanted outcomes for those offenders (e.g., criticism, guilt, loneliness) that would otherwise discourage them from reoffending. Consistent with this possibility, the current 7-day-diary study revealed that newlywed spouses [nb, sample = 135 couples from a community population, not a clinical population] were more likely to report that their partners had engaged in a negative behavior on days after they had forgiven those partners for a negative behavior than on days after they had not forgiven those partners for a negative behavior."
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:51 AM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is striking so many chords that it's a damned symphony orchestra inside my head.

Keep it coming, MeFi. Keep it coming for all of us who can't convince themselves that their anger is justified so how can they convince others; for all of us who feel bad for those who anger us because what if our anger at being hurt by them hurts their feelings; for all of us who have known no feelings of personal anger without accompanying feelings of guilt; for all of us who couldn't suppress a flash of surprise when a therapist said "...but that was something that should have made you angry..." and had the inward deep conviction that it, whatever "it" was, wasn't an actual cause for anger even while reason said it was; for all of us who only recognized how steeped in anger their insides were after they started medication which afforded them a bit of detachment; for all of us for whom that line—"That's my secret, Captain – I'malways angry"—came accompanied by a thunderclap of recognition.

Keep it coming.
posted by seyirci at 12:24 PM on May 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

In particular, the tendency to express forgiveness may lead offenders to feel free to offend again by removing unwanted consequences for their behavior (e.g., anger, criticism, rejection, loneliness) that would otherwise discourage reoffending.

Can't wait to read the article; the link says the site is temporarily down, but this is so important. It's basic conditioning that when you reward a negative behavior, you get more of the same. But women are conditioned to be empathetic and forgiving, then evo psych folks say they are biologically predisposed to it. I was just thinking the other day how teaching forgiveness to young girls is so damaging; it teaches us to let our abusers come back for more because we have turned the other cheek.

Growing up Christian, I had this shoved down my throat. I was even taught as a child we were supposed to forgive Nazis even though they annihilated God's people, according to our narrative, somehow this made us true Christians to forgive them- it was like the ultimate test. (Hello Atheism!) It's seen as a paragon of moral virtue and spiritual evolution, but I think it also serves as wish fulfillment in that you can delude yourself into thinking that forgiveness undoes the transgression, that it nullifies it. You can engage in a high-minded denial and get your happy ending even when there is no real happy ending. People want happy endings, and chronically abusive people don't generally give happy endings, but the important thing is that there is always that promise of a happy ending, just around the corner, if only you love enough, if only you care enough. It's the Jesus Complex or Mary Magdalene complex. It's a terrible thing to teach women.

My ultra christian mom forgave my dad who abandoned her after major surgery, then defaulted on child support. She said it allowed her to move on, that forgiveness was the only thing that helped her deal with the rage when she saw him speed by in his expensive sportscar while we got evicted. Yet she did an awful lot of screaming and raging at me. Forgiveness is bullshit because that anger has to go somewhere, and it will likely go in the wrong direction at an innocent party or over some tiny infraction.

Thank you for this post and for that post on forgiveness; so eager to see the study.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 1:10 PM on May 11, 2016 [12 favorites]

I don't know if my ex-wife was taught specifically as a child that anger was bad but for her as an adult it was bad and should not only be repressed but should not exist at all. Even in men. I know she said that she never heard her parents fight or disagree. Ever. Hard to believe. She said on a few occasions she may have heard hushed voices in another room.

It affected our marriage pretty drastically. If I showed any amount of frustration or anger no matter how controlled or suppressed I was automatically accused of being a bad husband and just a generally bad person. I tried to talk about this in marriage counseling but it didn't really help.
posted by Justin Case at 1:21 PM on May 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

A few years ago I was looking at an overgrown bit of forest and realized that I had as little knowledge of my own internal emotional landscape as I did of the flora in that forest. I didn't know how to recognize or name things, how they interacted, how the seasons went.

A few people I know have assumed I'm on the autistic spectrum. I don't think I am. I have a tiny bit of anecdotal evidence that being a person of color sometimes makes people read certain behavior as autistic; I dunno.

When I was in middle school, I loved Star Trek: The Next Generation. I would fantasize about being able to just wish myself onto the Enterprise and have my own room and eat whatever I wanted and have loads of time to myself, to study or read or sleep or whatever -- in retrospect part of what I wanted was an escape from the pressures of being an overachieving kid who was lonely but without any real solitude to enjoy. I empathized with Data because he seemed to basically act sensibly and be confused by others.

Sometimes I couldn't watch the show when it broadcast, so I set the VCR to record it. One night I was about to see an episode I hadn't seen yet, I think a new one, and I started watching it, and just as characters started speaking, my dad said something, so I couldn't hear what the characters said. So I stopped or paused and rewound a bit and then hit Play. A few seconds later it happened again. And then again. I really can't remember whether he clearly wanted to tease me or whether he clearly just didn't care about interrupting my enjoyment or whether it was unclear, or what, but I just got so angry and sad and frustrated because I just wanted to be able to watch my show. I ran upstairs and went into the bathroom and screamed in frustration. And my mom came upstairs and told me that I couldn't/shouldn't do that. And it wasn't just "don't howl so loud that it bothers other people in the house" -- it was like the message was that it was not ok for me to feel that angry at my dad. Maybe that's not what she meant to say, but that was what came across, that it was wrong of me to be angry, wronger if I was very angry, and super wrong to express it as anger.

Many years later, I saw Inside Out and read about the Paul Ekman emotion research that had gone into it. It made a lot of sense to understand anger as the justice-related emotion, as the protective signal that says "I think something unfair is happening." There is a terrible logic in how the society I live in consistently tells women and children not to be angry, not to speak in anger, to suppress the injustice signal. And I think this is part of how I have been disconnected from my emotions, and part of what I need to dismantle.
posted by brainwane at 2:19 PM on May 11, 2016 [23 favorites]

@GOWW, @xarnop- my bad! That was another McNulty article I happened to have handy (Spotlight + my inattention); it is:

McNulty, J. K. (2010). Forgiveness increases the likelihood of subsequent partner transgressions in marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(6), 787.

The one xarnop identified is a longitudinal study that found that: "although spouses who reported being relatively more forgiving experienced psychological and physical aggression that remained stable over the first 4 years of marriage, spouses who reported being relatively less forgiving experienced declines in both forms of aggression over time" - for the same reasons, they think, yes (operant conditioning).

posted by cotton dress sock at 2:53 PM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure folks who knew me middle school through college would use angry as one of the first words to describe me. And this spoke to me so much: believing that they don’t have the right or ability to do so without great risk.

Because, I didn't feel angry when I voiced my anger. I felt scared. I felt I was doing one more thing that was proof I was unlovable and undeserving of social ties. And I only expressed it because I had mulled over it, and decided it was worth it.

I feel completely at ease getting angry on others behalf. Political issues are worth the self harm. My friends and loved ones are worth the self harm. But myself? I have stayed in such hellish relationships because I discount all red flags as unjustified flashes of anger. "I know I'm prone to over react. So that's probably what this is."

I've been having a tough time with my anxiety lately. And last week, I was talking to my therapist that I felt something must be going wrong that I'm feeling worse. And he mentioned that it sounded like I was angry he wasn't providing more help. And I struggled. Anger wasn't on my radar at all. And I wanted to assure him that I knew he was doing everything he could, to try to get the conversation back to fixing me.

And it took a while to hit me that I was allowed to be angry, even at the person trying to help me. That I didn't have to spend so much energy and create more anxiety trying to present my feelings to my therapist in a friendly non-confrontational way.
posted by politikitty at 3:29 PM on May 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

Well, I know I'm angry. I feel that anger. I just can't express that anger or do anything about it. I can't fight back against whoever's pissing me off. I can't get anybody to stop doing what they're doing. Yelling does no good at all. Kickboxing at the gym didn't do much. So what the hell am I supposed to do about it?
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:54 PM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Harriet Lerner's Dancing with anger was very helpful for me and focuses primarily on women's anger as a neutral emotion that indicates a need for action. Suffocated, anger denied burns us up but anger is like starter fuel or an alarm lighting, pointing to something that needs action.

And what also helped me although I'm still very much toddler stepping through anger, with the background collateral of Christian forgive, don't be angry because that's un-Christian, baggage deliberately laid on, was to seek out and read about angry Christians and Christ being angry. If Jesus got angry, then the anger itself isn't the problem. And there were some angry saints in history, including women.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:36 PM on May 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Apparently depression is "anger turned inward." I can totally see that. Part of depression for me is not having my needs met. Being angry and not having the tools to express anger turns it into a trap and a vicious cycle.

most of the times that I'd cried had not been because I was sad but because I was angry

I cry so much when I get angry. I had a job a few years ago where I was So. Pissed. Off. but couldn't stop crying in meetings with the boss and the boss' boss (men of course) and was totally blown off because of it.
posted by bendy at 7:10 PM on May 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I stole it from When Anger Scares You, but I love pointing out (to myself and others) that the entire Civil Rights movement was based on anger, and that none of this country's social justice issues would ever be addressed without anger. It helps remind me of why anger is so important and powerful.
posted by lazuli at 7:42 PM on May 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

I wasn't necessarily told to ignore my anger, moreso to not express it. I remember calling my older sister when I was a teenager and telling her how angry I was and she couldn't understand it. I remember feeling like my anger was irrational and it was a Bad Thing to express my anger or frustration at any given moment, my feelings being dismissed. I remember being even angrier that my older brother was able to express his anger to his heart's content, and yet my slightest opinion of dissention was seen as an outburst and overemotional. I was "too sensitive" or "took things too personally" or "complained too much".

I would get so angry seeing how my brother was treated and how we was able to navigate through life praised for displaying emotions authentically meanwhile I was castigated for showing any emotions. I was sullen, anti-social, melodramatic. As I've gotten older, I see my brother and rather than the envy or jealousy I felt before, I feel sadness for him. The only emotion that was socially acceptable for him to show was his anger. He got very comfortable with expressing it, yet was unable to explore the rest of the spectrum of human emotions. Now it is difficult for him to express himself, be it joy, happiness, sadness or disappointment.

I am glad I was able to defy some socialization to the point that I am comfortable expressing my emotions and am no longer afraid of being angry or showing it. I know what anger is now. That was a life changing experience to be able to acknowledge that, hell yes I was angry. I plan on teaching the children in my life that it is ok to express yourself, especially the young women.
posted by lunastellasol at 3:58 AM on May 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

brainwane: Many years later, I saw Inside Out and read about the Paul Ekman emotion research that had gone into it.

Thanks to your reference, I found this article: The Science of 'Inside Out' from the Paul Ekman Group. It increases my appreciation for the movie, and some of my understanding about emotions.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:35 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

There is a terrible logic in how the society I live in consistently tells women and children not to be angry, not to speak in anger, to suppress the injustice signal.

This, very much so. It's so weird that some religions and philosophies are so into forgiveness in a blanket sense and hold it up as a virtue when you could just be enabling victimization, abuse or exploitation. I think it's a way of just avoiding uncomfortable emotions and situations. Anger often feels dangerous, explosive and I think people fear escalation so they propose looking the other way and suppressing anger as a solution. It's just a form of denial that something wrong has transpired. Noting that something wrong has happened and that anger is the natural response means then that the Pandora's box of problems is opened up, the questions of why it happened, what should be done to rectify it and the possibility of enraging the offender who may already be an abusive person to begin with. It's so much easier to stuff all that in and act like nothing's wrong, but that solves nothing.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 1:18 PM on May 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

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