Generally speaking, there are two ways we experience the emotion of being hurt – through anger or sorrow. Women tend to do sad rather than mad when something has upset us and men tend to do mad. I work with women who often cry when they are angry about something. Most of us are conditioned within our families and trans-generationally – to express our hurt in a gender acceptable way. As a man we are generally allowed to get angry and as a woman, we are allowed to cry. This is not a universal experience, there will always be exceptions, but it is common enough to hold truth more often than not.
Boys and Girls Express Hurt Differently
Many of us are familiar with the saying ‘little boys don’t cry’. This may not always be said overtly but can be experienced covertly as ignoring, disappointment or disapproval. This can block an important, legitimate and necessary means of experiencing and expressing pain. On the other hand, there seems to be more leeway for boys to express their anger. More space is given for boys to express their anger where they might yell at each other, throw down a toy angrily or stomp their feet. But they can’t sit down and sob.
If a girl is hurting, she can cry in her room or be comforted by her mother until she gets over it. But there is less leeway if she complains, throws something or yells. It is not talked about as much, but the tendency is for little girls to get punished or disciplined when they get angry. Refusing to allow a girl to get angry cuts her off from a legitimate and necessary expression of her pain. Her anger is not necessarily viewed as an expression of pain, but rather that she is out of control. In the not too distant past, women were considered hysterical and locked away for expressing their anger. It was just not allowed. A good little girl is always in control of herself and willing to be caring and compliant to what is expected of her.
Anger Can be Frightening for Women
Most of us have not had good role models of positive ways of expressing our anger and seeing how it can be a change agent or an expression of our truth. For many women anger is associated with being controlled by someone and possible abuse. The tendency is to smooth over things and refrain from expressing our hurt in order to avoid anger or conflict. Research has found that women are much less comfortable with disagreement in regular conversations than men. We prefer to sit around and talk about what we agree on and stifle those things we don’t like or disagree with. This tendency to push things down over time can create a De-Pression or depression. In fact Women in the US are twice as more likely to be depressed than men.
Male and Female language around dealing with Hurt
In working with couples I see again and again how the expression of anger is more uncomfortable for a female partner. Our immediate response when we experience anger from someone is to naturally want to defend or protect ourselves. But unpacking and opening the conversation to where the hurt may be, can open a pathway to deepening the conversation and creating healing.
Being able to tell ourself that anger is no different than sorrow, from an emotional perspective, might help us, given the differences in gender in how we express our hurt. If we see a partner or loved one expressing their anger we may pause and take a moment to reflect that they may be really hurting, rather than getting critical or seeing it as just being scarey.
For men who may feel lost or overwhelmed when they see their female partner crying it might be helpful for them to see her tears as a way of letting off steam in the way that she knows how. In this sense she may need comfort and presence rather than lots of solutions or ways to stop the crying.
How Do We Unpack Our Angry Feelings
So when we get angry it may be helpful to ask ourself: Why am I so upset with that person? Why am I so upset with myself? What does that remind me of?
Unpacking our feelings of anger doesn’t let it just sit there or get pushed down. We are not pretending it’s not there. Neither are we expressing it explosively, sarcastically, passive aggressively, or blurting it out to everyone who will listen. These ways of expression may give us some temporary satisfaction but ultimately they don’t work and create further hurt and distancing in our relationships because they don’t address the underlying issue.
Stop, See and Feel
The starting point is to stop and really feel and see what there is to see and feel about our anger. We may say, “I feel furious at my partner, boss, mother, brother, friend etc. But what’s underneath may be sadness or disappointment for the relationship being the way it is. We may be sad because we can’t trust that person, we may be disappointed that we don’t feel close to them in the way we’d like. It can feel empty inside of us. The sadness is always there under anger and it can lead us to healing some revelation and understanding. Here are two things you can do to connect to the hurt that may be under your anger:
- Notice those places where you are upset or angry and to look more deeply into what’s actually going on, what is it that specifically triggers you?
- Make sure you working on healing and feeling the anger and not just acting it out. Being responsive to your anger rather than being reactive with it. It is about seeing and feeling and working things out, getting to the source of what has upset you. The working out starts within yourself. It is your responsibility to unravel it, unfold it and heal it so that you’re not just walking around reacting. Taking considered action rather than re-action.
It’s not healthy to ignore the things that are upsetting you. It’s very important to not see anger as bad, but see it as a messenger. It’s trying to tell you something – that something’s not working for you, that something needs to change, something’s not honouring you. Pay attention to where you’re angry, don’t indulge in it and just go around exploding with it. Unpack it. Bring consciousness to it, bring light to it. And it will take you to a journey towards more truth and greater authenticity.
Healing Our Deep Wound Anger
The suggestions I’ve made are a starting point, but can be challenging to do on your own especially when you are working with anger that comes from a deep wounding. So in order to go deeper, the next step would be to seek out an experienced practitioner who is comfortable in working with anger and trauma. We can’t get rid of those upsetting thoughts but we can dissolve them through intense presence. Through compassionate presence. Most of us need some support and guidance around this at some point in our lives as part of learning how to do this for ourselves. A caring practitioner who can hold a safe space for us. This has been part of the work I have been doing with individuals and couples for more than 25 years now. Love Shushann
I offer package sessions for people wanting to unpack emotions like anger and the wounding that is within our anger. The tools and practices I offer work with practicing more conscious and empowering ways of expressing your truth and authenticity.
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