Do You Know How to Use Anger Constructively?

You can learn how to use anger constructively. You don’t need to be afraid of it. Anger is a common emotion. I often refer to it as secondary. It doesn’t usually pop up until you’ve been feeling something else for quite a while. When that other feeling doesn’t resolve, your emotional energy can run low and anger becomes the go-to. Anger is a useful emotion, but people (women) are often afraid of it. Today I want to share my story with you about how I actually got so angry with someone that I wanted her dead! I’ll follow this post up with how I used the anger as energy that supported assertive action, turning the situation around.
In reality, I’m quite a loving person, and since I was 7 years old I vowed to myself that I would never hurt someone else with angry words or actions. So you can imagine what it was like for me to feel this inside:
use anger constructively
I have to say that I never anticipated such strong emotions to ever take over my body, and I never imagined that I would ACT on them.

But I did . . .

Here’s what happened. It was June of 1999. NATO had been enacting air strikes on Kosovo and my (then) husband’s family reached out to us for help.

Three years earlier, his family in Serbia helped us bring our daughter home from an orphanage in Belgrade – in spite of UN sanctions, which required us to get smuggled into the country by the Hungarian mob. (There’s another story for another day!)

Now, family in Serbia were asking if we could host their daughter in our home to shield her from the horrors of the war.
Plans were quickly made and we brought 18-year-old Bojana (prounounced boy-anna) to come and live with us. Since she was of Jewish heritage, I reached out to the synagogues in our area for support. They sponsored her with a full scholarship to the local community college.

Everything seemed perfect. Bojana would have the chance to create a bright future for herself in safety, with family and community support.

I drove her to the college and helped her get registered and purchase her books. I showed her the public transportation system. The synagogue sponsored her travel to and from school, so that was covered. We were good to go.

For about a month.

I often came home early during the day because my baby was in kindergarten and I had my private practice set up so that I worked while she was in school and was finished in time to pick her up.

When I came home, I often found Bojana sunbathing in the back yard and chatting on the phone in her native language; I wondered how she was doing that. When I asked her, she said that she told her friends in Serbia (via internet chat) that she was home from school, then they called her.

Gullible and ever-so-willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, I believed her.

Until the phone bill came.

use anger constructively

That bill was bigger than our house payment!


Suddenly, all feelings of charity and concern I had for Bojana were gone.

Can you see my point here about how anger is the result of other feelings unresolved? The previous feelings were replaced by betrayal and fear that led very quickly to anger.

And THIS is the secret to item #2 on your Relationship Rights Checklist. You have the right to feel angry. You have the right to express it responsibly. It’s healthy to feel the anger, recognize what you need and take action to get your needs met. You can learn to use anger constructively.
I was able to use anger constructively to ensure safety for my family. Exactly how I did that is the subject of next week’s post.

Ready to take the next steps, learn what it takes to create a healthy relationship and claim the healthy love you deserve?

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© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2016 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.


“Be a Good Girl” – Lesson Learned Too Well?

Growing up is an interesting and precarious undertaking. When we are born, we cannot tell the difference between our self and our caretakers. Being fed, being changed, and being held, are all events that we assume (with whatever ability of assumption we have at this early stage of development) occur because we will them to happen. Our awareness, at this time, is in the present moment. We become aware of a need because of the discomfort it causes; and we respond to the discomfort by loudly protesting the condition of discomfort; we cry. If we are lucky, a nurturing caretaker quickly satisfies our need. If this happens routinely, we associate simply having a need with having that need met. Our response to having an unfulfilled need becomes the catalyst that sets our caregivers into motion, as though our needs control their behaviors. As infants, we are self-centered and focused on pleasure and the avoidance of discomfort. Nothing else.

By the time we reach the ripe old age of toddlerhood, we begin to recognize that there is a difference between our self and others. This is when we learn perhaps the most important words in the English language if we are to embrace ourselves as separate, autonomous individuals. The first word is “NO!” Other words of premium importance that we learn to use at this age are: “It is mine!” and “I do it!” Saying these words provides us with a sense of personal power and agency that we intuitively know is essential to our well-being. We understand that our survival ultimately depends upon our being able to direct our own behaviors, and we are willing and anxious to develop the independence that would eventually lead to complete emancipation from our caretakers.

Then (as a product of our parents’ well-intentioned desires to nurture us and help us grow), we were dutifully taught that it was not okay for us to use these tools of our emerging independence and sense of separateness; of personhood. Instead, we (especially girls) were taught to “Be nice.” Instead of being allowed to assert ourselves by saying “No,” we were taught to take other’s needs into consideration. When we said “It is mine” we were taught that we had to share. When we asserted ourselves by saying “I do it!” We were told, “Let me help you.” We may have even been punished for continuing to assert ourselves instead of taking the correction, especially if we had an especially strong will.

girl in corner

“Yes,” you say, “but we must teach our children to be polite. We must teach them to share. We must teach them that it is not OK to say ‘No!’ because it is disrespectful.” On these points I agree, but only to the extent that the principles of politeness and social grace teach socially appropriate behavior without sacrificing a girl’s sense of self. At what point do we dismiss conventional wisdom about being polite, and teach our female children to honor themselves? At what point do we decide that when our child says “No” it is not rude, but rather a wonderful assertion of her own needs that deserves VALIDATION?! Is it possible, that from our early training, we began learning the process of making our own needs secondary to those of others?

In contrast, consider the training of little boys, who were encouraged to play competitively and aggressively. The toughest, most aggressive boy “wins.” He didn’t  ask for what he needed; he took it and was praised for being strong and “all boy”! Perhaps, that is the beginning of where healthy men learn to balance their own needs with the needs of others. At some point, they had to learn that if they are too aggressive, other children would not play with them. Consequently, they learned to balance their own needs with their need to get along with others. They already came to relationships knowing how to assert their own needs, but learned to soften their demands in order to maintain a relationship. The boys who grew up to become abusive men never learned that lesson; they got stuck at the “I have to win” part of the game. Either way, it appears that boys begin their training early for being able to “hold onto themselves” within the context of a relationship.

aggressive boy play

By pointing to some of the differences in training between girls and boys, I am not suggesting that we encourage girls to play in the same way as boys do. I am, however, suggesting that because of differences in early training, girls and women are required to address the developmental task of attaining personhood as an ongoing process which requires balance between the pressure to be “nice” or “polite” and the requirement to care for their own needs as people. I believe that we can do this by encouraging our little girls to listen to and to honor their own experiences. And letting them say no. good girl


Putting others’ feelings first when the lessons I’ve discussed here can lead to questions like the one answered in this podcast episode: He’s wonderful 90% of the time, can the 10% of the time “anger problem” that he has be resolved in therapy or is it fruitless to hold out hope?

In cooperation with 2bsisters, Tamara is in the process of making her recovery curriculum for domestic violence survivors available via a protected online format. This curriculum is for victims who have not yet been able to escape, those who have recently escaped and those who have been independent for a time but still need to strengthen themselves as survivors.

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2014 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.

Day 154/730: Transitional Program

Someday, Our Sons Will Be Men

Among all of the many important things that are stressed in this program, is the point that many of us are women raising boys to be men. I know this may seem like an such an obvious observation that it shouldn’t even bear remark or notice, but there is a subtle message in this with a huge impact.

Change is a painful evolution for most of us. There is in actual, detectable cycle that can be observed and explained during this process. One of the obvious and noticeable steps to change is anger. All of us, at some point, are so angry about our situation we could spit fire on command. Who wouldn’t if one had their rights violently violated then had to pay a severe penalty for someone else’s poor choices (IE loss of: housing, transportation, money, jobs, children, and any combination there of). So hating men and speaking ill of them is a natural effect to the cause.

The only problem with what would otherwise be a somewhat healthy purging step, is that many of us are raising boys. These boys are young and impressionable. They hear and process everything. In the process of processing, there can be and most often is, a great lack of understanding about what they are hearing from their mothers. They take it personally. It is in this impressionable time that the self-esteem can take a real beating.

Women, mothers, I know how painful and disillusioning it is to be wronged in the most intimate and coercive way, but we must consider our boys. Many of us are still holding out with hope that there are kind and gentle men out there with enough maturity to look past the results of our tumultuous past. We are putting faith in a higher being that there will be a man out there for each of us who will deserve for us to sing his praises…or for those of us shy of singing will have earned us to play “In Praise Of The Vulnerable Man” (by Alanis of course…did you really think it would be anyone else with me being the author?)

In the mean time… if not for us, then for the generations still coming into adulthood, let us raise the men that we are anticipating. Let us set aside our hate, or at least try fervently not to foist it on our sons, having them take on our burden, and raise them to be the “Vulnerable Man”. There is great joy in such an achievement. There is great and optimistic change for the future when that can be achieved. Help them to see the value in expressing these virtues. Raise them to believe that the following attributes are virtues and we will help in reigning in a kinder, gentler, and more mature generation of “real” men. I would be so proud if someday a woman felt this way about either of my sons.

“In Praise Of The Vulnerable Man”

You are the bravest man I’ve ever met
You unreluctant at treacherous ledgeYou are the sexiest man I’ve ever been with
You, never hotter than with armor spentWhen you do what you do to provide
How you land in the soft as you fortify

This is in praise of the vulnerable man
Why won’t you lead the rest of your cavalry home

You, with your eyes mix strength with abandon
You with your new kind of heroism

And I bow and I bow down to you
To the grace that it takes to melt on through

This is in praise of the vulnerable man
Why won’t you lead the rest of your cavalry home
This is a thank you for letting me in
Indeed in praise of the vulnerable man

You are the greatest man I’ve ever met
You the stealth setter of new precedents

And I vow and I vow to be true
And I vow and I vow to not take advantage

This is in praise of the vulnerable man
Why won’t you lead the rest of your cavalry home
This is a thank you for letting me in
Indeed in praise of the vulnerable man