Why is everyone so scared to be angry?

Posted by gminks in anger | 3 Comments

I’ve been pondering about the idea of anger for the last several weeks. I think I started talking publicly about it when I wrote this post: Maybe it’s time for women in tech to get angry. That post came from reading one of Shanley’s posts about things she never wants to hear again, and the first thing on the list is Why are you so angry? Finally, when I saw this post from fellow learning community member and gamification guru Koreen Olbrish Pagano entitled the Happy Revolutionary – about how you can be happy and still get mad at stuff – I knew I was on to something.

Why are so many people telling us it is downright dangerous to be angry?

Here’s the definition of anger from FreeDictionary.com:

an·ger  (nggr)

n. A strong feeling of displeasure or hostility.

From the same source, here are some synonyms of anger:
Synonyms: anger, rage, fury, ire, wrath, resentment, indignation
These nouns denote varying degrees of marked displeasure. Anger, the most general, is strong displeasure: vented my anger by denouncing the supporters of the idea.
Rage and fury imply intense, explosive, often destructive emotion: smashed the glass in a fit of rage; directed his fury at the murderer.
Ire is a term for anger most frequently encountered in literature: “The best way to escape His ire/Is, not to seem too happy” (Robert Browning).
Wrath applies especially to anger that seeks vengeance or punishment: saw the flood as a sign of the wrath of God.
Resentment refers to indignant smoldering anger generated by a sense of grievance: deep resentment that led to a strike.
Indignation is righteous anger at something wrongful, unjust, or evil: “public indignation about takeovers causing people to lose their jobs” (Allan Sloan).
So anger is the English word we use to describe the most general idea of strong displeasure. This article on the site Medical News Today explains
Experts say anger is a primary, natural emotion with functional survival value, which we all experience from time to time. The raised heart rate, blood pressure, and release of hormones prepare us physically for remedial action – which is either to fight or run away at top speed (fight or flight).
So, let’s go back to this idea of anger for women (and other marginalized folk) in tech. Here’s something that commonly happens to me: I share an idea during a meeting, the conversation starts to bend towards the implications of my idea, and someone else (usually a guy) will restate the idea as if a bolt of ingenuity has racked his brain with this idea. Usually, folks in the meeting (again, usually guys) will point out that I already provided that idea about 15 minutes ago. But every time it happens, even though it has happened so many times in my career, the first reaction is anger. It’s just plain rude to claim other ideas as your own. Especially during the same meeting.
I’ve taken to imagining that the guys doing this are multi-tasking, they don’t hear the original idea, and they really do think they came up with it. Sorta like the person who gets asked a question during a meeting but hasn’t been listening so the entire last 20 minutes of the conversation has to be rehashed for them. All of those things are rude, really. But rude doesn’t make me as mad as claiming ideas that are not yours.
But, maybe rude makes you angry!
The biological fight or flight reaction that anger makes us feel is important – it helps us set boundaries. If no one speaks up that the idea was originally mine, I’ll do it. Maybe if you get angry at someone being rude, you point out you’d rather not have to endure that behavior, and it stops.
I don’t know. I”m just sort of writing out what I think, trying to give a couple of examples. I do know that personally, if I swallow that reaction when I’m mistreated and I don’t set boundaries, then the slights continue, the anger builds and festers and becomes something else. Wrath? Resentment? Indignation? Maybe the more you hold in the initial anger, every time it happens you are so numb to the real boundary that was being broken….and the anger just festers. No good for anyone. It won’t help set boundaries, and there are physical impacts on your own body to consider.
And what happens if the reaction to certain societal groups (e.g. women in tech) when they attempt to react to that initial anger, when they try to set boundaries, is demeaned, mocked or belittled? We have to be mature enough as a society to listen when someone is angry, to hear them out, to see if we need to reset our realities and boundaries if that is what is requested.
I don’t know. Just seems like part of the problem is we can’t get mad when people do mean crap to us, which means any boundary we suggest will seem foolish.
Like I said just working this out in my head – and now on my blog. 🙂 What do y’all think?

3 Responses to Why is everyone so scared to be angry?

  1. Dave says:

    I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, the answer is in the medical definition you quoted. Whether in personal or professional settings, don’t want my rational mind compromised by an evolutionary physical survival response. So in a sense, I am scared to be angry, because I don’t want to screw up an interpersonal or professional situation due to simple biology.

    So, it’s one of my personal behavioral drivers to recognize when I’m headed in that direction, or when someone else is, and redirect the situation to let it defuse before we try and solve (or even discuss) the problem.

    This doesn’t imply I think it’s bad to involve emotions in responses to situations, but I personally prefer to have as clean an emotional slate as possible by the time I start talking to someone about how to address the issue.

    (bleep bloop I’m a robot, yeah, I know)

    • gminks says:

      So I can understand why you are scared to get angry. Sorta. I’m not a robot, so it’s not my personality, so I can only sorta understand. 🙂

      But let me ask you this – is it scary to you if see other people expressing anger? And I’m talking limit-setting anger, not curse-someone-out-wonder-if-that-person-is-coming-back-the-next-day rage.

      • Dave says:

        Scary’s a strong word, but it makes me uncomfortable. I’m not confrontational. I prefer to stew on something and discuss it later. I’m not saying it’s better to be wired that way, but somehow that’s how I ended up.

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