Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Gender and psychology – Female anger: on the potential of a frowned upon emotion

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Anger is considered an unpopular emotion – especially among women, as studies suggest. How can you deal with this constructively?

“I want to be able to get angry.” “SRF Input” listener Stefanie is in her mid-20s, has an exciting job, is in a relationship – and misses a very specific emotion: “In situations where I actually want to get angry, I cry.”

For example, if her boyfriend doesn’t stick to agreements, she becomes sad – and is subsequently comforted by him. If she feels ignored, treated unfairly or not heard at work, she withdraws. “I actually want the opposite: I want to give space to my anger, be firm and make my point clear!”

Stefanie doesn’t remember the last time she was really angry. And she wants to change that.

More than clichés: men show anger, women show tears

Stefanie is not alone with this suppression of feelings: “On average, men show anger more often than women. For example, in everyday situations of powerlessness, men tend to swear.” This is the finding of Ad Vingerhoets, professor of clinical psychology at Tilburg University in Holland, after 40 years of research. “Women, on the other hand, don’t get angry in these moments, but tend to start crying.”

It is important to note at this point that these are average values. In addition to the peak of these behavior curves, there are also non-stereotypical examples: men who cry when they reach a limit. And women who get angry.

The constructive potential of anger

Anger has an unfairly bad reputation, says psychologist and anger coach Maja Herold. “My patients don’t want to get angry. The fear of losing control of anger, becoming hot-tempered or even violent is too great. That’s why they often suppress the feeling.”

Anger is an emotion I am unfamiliar with. I just don’t know the feeling.

There is great potential in constructive anger: it serves to set boundaries on the one hand – and on the other hand it enables rapprochement, says Herold. But only if you have learned how to deal with anger. This is extremely important because: “Anger is there anyway, even if we suppress it. It is unavoidable.”

Herold differentiates between red and green anger. Red anger is the impulsive, destructive force that can be violent and cause harm to others or oneself. Green anger, on the other hand, has a constructive character.

Anger: a definition

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  • Anger is a primary emotion, which means: like sadness, joy or disgust, it is present in all people and…
  • the one that belongs to anger facial expression is understood across all cultures. Primates also express their anger in a similar way to humans.
  • Anger goes with you psycho-physiological Reactions accompany: Both adrenaline and testosterone levels increase in the blood of angry people, which releases a lot of energy. The body gets ready: to flee, to fight – or it freezes.
  • Children experience this second year of life around an accumulation of anger, in the so-called defiance or autonomy phase.
  • Suppressed anger can lead to diseases of the coronary arteries. People who a lot of anger experience have a greater risk of increased blood pressure. And she can mental illnesses how depression leads.

Sources: Maja Herold, psychologist and anger coach / Medical Dictionary “Pschyrembel”

A question of practice

“Input” listener Stefanie says of her anger: “It’s an emotion that I’m not familiar with. I just don’t know the feeling.” It makes sense to familiarize yourself with anger, replies anger coach Herold. “Stefanie is also biologically capable of feeling anger.” It’s a question of practice.

The key term from psychology is “containment”, which can be translated as “ability to hold on” or “control”. «When my patients have learned to control their anger containedthis can help them lead a more self-determined life.”

  • What does anger look like? The first step, says psychologist Maja Herold, is to familiarize yourself with anger as an emotion. “You can do this in a fun way by looking at pictures of angry animals.” You could ask yourself what an angry face looks like. Herold advises her patients to hang the pictures in their own four walls.
  • Include environment: It is a good idea to talk about the topic in a familiar, private circle. “In the best case scenario, you get friends, your partner and family members on board by explaining that you want to practice anger as an emotion.”
  • Arouse anger: In situations in which one’s own boundaries have been exceeded and, for example – as in Stefanie’s case – you are close to tears, it helps to pat your body: “Then it may be that sadness gives way to anger.” Anger as a physical emotion can be “awakened” by this. The affirmation is also helpful: “I’m angry and that’s okay.” Even familiar people can react with this sentence.
  • Question feelings: Depending on how you were socialized in your family and society, you have different “favorite feelings”. “In moments that should actually trigger anger, we react with tears, we laugh or react with shame.” Everyone can observe this and question themselves: “Do I really mean this feeling? Or is there something else underneath?”
  • Energy from anger: Anger, as a strong physical force, needs an outlet: “In order to be able to deal with it constructively, I advise my patients to transform their anger into energy,” says Herold. While jogging, you can realize why you got so angry.
  • Cool your head: Herold advises not to clarify things with a hot, angry head. It is advisable to take your time when you are angry and to give the feeling space.
  • Get rid of anger: The same applies to dealing with angry children: “If we teach children that they can be angry without hurting anyone, they learn to contain their anger at an early age,” says Herold. You can hold out your own hands or a pillow to small children to get rid of their anger using boxing.

With a clear head, the approach potential of anger can finally come into play – and you can objectively explain the reason for the anger to the other person and seek a conversation. “Therein lies the approach potential of anger,” concludes Herold.

Anger and gender – are we applying double standards?

However, the question of how society deals with anger and the genders remains open. Studies from the USA suggest that female anger is dealt with differently than male anger. When women openly express their anger, it can be detrimental to them in everyday or public situations.

It is advisable to show children early on that female anger is justified.

In a 2014 study of a staged jury meeting, study participants were more likely to say that angry men were persuasive. Angry women, on the other hand, are not – with exactly the same text and the same arguments.

What do we do with it? “Women have to remain steadfast,” says anger coach and psychologist Maja Herold. “You have to trust your anger to maintain your boundaries. Regardless of your gender, it is important to show children early on that female anger is justified.”

It is also worthwhile for each individual to listen to the voices in their own heads and ask themselves: “Do I judge angry women differently than I judge angry men? How would I react if an angry man had said the same thing?”

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