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Women Should Let the Fur Fly

Study says women who suppress anger end up even angrier

MONDAY, Jan. 14, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Don't bottle up your anger, particularly if you're a woman.

That's the conclusion of a new study that found women who suppress anger end up even angrier.

The research, conducted by the Economic and Social Research Council of Great Britain, compared women with men to see which of the sexes was better at dealing with anger. While both groups could suppress their anger, the results got ugly when women did it.

"The subjective intensity of anger was increased in women by suppressing the expression of that anger," lead author Judith Hosie says in a statement.

For Dr. Naomi Weinshenker, the study makes sense because holding in emotions generally intensifies them.

"If you suppress your anger, it usually doesn't go away, it eventually comes out, although often it comes out on someone else, at another time, in another place," says Weinshenker, an assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine.

While Weinshenker doesn't believe in the generalization that all women hold in their anger, she does think that because women are generally more in touch with their feelings than men, they may simply remain aware of their feelings longer.

"Women may simply be more aware than men that they are still feeling angry," says Weinshenker.

The goal of the study was to compare the effects of different methods of dealing with anger and sadness in both men and women.

The participants were divided into three groups, and told they would be shown an emotionally charged movie.

The first group was asked to express any feelings of anger felt while watching the film. The second group was asked to suppress all feelings of anger. The third group was asked to substitute feelings of anger with pleasant thoughts.

The three groups were then shown a second movie -- equally charged with emotion -- and were told to respond as they normally would. That, the researchers say, is when they could clearly see the effects of suppressing emotion.

The women who were asked to suppress their emotions after the first movie registered much greater anger after seeing the second film. In fact, their anger level rated highest of any of the participants.

According to Hosie, the results show the women who had suppressed their anger during the first film reported feeling far more angry, outraged, upset and disgusted than their male counterparts after both groups watched the second film.

The women who had suppressed their anger after the first film also reported they felt more like swearing than their male counterparts after seeing the second film. The desire to swear, says Weinshenker, is often a sign of anger.

Meanwhile, the women who had substituted feelings of happiness for anger during the first film did the best of all three groups, with little in the way of rebound emotion after seeing the second film.

However, men who had been asked to substitute feelings of anger with happiness during the first movie reported feeling more upset, outraged and disgusted after the second movie than either the women who used this tactic or the men who had suppressed their anger during the first film.

The authors explain this reaction by saying they believe women are often encouraged to conceal their anger, so they may simply be better than men at substituting happy thoughts for angry ones.

Men, on the other hand, are less familiar with the idea of substituting emotions, so asking them to do so actually provoked more anger, the authors add.

Weinshenker is less willing to generalize by gender.

"I'm not certain you can make these sweeping assumptions about all women or all men, in terms of how they deal with their emotions," she says. "I think individual personalities come into play, and I think that how we deal with anger and how it affects us has more to do with who we are and our life experiences than it has to do with our gender."

What to Do: To learn more about how anger affects you and how to control your feelings, visit The American Psychological Association. For a tip sheet on coping with anger, visit The Counseling Center for Human Development at the University of South Florida.

SOURCES: Interviews with Naomi Weinshenker, M.D., assistant professor, psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine, New York City; Jan. 13, 2002, press release, Economic and Social Research Council of Great Britain; prepared statements from Judith Hosie, Ph.D, Department of Psychology, King's College, University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom
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