There’s a voice in my head that assesses how I perform in the realm of conflict—a land often riddled with regrets, betrayals, and loss. I can always count on the voice to determine how things should have gone in any situation. To highlight the choices she would have made instead of the ones that I made.
Looking at my behaviors, the voice is always sure she would have been stronger. More articulate and direct. Perfectly attuned to all of the needs and agendas in the room. A taker of no bullshit. A giver of the words each person needed (or deserved).
The voice knows she would have stood solid in her worth in a conversation, able to precisely determine what was hers to own and what words should have been left on the table because they were more about the speaker than about her. Wherever I had misstepped in a tense situation, the voice would have had everything handled. She would have been heard and acknowledged.
I’ve had the voice as a companion in my head for quite some time. When I was 13, I would replay conversations from the day aloud while I showered at night, channeling the voice as my own with the safety of some faucet noise to muffle my unbridled emotion.
In the shower, the truth would surface. The girl of the day, who had been quiet and careful with the words she spoke to resolve situations delicately, would admit that she carried fury inside. That was the voice in my head: fury simmering beneath the surface with strong and precise words to say what I was afraid of saying.
Afraid…because I was responsible for the fallout of those words, and I had learned how a girl’s anger gets received. And rarely is it well.
Like any teenager, I carried a full spectrum of annoyance, frustration, indigence, resentment, righteous anger, rage, or just reactive anger that could have been directed at coaches, siblings, classmates, or parents. There were countless angry words within me that I wished I had been brave enough to just say in the moment. But so often, I didn’t.
I still struggle with trusting myself to be angry.
Most women I know have a fraught relationship with their own fury. If you are like me, you have stories as a girl of paying a price for your anger. You learned it was disrespectful and defiant. You learned angry women were unhinged and bitter.
Anger for us was never affirmed as a strength or a gift. It was rarely, if ever, honored as a marker of healthy boundaries or a beacon toward a better and more loving world where we expect goodness from each other. No, anger was an unwanted superpower we needed to learn to quickly control.
As a woman, I have come to believe that my anger matters. It points out injustice and hypocrisy. It serves as a path toward my own humanity, revealing what I love and believe and offering a powerful bridge of connection with others. Even when it misfires.
My angry self is a part of my true self. And aren’t we all worthy of a wholly integrated self?
But I am still learning to bring my anger to bear when I feel it. I am still working against 30+ years of conditioning that tell me it’s best to swallow my anger in order to have my opinions received.
So I show up by over-explaining my course of action, gathering frequent buy-in and alignment, containing myself to appease others, and masquerading as disinterested or calm when the truth is, I care deeply. The truth is, my blood boils when I feel like I have to perform a little emotional tap dance in front of others to have a shot at achieving what I think is best.
I have believed a lie that the only person paying the price for those little performances is myself. Then at night, I lie awake with tense shoulders and the voice rolling in my head—what I should have said was this.
The voice has started taking up more room in my brain. She’s inviting me to hear and accept her. She’s inviting me to embrace my whole self, unapologetically. To believe that my anger often points people towards living with honesty, respect, and dignity.
In my experience, the only way to learn how to shepherd my anger well has come by allowing that anger to run its course through me over and over again. It’s something I’ve learned to do with the people I trust the very most. At times, my anger has caused harm alongside the good. And I have had to learn to live with that.
Even so, I am not a girl any more, and I am strong enough to navigate the fall out of my anger with kindness, intention, and grace. I am strong enough to ask for forgiveness when needed. And I am strong enough to show up with my full voice and believe I am bringing a gift.
Katy (Johnson) Stafford dreams, writes, and occasionally podcasts in the messy middle of life. Newly married, Katy is spending her 30s embracing hope, longing, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called In Love, a memoir about loving your life beyond white picket fences. Katy shares more of her thoughts here, where she cultivates a community for writers and creatives.