Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash
For women, anger has been a no-no. We are limited in our self-expression of our anger due to the backlash of being blanketed as an “angry woman.” We take classes, read books, scour the Internet for ways we can exert ourselves without sounding like a “bitch.”
For women, anger is labeled as proof to others just how hostile, crazy, irrational we naturally are.
Ultimately, we learn our anger is not going to be recognized, understood, or supported as an appropriate human emotion, so we internalize it.
We set aside our truths, our needs. We question ourselves. We doubt ourselves. We extend massive amounts of emotional and psychic energy trying to pursue the roots of our anger so we can express it “better” or in ways they would understand.
If only they would understand.
The lack of recognition tends to add another layer to our sense of frustration, making us weary to even acknowledge anger in ourselves because it is met with such outward denial and diminishment.
Especially, in the container of divorce, women who use the legal system are labeled again as an angry, revengeful, blood-thirsty, money grabbers.
What we don’t see is perhaps the intrinsic yearning that is underneath: I am respected.
What if for a moment, our definitions of “angry divorcee” were removed and we see only the request that is the true ask?
What if we could genuinely remove the stigma (both internalized and externalized) and clearly articulate the true demand?
Can we even use the word “demand” as women? See if your body had a reaction to that word once you read that line.
It is as if we are not allowed to have this human emotion. That somehow the road from anger leads right to bitterness and resentment.
The world doesn’t need another angry, bitter, resentful woman. We’ve got to keep that in check, as if it is part of the patriotic role of men to police women’s behaviors, consciously or not.
“No, no, no. We don’t want women to start even more complaining. She got it all in the divorce. What does she have to make a fuss about now?”
Our anger is de-legitimized even before we open our mouths.
Many ex-spouses will say that making demands regarding the split of property, parenting time, finances is un-feminist. Our “feminist agenda” should have us wanting to do everything on our own as capable and independent as we say we are.
Again, our wanting to direct the course of our lives post-divorce triggers the sense that they must correct our behavior by distorting the meaning of a value we hold dear.
These are just a few of the double-binds for women when it comes to divorce and the emotions around it.
Yet, I want all women to understand this. I want you to feel seen and recognized for your authentic anger.
To be angry is to say, “I am powerful.” To be angry is to say, “I have boundaries.” To be angry is to say, “I matter.”
Yes, we want our anger to be recognized for the full meaning it holds without repercussion to our personhood.
I am asking you to first see what your anger is before you can powerfully wield the results of listening to it.
Anger is not the same as aggression. Aggression is actually the avoidance of anger. It is directed outwards. Hurt people hurt people. It does not help us to see what we are trying to accomplish in the interaction.
Anger is not the same as resentment. Resentment is our listing of all the wrongs and unfair treatments we have tallied. We have been treated this way for so long, we actually shut down our responsiveness to that person. Yet, resentment is also a messenger. It actually stalls us in our indignation. It does not help us take action.
The opposite of anger is not forgiveness. Forgiveness is often thought of as the end-all-be-all spiritual reckoning. It often involves shaming you for not forgiving. It downplays the continual hurt, the impact of your ex’s actions, on you and on your children. Do not forgive until you do the due diligence of feeling all the pain you need to feel. Do not forgive if the behavior of your ex hasn’t changed and is still harming you and your children.
Decoding our anger is a daily practice and skill to learn.
My hope is not to give you an individualized solution (feel your anger unapologetically) for a systematic problem (women are still seen as inferior and cannot express a full range of emotions in our society).
My hope is that you see your anger for what it is – a vital force that reminds you to take no shit, a force that should not be internalized to do harm to yourself, a force that tells you where your natural limits lie.
And that you listen to it. That you don’t dismiss or diminish it. That you don’t misconstrue it, making it mean something else. That you don’t use it to shield yourself from the responsibility of doing deep contemplation of your own shadows and values.
I am not telling you to subdue your anger. I am not telling you to forgive your ex so that peace will magically arrive. I am not telling you to control your anger.
My demand to you is to honor your anger – prior, during, and post-divorce. My demand is to transform that anger into something that works to empower yourself.
My demand is to search out all the hidden places in your anger where you are really telling yourself, “I am.”