Do You Suppress Your Anger?

This comment (on our post about college violence) surprised me: "Here's the ugly truth: we are violent by nature. [...] Find a channel to vent the anger." My first reaction: but I'm not angry or violent! My second: it's complicated.

The first time I read the comment (thanks PreposterousHypothesis!), I thought, "I don't need a channel to vent my anger. I don't get angry." And it's true that rather than getting angry — or getting even — I tend to get anxious or sad. This is true even in situations where someone has done something bad to me, and my more anger-prone friends tell me I should be pissed. So am I a naturally anger-free person, or have I just been suppressing my rage for so long I don't even feel it anymore?

Conventional wisdom dictates that expressing anger is less accepted in women than in men (when did you last hear a guy called "shrill" or "strident"?). One group of studies found that women who got angry were judged less competent than men who did — said a study author, "An angry woman loses status, no matter what her position." I definitely learned to hold back angry feelings in part from my mom, who believes it usually isn't useful to express them. On the other hand, a female friend of mine is so good at getting mad — quickly, forcefully, and without lingering resentment — that she once thought of hiring herself out as a freelance bitcher-outer of phone companies, careless movers, bad boyfriends, and others in need of a tongue-lashing. And when I think about it, I do get angry on occasion (else why my comic if one-note essay, "On Stabbing," published as yet only in my head?), but I'm often only aware of my anger after the fact.

One scientist, June Tangney, says it's a myth that women have problems feeling or expressing anger — they just show it differently than men do. "They are more proactive and use more problem-solving approaches in discussing a problem with a person they are angry with," she says. Makes us sound pretty awesome! But another scientist found that women stayed angry longer, had more resentment, and were more likely to decide never to speak to someone again (the "dead to me" approach).

I'm not sure if Tangney's right in my case — I think I've caused problems in my relationships, both romantic and platonic, by holding my anger in. And there's something to be said for an air-clearing fight, rather than nursing a grudge, or (my preferred approach) lying awake worrying. That said, expressing anger too quickly and too violently has problems too — it's better to talk things out than to, as PreposterousHypothesis says, "punch a motherfucker in the face." And violent anger isn't just a male issue — despite social conditioning, women do plenty of motherfucker-punching too. The relationships between anger and gender, and between expressing anger and being happy, are kind of mystifying. Less mystifying are the top reasons for women's anger: "powerlessness, injustice and the irresponsibility of other people." Sounds like the top things that suck about life.

Anger Across The Gender Divide
[APA Online]
Gender Bias On Anger [Medical News Today]

Earlier: College Men Suffer As Much Violence As Women