On a recent morning I woke up and groggily walked to the bathroom. On the mirror was a letter from my daughter to my son. In her 11 year old handwriting she wrote: “Yesterday I loved you. Yesterday I was not sick of you messing up and apologizing then doing it again. I loved you so much and wanted you to have the best life, while you made me feel bad about me. PISS OFF.”
My first reaction when I read this note was “you, go girl!” My son had been rude and insensitive to her the night before and she had every right to be angry at him. I realized as I brushed my teeth that I was staring at her righteous anger. As women, we are often taught and told to be cooperative and thoughtful when another person is acting poorly. We are often told to consider how they may be feeling and where they might be coming from. While this suggestion at times is perfectly appropriate, it might silences girls and women. What happens when women have justified or righteous anger? How do we express this without seeming rude or aggressive?
Righteous anger is not a new construct, but encouraging our girls to express it has been a learning process for me. As a therapist I have found myself falling into the trap I mentioned above many times. When a woman would come in and talk about her anger surrounding the fact that someone she went on a date with ghosted her (never responded to a message or contacted her again), I would start asking questions such as, “Does he have a lot going on? Maybe he has commitment issues? Maybe you were too amazing for him?” On the surface these questions seemed helpful and did lead the woman to feel less distressed, but I think they were actually not what she needed. I was taking away her ability to feel and experience her righteous anger. She said she felt better, but she really felt no more anger. She had not fully processed or metabolized the feelings.
More recently I have stopped myself from automatically turning to analyze or understand the person who misbehaved. I now allow my female clients to feel and really experience their anger. I encourage women to feel their anger in their bodies and to move their bodies while angry. Sometimes this means women are yelling PISS OFF in my office or punching the air. While this might seem unconventional, it is deeply powerful and moves feelings through like nothing else. Give it a try the next time you feel peeved!