Sunday, July 13, 2014

Women, Cancer and Anger

Because women are less likely then men in our culture to be able to fully engage with negative feelings like anger and frustration, they may be at a psychological disadvantage in this particular way when facing a cancer diagnosis. Since a cancer diagnosis typically evokes an intense and complicated set of feelings, the ability to manage and use emotions in a constructive way is crucial.

The importance to psychological health of allowing oneself to fully feel one's anger and other negative feelings is greatly misunderstood in the United States. Women in particular, are not authorized by the mainstream culture to fully engage with these emotions, and many find it difficult to allow themselves to be aware of their anger, let along use it to maximize coping strategies. Instead they often misidentify anger as hurt or annoyance and/or will themselves to "get over" it as quickly as possible.  Anger often takes the form of passive aggressive behavior, emotional manipulation, submission or depression.

As any cancer survivor knows, there is plenty to be angry about when going through a cancer diagnosis and treatment regimen. Patients need access to their anger in order to empower them to ask medical providers for information, and to persist until they get the answers they need to make appropriate treatment decisions. Anger is also an important component of coping with the many noxious side-effects associated with most of the treatment protocols currently in use.  Finally when a woman is in good command of her darker emotions, she is more likely to respond in an appropriately self-protective way when faced with intrusive, inappropriate, lame and insensitive comments coming her way from medical providers, relatives, co-workers, friends and acquaintances.

Women need to take charge of their cancer journey.  They are much more likely to do this and do it well, when they have access to all of their feelings. In the United States, we need to continue to look at why we keep believing and thinking that anger is not compatible with womanhood, and what the reasons are for continuing to deprive females of one of the most empowering coping mechanisms there is.

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