by Dorothy Littell Greco
I anticipated every symptom and side-effect of menopause. Except anger. Up to this point in my life, I managed to (mostly) avoid expressing anger. Especially with men. Menopause changed that.
The misogynistic micro-aggressions that I had tolerated for the past fifty years suddenly became intolerable. I was no longer okay with being referred to as a girl. I protested when men told crude jokes in my presence. Once niceness ceased to be a priority, I discovered the many benefits of anger. My husband has always appreciated how it gives him a laser-like focus. I now understand this phenomenon.
That said, acknowledging anger and stewarding anger are two very different things. Part of why I chose to ignore or deny anger for the first half of my life was that I lacked models. My family of origin systematically shut it down or relied on sarcasm as a means of telegraphing their feelings. I could tell when my parents were at odds by how low the relational temperature dropped. They seemed to prefer icy silence over heated arguments. Perhaps they made this choice to protect me and my sisters. Perhaps their parents never modeled how to have healthy conflict.
I also feared doing damage. I’m well aware of the many thoughts that run through my head when I’m angry—and few of them are charitable. I concluded that it was better to simply keep my mouth shut than to scorch someone. A single vitriolic sentence communicated in the heat of anger might leave a permanent scar. Anger’s power terrified me.
It’s taken me nearly ten years to own my anger and express it in a mature, healthy fashion. One Aha! moment came when I realized that denying anger is deceitful and God is quite clear about his hatred of deceit. Once I could no longer assume that withholding anger made me morally superior, I needed to figure out how to navigate this complicated feeling.
Decades of habitual withdrawal and denial cannot be transformed over night. After all, we establish coping mechanisms for a reason. They work. In my case, the emotional discomfort of admitting my anger in real time proved to be a gargantuan barrier to moving forward. I am a strong, articulate woman. Why was this so incredibly difficult?
For one, past experiences. People don’t like it when women are angry. That’s particularly true for Christian women. Many churches and faith communities go by a playbook that clearly indicates angry women shall be shamed into silence. Or marginalized. Or both. Been there and had no intention of returning. Like ever.
Additionally, I truly felt that any honest admission of anger might result in ruptured relationships. The few times my parents expressed their anger with each another, one of them went out the back door with a flourish and gave no indication of when they might return. Later, a high school boyfriend frequently “needed space” or would break up with me when I expressed my frustration (that was as close to the a word as I could get back then). In my mind, anger and abandonment were welded together.
Shifting hormones and midlife wisdom invite us to assess how we’re doing and compel us to move toward greater wholeness. What that looked like for me was repenting of the ways that I chose deceit over honesty, committing to speak up, and finally, learning how to have self-control, which is never easy when we’re in flight, fight, or freeze. I still have to be very conscientious and deliberate about my tone and my word choices. The mantra my husband and I have adopted is a boating term: “Go Slow. No Wake.” Remembering this helps us to listen to each other rather than simply reacting.
There’s been a steep learning curve here for both me and my husband. I’m not sure who was more surprised the first time I got angry at him and expressed it with some force. Accessing anger can either help or hurt our relationships. If we’ve been in the habit of ignoring or minimizing issues, anger can alert us that something is wrong (for example, that a boundary has been transgressed) and can call us to action. Provided that we discern what anger is trying to teach us and then address the problem, it can improve our relationships, including our marriages. If we refuse to acknowledge our contribution to the dynamic or use anger as an excuse to misbehave, it can be unproductive or even damaging.
As I come to terms with the reality that anger is a natural human emotion meant to communicate a deeper truth, I can appreciate rather than fear it. That paradigm shift allows me to be more at peace with myself and less worried about how others will respond when I express anger. This is just one of the many ways that menopause inspires good growth.
Cover photo Mark Timberlake, Unsplash