by Dorothy Littell Greco
I expected the hot flashes and night sweats. I braced for the mood swings.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the anger: the white-hot, surging-through-my-veins anger.
Offenses that I had successfully overlooked for the previous five decades pricked this vein, including: being talked over, being called a girl (women over fifty are definitely not girls), and having doctors disregard my legitimate concerns.
My poor husband was disoriented. Prior to this time, he had only heard me swear once: during the transition phase of my (unmedicated) second delivery. Now, I could rarely get through the week without letting a few choice words fly.
Anger was unfamiliar to me. Well, more accurately, expressing anger was unfamiliar to me. Truth be told, hitting menopause simply tapped into fifty years worth of anger.
I got the message early on that good girls don’t get angry. Because I valued acceptance over emotional integrity, I submerged these feelings. As a teenager and young adult, I channeled all my anger (and other non-acceptable emotions) into athletics. That worked in high school and college but upon graduation from the latter, the river where I had deposited my anger dried up. Several years later, I remember walking past a tchotchkes booth at the local mall and feeling the desire to smash the fragile, glass figures with a baseball bat. It did not occur to me that my anger was screaming to be heard. I passed it off as a quirky impulse.
I find raw, unadulterated anger terrifying. I fear it will trump my self-control and I’ll end up doing or saying something hurtful. That fear resulted in a life-time of repression and denial. These default behaviors stopped working when my estrogen levels started dropping.
Anger and women are a curious mix. At least here in the States, it’s culturally inappropriate for women to express anger. If we do, we open ourselves up to being called unpleasant names, or worse, being derisively dismissed.
Most men, including my husband, don’t seem to have the same ambivalence or aversion to anger. He does not back away from it but rather presses in because he appreciates how it gives him a laser-like focus. Until I reached menopause, I never understood that.
Now, I get it.
This newly acquired tool also helps me to understand when a boundary has been violated or my safety is being threatened. It clarifies what matters and helps me to communicate to those who would malign or underestimate me I’m not going to let you get away with this—at least not without a fight.
When my anger starts surging, I still struggle to not shut it down. It’s vulnerable to be that honest in real time! After several years of practice, I’m learning to not deflect or deny but to graciously speak up, even if that means a messy confrontation. By embracing anger, I’ve become more whole. I have less shame and more confidence. The challenge before me is stewarding that anger well—that and remembering what I’m angry about for more than thirty minutes.