(With thanks to Dolly, who has given me some excellent blog prompts lately, do keep them coming!)
Anger is not an emotion that women, and female presenting people such as myself are often allowed to express without censure. Men are allowed to be angry, and tragically it’s often the only emotion men are allowed to show. It is however part of who we all are, and something we need to make space for.
All too often, anger is used as a justification for physical violence and verbal attacks. Where this comes up in a domestic abuse or workplace bullying context, what evidence we have suggests that the angry aggressors know what they’re doing. They aren’t out of control. Many aggressors will deliberately work themselves into a state of rage that they think justifies what follows. I can’t recall details of the study but I remember more than a decade ago reading work about male prisoners, who admitted that they often fabricated the appearance of rage to justify and get away with attacking their partners. Clearly this is inexcusable.
Rage does have good uses, though. The feeling of rage shows us when our boundaries have been violated, and can help us hold those boundaries firmly in face of threats. Anger is a good and natural response to cruelty and injustice. The trick is channelling those feelings into something productive. That might mean protest and campaigning, and using rage to fuel other kinds of practical actions that push for change.
I used to channel anger into cutting wood, many years ago. As a teen it used to mostly go into drumming, and into thrashing out Beethoven’s angry chords on the piano. Rage can translate into art in all sorts of ways, and that in turn can both help re-assert violated boundaries, and to protect them. Rage transformed into creativity can bring solutions to injustice. Too much fighting against something is exhausting and demoralising, but well handled rage can turn into the emotional strength not merely to react, but to fight for something. When we’re focusing on what we value, it is easier to sustain the work we need to do, be that around protest, resisting oppression or making radical change.
I do write in anger, sometimes. I’ve written a fair few blog posts because there were things that filled me with a fury I had no other way of processing. Most of the time I try to turn that anger into something that can help make change, rather than just flailing about impotently. But, I’m human, I don’t always manage things as well as I’d like to. So be it.
There is power in anger. Used well, it can get a lot done. I’m not ashamed of my anger, and a lot of the time I’m actively proud of where it takes me and what I’ve done with it. Anger turned inwards is always a messy, problematic thing, but when I’ve taken my rage and worked it into something productive, I’ve managed to do some powerful things. What starts as fury doesn’t always show up that way, so it may not always be obvious to people watching, whether I or anyone else has started out doing something because they were cross. Joining OBOD all those years ago was driven in part by anger, in part by distress. Rage led me to something really good there – as it often will when given the space.
No emotion is ever wrong. It’s what we choose to do with it that matters most.