Writing. Making Ways.

Soraya Chemaly

10 Steps to Emotional Competence and Efficacy

A condensed RAGE excerpt



1. DEVELOP SELF-AWARENESS: you can take stock of your default anger settings. Are you expressive or a ruminator? Do you simmer or explode? Do you cry or calmly assert yourself? Are you diverting your anger? Do you even admit to yourself that you are mad about something or at someone close to you? What are you scared to say, even to yourself? You might tend toward getting angry quickly, known as trait anger, or you might be a person who is slower to anger even when provoked, known as state anger.

 2. DISTINGUISH THE THREE AS: ANGER, ASSERTIVENESS, AND AGGRESSION: Anger, assertiveness, and aggression are frequently and unhelpfully lumped together, particularly when the person who is being assertive, angry, or aggressive is a girl or woman. All three are, however, related by the word no, and a simple, unapologetic, declarative no is not a word that girls and women are taught to embrace.

 3. THINK ABOUT LIKEABILITY AND BE BRAVE enough to stop pleasing people.  In many environments, all you have to do to be castigated as an angry woman is to say something out loud, so you might as well say exactly what’s bothering you and get on with it.  This means that, usually, you have to come to terms with not always being liked. Your anger and assertiveness will make some people unhappy, uncomfortable, sensitive, cautious. There is discomfort though in the understanding and demand that comes with anger.

4. TAKE (DELIBERATE) CARE: A lot of anger comes from the demand so nurturing. It is possible to take care of others, however, without being careless with yourself. Care with purpose. Understand that this includes taking care of your own health and wellbeing. Learn to say no and to say no unapologetically.

5. CULTIVATE BODY CONFIDENCE: Consciously balance how your body looks with your body’s health and competence, meaning health and functioning as opposed to attractiveness.  Self-objectification, cultivated in women particularly, makes it harder to feel anger or do anything about it. It makes you more vulnerable to threat and assault. It contributes to low self-esteem, self-silencing, and a heightened likelihood of self-harm, anxiety, and depression.

6. TAKE YOUR ANGER TO WORK:  Anger is often part of the average workday, and occupational status directly affects how we feel and express our anger. Navigating anger, frustration, and resentment when their expression puts your livelihood at risk is difficult and complex. Because of the realities of workplace hierarchies and the legitimate fear of retaliation, many of us, even if we are aware of our anger, stay silent. We then tend to, in turn, punch down, taking out our ire on loved ones at home or on subordinates. The steps to healthier responses and expressions of anger is the same at work as it is at home: awareness, making meaning of what you feel,  engaging the people around you and strategizing to effect change.

7. CULTIVATE DIVERSE COMMUNITIES AND HOLD INSTITUTIONS ACCOUNTABLE: Anger can feel very isolating, but, in fact, it is an emotion that demands communication and conversation. It also finds strength in community. Finding communities that validate and share your anger creates powerful opportunities for effective collective social action. For those communities to be truly effective, however, they should be diverse and inclusive. In these settings, anger is often a source of energy, joy, humor, and resistance.

 8. CHALLENGE BINARIES:  Binaries make up the male-female structure of the world. They mark the differences between home and work, personal and professional, private and political, and emotional and rational, to name only a few. In terms of anger, context often governs how you feel and express it, and for women, one of the foremost regulators of our expression is how we are supposed to act in public versus in private. For the most part, these binaries lack nuance and impose harsh limitations on human expression and behaviors.

9. LEARN TO TRUST WOMEN: Anger is related to our cultural notions of authority and power, both of which are enmeshed with ideals of masculinity. Studies show that most of us grow up to distrust women who claim authority or expertise or who express anger righteously or politically.


10. ACCEPT A WILL TO POWER: Women are just as motivated by the desire for power as men; it’s just that our cultural ideas about power don’t associate it with femininity. If you are a girl or woman, chances are you have grown up unwittingly associating ideas about power with masculinity. Our primary roles as caretakers make the idea of power, associated as it often is with masculine behaviors like competition, conflicting. Power is, for example, associated in implicit bias studies with domination and not nurturing. Powerlessness is, on the other hand, implied in femininity. Interrogate why.