A road-raging maniac screams obscenities at you at an intersection, even with her kids in the back seat. A woman cuts in front of you in line and, when you confront her, tells you to bug off.
More people, it seems, aren't afraid to let loose these days, whether they unleash their anger on deserving rude strangers, unsuspecting partners or stunned co-workers. The good news for women is that we are finally freed from the constraints of years past to be ladylike (read: no yelling) and are speaking up, loud and clear. But in this post grrrl-power era, are we getting anywhere with expressing our anger?
That depends. "Uncontrolled anger is a very ineffective method for women to get what they want in life," says Susan Heitler, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Denver and author of The Power of Two (New Harbinger, 1997). "Inappropriate anger pumps people up so they feel powerful, and in fact they're giving a powerful impact when they act angrily. But at best they'll win the battle and lose the war."
While anger gets many women what they want in the short term, in the long run it fosters disrespect and resentment. Heitler, who has worked with couples who are trying to sort out marital issues and has produced a video called "The Angry Couple," found a recurring pattern among clients. "The female partner inappropriately lashes out, and the male partner withdraws," says Heitler.
Often, explains Heitler, women emulate their mothers' example of self-restraint -- until they simply can't take it anymore, and then they burst.
The 4-step solution
Rather than let anger overcome you, channel it into action. Next time you're ticked off, use rage in your corner. For instance, you may be angry with your partner for withdrawing to the TV right after eating a meal you've made. Before saying to yourself (or him), "He's an inconsiderate Neanderthal who obviously thinks I should wait on him," try these steps:
1. Regard anger as a stop sign. "We may experience anger as a green light to act immediately," says Heitler. The faster your heart is racing, the more slowly your mind puts the pieces together -- you can't think clearly. Stop and give your sense of reason time to catch up with the feeling.
2. Gain information and understanding. Try to deduce what is happening. Perhaps he is following his father's example and hasn't thought about an alternative.
3. Figure out, What do I want?” Ask yourself what's eating you. Use the answer to form a rational reaction. Maybe what you want is for him to thank you for the meal, or do the dishes, or for you to do them together.
4. Look for an effective and dignified way to get it. Once you know what you want, raise the topic in your normal, comfortable tone of voice.