Extreme anger or violence is never the answer to a problem, but neither is dismissing your emotions. Unfortunately, society seems to give women one of two ways to respond to these feelings: Turn the other cheek or face the consequences.
This is especially true in the workplace, where female bosses who display even a little bit of anger being seen as "emotional" or "out of control," while their male counterparts who display the same traits are seen as deserving of more power or raises.
Famous women fall victim to this as well: Michelle Obama is one example of someone who's constantly criticized as looking or being angry in photos (though we're pretty sure any woman who suffers from "bitchy resting face" can imagine almost exactly how she feels).
“There are tremendous taboos against women's anger at the social level. Women can get angry on behalf of others—like Mothers Against Drunk Driving—but women are discouraged from expressing anger in their own relationships, especially toward men,” says psychologist Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., author of the New York Times-bestseller The Dance of Anger. “The stereotypes that you see in the media of angry women and the language used to describe them, such as 'nags,' 'bossy,' 'castrating,' and 'bitches,' silence women and label them as unfeminine, unloving, and unattractive.”
One way to help squash this demeaning, gender-bias portrayal of your sex is to try keeping your own temper in check, especially in public. But first you need to realize when you're on the brink of losing it. "If you're easily irritable, carry your anger right under the surface, or are frustrated often—and not just at the car that cut you off on the road—then you may have an anger problem," warns Laura Petracek, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in women's anger issues and has a private practice in San Francisco, Oakland, and Alameda, CA.
"Some women hear feedback from friends or colleagues that they look angry even when they are feeling at ease, which may mean they are carrying these heavy emotions without knowing it," Petracek adds. These women tend to be the ones who react rather than respond in the heat of the moment.
If this sounds like you, the best thing you can do is lower your own level of intensity, Lerner suggests. Give yourself a time-out before you throw propane-laced phrases into the blazing fire. That might mean walking away from your partner, colleague, computer screen, or phone and taking a breather—literally inhale and exhale for four counts each. "A lot of times when people are upset, they breathe very shallowly, which contributes to the feeling of anger," Petracek explains. Taking in more oxygen and slowing yourself down will help buy you some time to you clarify your position in your head and figure out what you hope to accomplish and how.
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Still want to scream in rage? That's pretty normal. "An occasional outburst of anger can feel good in the moment as you release the built-up energy," assures behavioral psychologist Deborah Rozman, Ph.D., author of Transforming Anger and president of HeartMath, a company that develops methods to cope with stress. Unfortunately this outburst won't give you a better perspective on how to handle it. Venting to a trusted friend who is honest and gives sound advice may help calm you down, advises Rozman, who recommends staying away from gal pals who invite drama and won't help you resolve the situation.
And if you can't quite simmer down, you may want to take a good look at why your emotional fuse is so short. Start by taking this quick quiz and then tell us: How do you handle your anger in a healthy manner? Share in the comments or tweet us @Shape_Magazine!