How Therapy and Feminism Taught Me to Own My Anger and Use My Voice

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

We don’t like angry women.

Throughout history, women’s anger has terrified us so we’ve tried to silence it. In the past, we’ve diagnosed dissatisfied women who had the audacity to say something about it with ailments like “wandering wombs,” or simply called them “hysterical” and locked them away, so they wouldn’t dare bother us with things as unmannerly as their thoughts and feelings.

Now, we simply call women who own their thoughts and feelings, and express them clearly and with conviction “shrill,” “confrontational,” or “overbearing.” Or, if we’re feeling more generous, we pronounce them “unladylike” or “unlikable.”

This is bullshit.

Number one, there is no one way to be a lady. So the idea that you can be “unladylike” simply because you don’t fit one person’s rigid definition of what it means to be a lady doesn’t make much sense.

Number two, someone is not “unlikable” simply because you happen to not like them. Other people may like them quite a bit. You personally just don’t like them. And you probably don’t like them, because they make you uncomfortable.

Women who say what they want to say, when they want to say it have a way of making people feel uncomfortable. I know, because I’ve made people uncomfortable myself in the past.

And those were some of the proudest moments of my life.

Let me explain, I haven’t always been able to say what I want, or what I should say in the moment. As women, we’re been pretty conditioned to “not rock the boat,” to “play nice,” and to be “non-confrontational.”

On the surface, these may seem like good qualities, and sure, sometimes they are. But other times, they work against our best interests and the best interests of others.

Because sometimes the most important thing for us to do, for ourselves and for the people around us, is to get angry and to say something about it. Sometimes we need to not just rock the boat — but knock the damn thing over so when we put it back in place, we can start off on a new, better path.

For example, sometimes you need to let your anger out and you need to call out the people in your life on their bad behavior. You need to let them know that what they’re saying or doing is hurting you or others.

You need to do this, so they at least have the option to stop. By doing this, you’re not going to magically change their behavior. That’d be pretty neat, but it’s unlikely to happen. But at least by voicing your thoughts and feelings, you give the other person a chance to recognize their own behavior, and maybe, just maybe, that will allow them to interact with the world in a new and better way.

It’s nice when it works and it has worked for me some times. Like when I calmly confronted my old co-worker about his sexist jokes and he suddenly realized that maybe they weren’t so funny after all and my newsroom was spared his unfunny forays into comedy for the rest of his tenure there.

Or when I told a man who was interviewing me for a job at my local newspaper, that hey, maybe it wasn’t funny to joke about how there should be more murders in town so they’d sell more papers. And sure, maybe he would have said the same damn joke to the next person who came in for an interview, but at least he knew I wasn’t okay with it. He offered me the job, by the way and I turned it down.

Or when I told those little jerks I had to carpool in high school that if I heard them pick on someone again their butts would be walking home in the cold. They didn’t do it again. I guess they liked being chauffeured more than they liked mocking other kids’ clothes.

These aren’t monumental things. They’re not even close to being monumental things. But for me they were big, because I’m not always good at telling people what they need to be told.

That’s because as a person, I’m prone to over-analyzing and over-empathizing with other people. This may seem like a good thing. It means I try my best to think through my actions and take responsibility for my part in any negative interactions I have with other people.

But what I learned in therapy is, sometimes you can take this too far. You can take it too far and start blaming yourself for things that really aren’t your fault at all — like when people emotionally abuse you or just generally treat you or others like crap.

At moments like this when you’re so hell-bent on giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, you can take your empathy too far and start making excuses for the people in your life who treat you badly. Then, if you’re an over-analyzer like me, you start doing mental gymnastics to explain why they would treat you this way — and odds are, you’ll decide it’s because you deserved it.

So now, not only are they treating you badly, you’re treating yourself badly too.

You don’t have to treat yourself like this. You don’t have to let other people treat you like this. You deserve to be angry when people treat you or the people you love badly. Or hell, even strangers badly.

You deserve to say something. You deserve to feel your feelings and express them. This doesn’t make you shrill, or overbearing, or unlikable.

It makes you a functional adult who is capable and confident enough to stick up for yourself and others. It makes you a badass.

And well, if that makes people uncomfortable, don’t worry, it’s not you. It’s them.

Feel free to be angry with them.

I’m a freelance writer and editor. I’ve written nonfiction children’s books, bar reviews, health care communications and more: https://ashleystrehlehartman.com/

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