Many of us were brought up with the belief that anger is raw, ugly emotion — one that you shouldn’t express in public. Especially if you wanted to be taken seriously, and especially if you happened to be female. If you let your anger show, people might use it to dismiss you or silence you.
Then there’s the theory that anger is a secondary emotion, one that we feel in reaction to another, primary, emotion, such as fear, sadness, or embarrassment. While this may be true, telling someone in the middle of a swell of rage that they need to put aside their anger and deal with the underlying cause instead isn’t always a winning strategy. You can’t just get rid of anger, as anyone who’s calmly asked an irate toddler to “calm down” can attest.
What if there were a way to acknowledge someone’s anger — to respect it, even — while encouraging them to get to the root cause of their fury?
“I found a phrase that helps my daughter to express her anger,” Destini Ann begins a TikTok video that has garnered almost 5 million views. “I still want to teach her that anger is not a bad thing,” she says.
Reflecting on her own upbringing, to which many of us can relate, Destini Ann goes on to explain, “I learned that anger is bad, OK? So I was the bad kid, and the problem teen, and then I became the angry Black woman. We not doing that narrative, OK?”
In other words, Destini Ann won’t be using her daughter’s anger as reason to dismiss what she’s trying to communicate.
With the caveat that this isn’t her go-to strategy when her daughter is “big, big, big, big, big mad,” Destiny Ann says, “if she’s slamming doors or rolling her eyes and I see it escalating, this is what I’ve been saying.”
Noting that she gets down on her daughter’s level and uses a voice that is both gentle and direct, Destini Ann asks her daughter, “What is your anger trying to tell you?”
“What I’m trying to teach her is our anger is a signal that something is off, something does not feel right, a boundary is being crossed, a need is not being met.”
While stating a need doesn’t guarantee that need will be met, Destini Ann explains, it’s certainly more likely to be fulfilled if we can articulate it instead of lashing out in anger.
The parenting coach’s strategy makes sense from a neurological standpoint, as well. When we are angry, it activates the amygdala, a small almond-shaped portion of the brain associated with emotions like fear and our fight-or-flight response. A different part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is associated with reasoning and judgement. If we can engage the prefrontal cortex with a bit of reason — What is your anger trying to tell you? — that gives us a chance to move the action there, where we can try to deal rationally and calmly with the cause of the anger.
Honestly, this is a lesson in anger that can help grown-ups just as well as our kids.