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Switch Up the Emotions

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

April 19, 2021

I am thinking of women as we move through this pandemic.

In the last 12 months, I have volunteered over 70 hours to offering emotional support to frontline workers and other women affected by covid-19. The hope was to provide insight and healthy coping mechanisms for individuals during this dreary period of the global pandemic. Mechanisms to assist care providers manage and stay emotionally intact as they work through the long shifts offering support to victims of this dreadful virus.

I agreed to volunteer my time weekly in the capacity of a feminist therapist and life coach for the first twelve months of covid-19. The agreement was quickly approved and within hours I received a call from my first referral. This referral happened to be a male nurse asking if I would accept him in my volunteer program. I happily accepted him. He immediately told me that he was “pissed off “with the government for the slow release of support for tenants. His emotions and beliefs were clearly noted.

As the covid-19 volunteer program progressed, I noticed that each session with female clients opened with two to three sentences related to the stress of covid-19. Sessions quickly took a turn to the individual client’s day-to-day stressors. The clients expressed emotions ranging from anxiety to frustration, to sadness, to fear and ultimately depression. These expressed feelings and emotions were common throughout most of the sessions. Using therapeutic tools, I made many efforts during the sessions to gently assist the clients in switching the emotions of sadness to anger but was met with firm resistance and denial.

“No, I am not angry, I am sad and disappointed.”

“I don’t really get angry!”

“I feel more frustrated and fed up than angry!”

“No, I don’t feel any anger. I mostly feel numb!”

All efforts made for women to translate their emotions from sadness to anger felt like “pulling teeth.” The question that kept coming up for me was:

Why are we, women, so afraid or uncomfortable with being angry?

Then: Why are we so comfortable with sadness and depression?

In her book, ”White Fragility”, Robin Di Angelo defined emotions as a natural human occurrence that can be political. She went on to say that emotions are shaped by our biases and beliefs. She spoke to the fact that it is socially acceptable for men to easily communicate anger due to the stressors of their day but that this emotion of anger is not acceptable for women to express. Clearly, the women in the covid-19 volunteer practice fitted that premise but those expressions are also common in the lives of many women. Now, why am l drawing Di Angelo into this discussion? I am simply doing so as a way to bring my thoughts into alignment to begin a much needed conversation. Why is it that no woman expressed feelings of outrage during my volunteer program but it was so easy for the male nurse to do so?

The emotions expressed by these women are usually referred to as “feminine feelings.”

Most women and girls have been socialized from the beginning of their lives that “girls must be seen and not heard.” We are discouraged from raising our voices, discouraged from feeling angry; leaving those emotions to the male gender. Society is more accepting of men or boys who express angry feelings and they are seen as competent and strong. When women or girls attempt to express angry feelings they are viewed as rude and out of control. Of course, we all know of the angry Black woman trope. Is this a societal conscious and unconscious attempt to silence us, suppress our real feelings and keep us “numb”? This is clear evidence of gender inequality. The message of how to be a woman or girl is received before we were expelled into the world from our mothers’ wombs. When we breathe our first breath, we inhale these subtle messages and beliefs. We absorbed those messages very early in our existence and so did our mothers, their mothers and their mothers’ mothers.

Today, we MUST recognize this phenomenon and learn to grapple with it. Chronic sadness leads to depression which leads to developing long partnerships with pharmaceutical companies. Chronic sadness leads to emotional paralysis which leads to the inability to achieve our optimal goals. Why don’t we try amplifying our voices and allowing ourselves to feel the strong and energizing effects that the emotions of anger can provide? Why not allow ourselves to feel the appropriate effect of being “pissed off?”

I invite you! Take a chance! Try giving up the familiar emotion of sadness, step out of your comfort zone and switch it up with an appropriate emotion of anger. Try feeling mad instead of sad and see how you will be able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and achieve your goal.


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