Expressing Anger

Three of my women friends think I’m not expressing my anger. As a self-identified pacifist, this is somewhat amusing. It first came up a few years ago too, in a series of conversations that went something like this:

“You should express your anger more.”

“Uh, could you re-phrase that as an ‘I statement?'”

“I think you should express your anger more.”

“I’m not angry.”

“Everyone is angry.”

“Well, learning to process anger without acting out and affecting others might be considered a positive step in human evolution.”

“But you must be angry.”

“Sometimes, but I try to avoid it.”

“You shouldn’t avoid feelings.”

“I have lots of feelings, I just don’t necessarily feel a need to amplify all of them.”

“I think it would be good for our relationship if you were more able to express your anger.”

“Um, I’m not sure I want a relationship where anger is a required amplification. I don’t want to be walking around looking for ways to be angry all the time, especially as a way to validate that we have a ‘good relationship.'”

“Well, you don’t have to look for it, it’s always there.”

“Um, this is sounding like projection to me. Feel free to express your anger. But don’t rely on me to express it for you.”

“I’m not talking about me.”

“I see that as the problem with this discussion.”

“Why don’t you want to express your anger.”

“I’m not feeling angry, for starters.”

“But you must have feelings.”

“Yes, plenty, thanks. But I’ve been working for years to highlight positive reinforcement feelings – like love, for instance – and minimize negative reinforcement ones. The fact that I might express anger only occasionally, and do it without yelling, throwing things, or punching people is something I see as a benefit to both myself and humanity, thank you very much. Actually, this conversation is making me angry. Are we starting to meet your goals yet?”

“I don’t see why you’re angry at me. Anyway, it’s not my goal, I just think it would be healthy.”

“This is a really good song; do you mind if I crank this up?”

Clearly this is a deep topic, and I don’t mean to trivialize it with the fictionalized dialogue above. But as a male raised in the ’70s and in college during the ’80s, you might forgive me if the culture at the time did not exactly take kindly to angry men. We were brought up to be sensitive, to be nice to people, to look for the good in others (despite my capital-J judgmental nature), and most of all – once we got to therapy in the ’90s – to not “act out.”
The result? Here are some ways I express anger: Tone of voice; modulating loudness of voice; tree cutting and brush clearing; playing loud music; shoveling snow; cleaning; intellectualizing; sulking; writing; meditating; yoga; exercising. There are probably some other ways that escape me in my insomnia.
I probably have more work to do in this area. But I find it ironic after all the cultural conditioning I’ve experienced that not being angry enough is viewed as a problem. One might think, given the state of the world – with road rage, bankrupting wars of choice, suicide bombers, heroin in the high schools, etc. – that a little quiet indignation would be appreciated as appropriate behavior.
Maybe what I need are a couple of tattoos and a roaring Harley-Davidson, to prove that I’m pissed.
Update: I’m looking for book citations on this topic, if you have any recommendations.