You wait -- and wait -- for him to pick up his dirty socks from the bedroom floor. You labor at your desk long after others have gone home, only to watch as your boss heaps praise on a less-deserving colleague. You put your career on hold to raise your preschooler, then attend a cocktail party where you're introduced as "a stay-at-home mom." You fall into a rancorous argument with your spouse over something trivial, then explode into a snarling, cursing rage. Or you quietly stuff it all down, trying your best to "be nice" while smoldering inside.
Sound familiar? If so, you're not alone. Women are mad these days and looking for ways to deal with their emotions, according to several recently published books about women and anger. In The Anger Advantage: The Sur-prising Benefits of Anger and How It Can Change a Woman's Life (Broadway Books, $24), three women therapists -- Deborah Cox, Karin H. Bruckner and Sally Stabb -- argue that when women try to avoid their anger, they lose valuable information that could help them make decisions. They also risk harm to themselves and others. They say women who address their anger can learn from it and make important changes in their lives because of it.
"If a woman is angry, the answer is not for her to 'adjust' or 'let it go,' " Bruckner said in a phone interview. "We're saying she's got to ... be honest about that feeling, sit down and figure out the problem with the person who is making her angry."
Bruckner and experts on anger agree that a woman's position in society can often leave her feeling powerless and unappreciated -- and that frequently triggers anger. But there is a kind of anger, says Bruckner, that can lead women to newfound resolve and self-awareness. In writing their book, the authors talked with more than 1,000 women, exploring how they experienced anger and expressed it.
"Even though gender roles have changed in our country, women still feel anger is not OK if you are a woman," she says. "Women still think a woman who is angry is crazy or going through PMS."
She believes anger "gets a bad rap as an emotion" because it's closely associated with aggression, especially in the United States. But anger is just like any other emotion, including sadness or elation. Hiding anger or ignoring it can lead to health problems, including headaches, depression, heart disease or even cancer, she says.
Blowing up also carries its own risks, she says.
"A woman who spews anger, who uses anger like a baseball bat, swinging it around and bashing people, is pushing that anger away from herself and not getting in touch with her feelings," Bruckner says.
Instead, Bruckner and her co-authors call upon women to "find the part of anger that is constructive. If you blow up in a nonaggressive way, using words like, 'I feel so angry,' 'I'm totally hurt,' 'I'm furious,' or 'I can't trust anymore,' that's a lot different than swearing and cursing," she says.
Nancy Traver wrote this for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Make anger work for you
Sandra Thomas, a nurse, psychologist and author of Use Your Anger: A Woman's Guide to Empowerment (Pocket Books, 1996), conducted the Women's Anger Study, a large-scale investigation involving 535 women ages 25 to 66 in 1993. She directs the Women's Anger Research Project at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
"What makes women angriest is a situation in which they want something or someone -- say, a boss or a husband -- to change. They invest the effort to get the change, and instead the same old, same old happens," Thomas said recently.
In her book, Thomas calls on women to employ what she calls "productive anger" to make changes and get ahead.
"Learn to express your anger in a way that might bring results," she suggested. "Write an assertive anger statement to your husband. Join a coalition of fellow workers if you're angry about on-the-job harassment. Even if you do not solve the problem that was bothering you, you did something that was productive."
Eventually, Thomas said, if the situation remains unchanged and provokes more anger, women have to ask themselves, "Is this relationship ... worth it?"
Thomas said many women have to learn to deal with anger toward friends. For example, she said, a woman might look forward to meeting a trusted friend for lunch, only to find that the woman regularly arrives 45 minutes late.
"At first, you don't say anything because you value the friendship," she said. "Eventually, your anger spills over. You have to say directly to your friend, 'This is a consistent problem that makes me angry.' If she persists in being late, you'd have to stop making lunch dates with her."
-- Nancy Traver