I’ve come to find that few women know how to be angry well. What I have seen in my therapy practice is that women keep their anger inside and let it fester into resentment, which becomes contempt.

Women often don’t give their bodies a chance to actually feel and move through the anger they are holding inside.

I was driving home to our mountain cabin in the woods of Western Northern Carolina in a run-down van we had just purchased for our family, and everything on the van was breaking. This stupid van had cost me a productive workday; I’d had to cancel with many clients so that I could take care of this broken down heap of metal. I was so angry with the mounting situation and the litany of negative circumstances we had encountered over the previous two months. I was angry with my husband. I was trying to be a good, supportive wife, but the weeks had been filled with stressful events and bad financial choices, and I was at my wit’s end. My phone was dead, and of course the van’s archaic radio didn’t work, so I just began to yell, loudly. I yelled, “I hate you, Andrew, I hate you!” I was shocked that I had the audacity to say those words out loud. Immediately after I said the words, I knew it wasn’t true, I didn’t hate my husband, but I sure felt like I did. My wild declaration left me feeling a little lighter, yet I had a lot more I wanted to get out, and since I was alone, I kept going. I continued yelling, I yelled things I will not share here, but I went raw and honest, and I believe that is what kept me sane. I had to say all of the things I was feeling to find out what it was I truly believed . So I yelled, “I hate this van, this stupid van, I hate this damn season of life, I hate our financial situation, I hate how tired I am, I hate how little time I have for myself, I hate it all!” It felt so good to scream as loud as I could, until my throat hurt and my eyes burned. I felt a wave of something new moving through me. 

Rage started to turn into heavy disappointment. I kept going. “I am so disappointed that things have turned out this way. I am so disappointed when I look at my tired body, I am so disappointed that we are struggling right now. I am so, so disappointed that we are here in this town, with your family, with this new financial investment. I am so disappointed that this is what our life looks like.” 

Honest and healthy anger will move from rage to disappointment into sadness.

I put my head on the steering wheel and tears ran down my face as I said, “I am so sad that this is how we are spending our holiday. I am sad that we are struggling in so many ways. I am sad that it isn’t easier and that there aren’t more family members who can help us, with our children or with our marriage. I am just so, so sad.” By this point, the sadness was coming in heaves of tears; so I let them come. All of that previous angst and stress in my chest was gone, it had dissipated somehow. When I was done, I got back on the road, drove home, and asked Andrew if I could talk about my difficult day after a bath. Our conversation was authentic and more gentle than I ever imagined it could be.

I am so grateful for that experience, because I know the rage and heaviness and sadness are no longer inside of me; I left them on that windy Carolina mountain road.

The exercise of pushing into my anger and then releasing my sadness freed me from its hold. I was never taught as a woman, especially a Christian woman and a good, Christian wife, how to be angry in a healthy way. I have seen many contemptuous and resentful wives come into therapy with their husbands years too late. By the time their husbands change and turn to them looking for forgiveness, the wives’ hearts have turned to stone, for they have held their anger in for far too long. It is heartbreaking to see the loss on a woman’s face when she turns and asks how to remove the contempt and hate she has felt for 20 years.

Anger is not a bad thing, aggression is. Anger is an invitation to our disappointment and ultimately to our grief.

When we honor the process and listen to our bodies, we will find freedom. Our bodies want to free us from the anger we feel inside; we were not meant to inherit the disease of contempt. I encourage you to practice this exercise whenever you find yourself angry. Go somewhere that you can be alone, and begin with the sentence, “I am angry about…” and express why you are angry at least 10 times until you really wake up your body to the fullness of your anger.  What’s important to remember is that you should not stop once the anger rises to the surface; you should allow your body to move fully through the exercise. Then I invite you to move to the statement, “I am disappointed…” which you will say at least 10 times. When your body feels like you’re finished with the disappointment stage you will know, because sadness will come. The tears will tenderize you towards the third and final stage. Finish by expressing your sadness, “I am sad…” 10 times.

1. I am angry….(10x)

2. I am disappointed…….(10x)

3. I am sad…….(10x)

Allow yourself to then let your body rest and relax. Be tender and gentle as you go about the rest of your day and, if possible, take a bath or a massage. It’s important to do some form of self-care. Doing anger well takes work and practice.

“Anything that is human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.

When we talk about our feelings, they become less upsetting, less overwhelming, and less scary.” – Mister Rogers