Myth #1: Women are less likely to express anger than men. “Explanations for these theories come from the popular held beliefs ‘Anger is not a socially desirable quality in women’ and ‘Boys are encouraged to be aggressive while girls are encouraged to be non-aggressive’” (Mayne & Ambrose, 1999, p. 356). Empirical studies have not supported this hypothesis; in fact they have shown both women and men get angry with about the same intensity and frequency (Mayne & Ambrose, 1999; Averill, 1983).
This is not to say that sex differences do not exist. Averill’s research (1983) showed that the major consistent difference between men and women was in how they expressed anger. Women reported crying roughly four times more often when angry than men (Averill). Other researchers found men are more likely to express their anger through verbal and physical assault than women (Archer, 2004; Buss, 1966; Mayne & Ambrose, 1999). Buss and Perry’s (1992) aggression questionnaire also supports this finding, demonstrating that men score higher on both physical and verbal aggression than women. Overall, women are just as sensitive as men to unfair treatment, lack of respect or consideration on the part of others, and threats to their self-esteem (Averill, 1983).
Myth #2: Depression in women is anger turned inward. Depression and anger have long been hypothesized to be associated and have a causal link (Riley, Treiber, & Woods, 1989). Mayne and Ambrose (1999) discussed the misperception that depression in women is due to anger turned inward. Empirical studies have failed to support this myth. In fact, clinically depressed women have higher levels of anger than non-depressed women and strong expressions of anger are actually associated with an increase in depressive symptoms (Mayne & Ambrose, 1999).
Myth #3: “Get it out of your system.” Another pervasive myth regards anger as pent up pressure that needs to be released. Therapy supporting catharsis of angry feelings gained popularity during the 1960s and 70s (Tavris, 1982). Those therapies were called into question after many psychologists and researchers showed that expressing anger generally intensifies feelings of anger (Bushman, Baumeister, & Phillips, 2001; Lewis & Bucher, 1992). In some cases ‘venting’ actually increases anger intensity and expression by reinforcing negative thinking (Lewis & Bucher, 1992). Tavris (1982) discussed several studies in which talking about an anger-provoking event made individuals angrier. As these individuals recited their grievances their anger became reactivated (Tavris).
Archer, J. (2004). Sex differences in aggression in real-world settings: A meta-analytic review. Review of General Psychology, 8(4), 291–322.
Averill, J. R. (1983). Studies on anger and aggression: Implications for theories of emotion. American Psychologist, 38, 1145-1160.
Bushman, B. J., Baumeister, R. F., & Phillips, C. M. (2001). Do people aggress to improve their mood? Catharsis beliefs, affect regulation opportunity, and aggressive responding. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(1), 17-32.
Buss, A. H. (1966). Instrumentality of aggression, feedback, and frustration as determinants of physical aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3(2), 153-162.
Buss, A. H., & Perry, M. (1992). The aggression questionnaire. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(3), 452-459.
Lewis, W. A., & Bucher, A. M. (1992). Anger, catharsis, the reformulated frustration-aggression hypothesis, and health consequences. Psychotherapy, 29(3), 385-392.
Mayne, T. J., & Ambrose, T. K. (1999). Research review on anger in psychotherapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology/In Session, 55, 353-363.
Riley, W. T., Treiber, F. A., & Woods, M. G. (1989). Anger and hostility in depression. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 177(11), 668-674.
Tavris, C. (1982). Anger: The misunderstood emotion. New York: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster.