Anger is the most socially-unacceptable emotion for both men and women, but for women it is even less acceptable. As the report of one study says: "A man who gets angry at work may well be admired for it but a woman who shows anger in the workplace is liable to be seen as 'out of control' and incompetent." And we've seen how the "angry adoptee" label is used to dismiss the concerns of adult adoptees -- we see anger as a disqualifier, as reason to disregard.
More distressing than the reaction of others to women's anger is the reaction of women to their own anger. As Lois P. Frankel put it in Women, Anger and Depression:
Much like other women, Anita was afraid to be angry. She had received the message as a child that if she exhibited her anger, she would somehow be abandoned: physically, emotionally or bothHerein lies the basis of women's difficulty with their anger. We learn early on that anger is not an acceptable emotion. We are given strong verbal and non-verbal messages that teach us to deny our anger.
The author even provides a very interesting checklist of reactions to our childhood attempts to express anger. Did any of these happen to you? Are you avoiding these in reaction to your children's anger?
1. I was sent to my room until I cooled off.
2. I was told that nice girls don't get angry.
3. I was ignored.
4. I was punished (physically, verbally or lost some privilege).
5. I was threatened with religious implications (e.g., not going to heaven or God wouldn't like it).
6. I was told to turn the other cheek.
7. I was made fun of, laughed at or my anger became a family joke.
8. I had love and affection withheld from me.
9. I was told my anger wasn't justified.
10.I was told anger wasn't lady-like.
11.I was treated as if I were out of control.
12.I was told I was weak or somehow less of a person for being angry.
13.I was treated as if I had committed a sin.
14.I was told it was a flaw in my character (e.g., "You're just like your father.")
15.I was told I was ugly or in some other way physically unappealing.
With this litany, is it any wonder that "women begin punishing themselves for even having angry feelings. They internalize the messages so well, they can no longer even identify when they are angry."
We have probably 30-40 kids books about adoption (I know, it's ridiculous, but I can't seem NOT to buy them!). But the list of books that include ANGER as an emotion adoptees experience is much, much shorter, and in most of them, there's only a passing reference to anger:
1. The Mulberry Bird
Adopted bird sometimes "felt confused and angry about being adopted." His anger is related to disbelief that his birth mother's situation was as bad as she claimed in her reason for relinquishing him.
2. All About Adoption
The book relates that sometimes adopted children feel angry at their parents just the way all kids do. But they also "might feel angry that they didn't get to grow up with their birth parents. Kids also get angry at their adoptive parents to see how much their parents love them. They don't even know they are doing this sometimes! . . . But people can feel angry at someone they love."
3. Before I Met You
Being in the orphanage with not enough nannies to care for all the babies like a mom would can make a baby not just sad, but mad. In discussing that adopted kids have lots of different feelings, the mom-narrator says, "We will stay together, always, when you are happy, sad, and yes, even mad."
4. Adoption Is For Always
Celia is sad and mad when she understands what adoption means and that she was adopted. She acts out and says mean things, including, "You're not beautiful like my real mommy!" to her mom, who answers, "I know you're angry, but that doesn't mean that you can say hurtful things. . . . I AM your real mommy. [if you've read much here, you know I'm not fond of the "I'm the real mommy, and your birth mother isn't" answer]
5. We Adopted You, Benjamin Koo
Nine-year-old Benjamin, adopted from Korea, narrates: "I began to feel angry because other kids knew their biological families, and I never would." There's a "not my real mom" scene, with adoptive mom saying, "You have a real mom, and that's me."
6. Lucy's Feet
Lucy acts out her anger at not having grown in her mother's tummy like her younger brother by kicking. She declares at one point, "It's not fair! How come I was adopted and he wasn't? I want to come from in there (pointing at her mom's stomach), too." Mom answers with the "you grew in my heart" theme.
Allison realizes that she looks more like her MeiMei doll than like her parents. When she's told she's adopted, she reacts with anger, and destroys an old doll of her mother's and her father's old baseball mitt. She yells, "You're not my mommy! You're not my daddy!" [The book is culturally confused, MeiMei (Chinese for "little sister") wears a kimono!]
Anyone have any other suggestions of books that deal with adoption and anger, or just with anger itself? What do you do to encourage your child to express all emotions, even anger?