Surprising Facts About Women’s Anger

Women’s Anger

Men are more often associated with angry responses, but that doesn’t mean women don’t ever feel anger. From the ancient Greek tragedy murderess Medea to the impassioned protests spawned by the “Me Too” movement, female anger has famously erupted throughout the centuries. And, though anger can act as a positive force in human behavior, there are also times when anger overload—especially when it veers into the territory of intermittent explosive disorder (IED)—can become disruptive to everyday life.

On the other hand, bottling up anger can be detrimental as well, causing symptoms of depression and other health problems, including addiction or difficulty in relationships. Left unchecked, anger can even play a contributing role in conditions such as ADD/ADHD, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, and more. The good news is, there are healthy ways to express anger so it doesn’t erode health—and studies of the brain offer up some fascinating answers as to why women develop and process anger differently than men. Here are some surprising facts about female anger and the science behind it.

Men are more often associated with angry responses, but that doesn’t mean women don’t ever feel anger… and studies of the brain offer up some fascinating answers as to why women develop and process anger differently than men. Click To Tweet

THE FEMALE BRAIN AND ANGER

Fact: Women’s brains reflect key differences that explain their unique anger responses.

When Dr. Jill Goldstein of Harvard Medical School used MRI scans to compare male and female brains, she found that women have larger volume in the frontal cortices and limbic cortices. As a reminder, the frontal cortex is involved in many higher cognitive functions, including language, judgment, planning, impulse control, and conscientiousness, while the limbic cortices are concerned with emotional responses. This might explain why women tend to be less impulsive and more concerned with emotions than men, as well as why their “busy” brains sometimes won’t stop worrying. It might also explain the source of the female brain’s key strengths, such as intuition, collaboration, self-control, and empathy.

Brain imaging also shows that the hippocampus, one of the major memory centers in the brain, is larger in women. Men, on the other hand, have bigger amygdalas, the part of the brain that processes fear and anger, which may be why men often release those emotions in a crisis. With their larger prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain used to control anger and aggression), women are better at keeping strong negative emotions in check, research shows—possibly due to their ability to read others’ emotional cues and defuse tense situations. Also, the more empathic female brain may naturally respond to others’ distress with an instinct to calm the situation rather than display aggression. In fact, when a woman does turn aggressive, she’s more likely to initiate a verbal attack versus a physical one.

But what about female anger that does lead to aggression? According to a study by the Amen Clinics team that utilized brain SPECT imaging, those who exhibit intense anger and outward aggression—men and women alike—show significant differences in brain activity, compared with non-aggressive individuals. They include:

  • decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex (linked to a lack of impulse control),
  • increased activity in the basal ganglia and limbic system (associated with anxiety and depression), and
  • temporal lobe abnormalities in the brain’s left region (seen with mood stability problems and aggression)

PMS, FERTILITY, AND ANGER

Fact: A woman’s cycle can dramatically affect the anger-related areas of her brain.

When we see the effects of PMS show up on brain scans, we know that PMS is more than just a hormonal issue—it’s actually a brain disorder. One patient at Amen Clinics, Jesse, visited after a fight with her husband. When she pulled out a knife to threaten him, he fled in fear. Jesse had long-standing temper issues, but they didn’t occur all of the time; they coincided with her menstrual cycle.

Like clockwork, in the week before her period, Jesse would become moody, anxious, and aggressive—symptoms made worse by her habit of drinking too much alcohol. Jesse underwent brain SPECT imaging during the worst part of her cycle and then again two weeks later when she usually felt her best. The results were striking—the two sets of SPECT scans didn’t look like they even came from the same person!

During the worst time of Jesse’s cycle, the brain scans showed overactivity in the “worry” region (the anterior cingulate gyrus) of her brain, but the judgment and impulse control part of her brain (the prefrontal cortex) was underactive (a state that was surely worsened by the alcohol). During the best-feeling time of her cycle, Jesse’s brain was much more balanced. The best solution for her was not just anger management therapy—she needed to stop drinking and get her hormonal fluctuations under control, too. After all, PMS symptoms arise when estrogen and progesterone levels sink to their lowest, while serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter, also falls.

Prolonged anger over time may even have a negative impact on a woman’s fertility (a side effect that can also occur in men). Though infertility has many potential causes, one of the most common is stress. Being frequently upset, tense, or angry can clamp down on the fallopian tubes, making it harder to conceive, and research shows that chronic stress causes hormonal changes that disrupt reproductive function. In the same way that stress prematurely ages your body and skin, it also speeds up the aging of the reproductive system.

CHANNELING ANGER FOR WOMEN

Fact: Anger can be a beneficial response—or severely detrimental to a woman’s daily life.

Anger, of course, can be helpful—and not only because keeping anger bottled up can backfire. One study, for example, found that those who fail to express their anger in a relationship are more likely to encounter issues over the long term. But studies have shown that expressing anger (when done in constructive, not destructive, ways), has many benefits. At its most basic, from early human times, anger has helped ensure our survival by alerting us to danger, propelling us to action, and sharpening our focus in times of fight-or-flight.

Another study found that anger and risk assessment were associated with optimism and risk-taking, leading to more positive outcomes for those who experienced anger. On a deeper level, looking for the source of anger when it arises can point us toward issues that are calling for our attention. Ultimately, we find ourselves developing a healthier emotional intelligence as we show a willingness to embrace difficult emotions such as anger, rather than avoiding or repressing them. Simply approach your anger with curiosity, not annoyance, and treat this as an opportunity to learn and grow.

COPING WITH FEMALE RAGE

Fact: Women can manage anger with several natural solutions.

Despite these potential positives, there’s no doubt that moderate levels of anger can have a negative impact on life. If that’s the case, there are many simple, natural ways to cope with it: You can try meditation and deep breathing exercises, play some soothing tunes or nature sounds, exercise, write in a journal, or simply take a time-out to calm the physical symptoms of stress, such as rapid heartbeat and shallow breathing. Also, be sure to note—and work on interrupting—any negative thinking patterns to help improve your mental well-being over time.

When anger soars past the point of minor aggravation and into the territory of rage and/or violence, when it interacts in debilitating ways with other mental health conditions, or when you find that it’s impairing your relationships and daily activities, don’t hesitate to seek help. More serious underlying issues could be at work: a traumatic brain injury or other brain-related issues, exposure to toxins, or infections like Lyme disease. Brain SPECT imaging can help to determine the root cause, while treatments like therapy can help manage anger issues. What starts as a minor concern can, if left untreated, blossom into more intense expressions of rage or more serious conditions, so time is of the essence.

Destructive anger issues, intermittent explosive disorder, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

5 Comments »

  1. in last few years have found out that a memory i carried with me as a child, of an accident on a swing, where i bashed the back top right of my head so impeding my left temporal lobe causing problems, all my life, with mood stability, aggression, depression and eventual ovarian cancer as my sphenoid was twisted and my pituitary was compromised
    i have often wondered recently whether this kind of accident could confuse an individuals growth patterns, including reproductive, as the pituitary is the main endocrine gland producing reproductive and growth hormones.
    how many problems are caused by not paying attention to how the pituitary is functioning.
    do we investigate how the skull is sitting as, and i quote, 'ionic crystalline structures of skull bones interact with the theta waves coming from the brain – a resonance is created that causes electrons to be generated – which are translated into a Fourier-type translation into a thought.
    national resonance vibrational frequency of skull bones (cranium)ranges from 840-890mh2 in non-herzian waves

    interesting how our energy is expressed – or not!!!

    Comment by penny waters — November 4, 2022 @ 4:30 AM

  2. I am a retired woman minister, former missionary and counselor. I have done a lot of pre-marital counseling, but now see and understand how beneficial it would be to include this kind of brain science. Men and women need to understand how this delightful person they have chosen will also be a great challenge as they age. We all need to understand our bodies and brains to have the tools to persevere through our life changes. My journey was complicated by changes in my spouse due to his teenage sexual abuse, subsequent sexual addiction, and then a battle with Huntington's Disease, of which I knew little. I appreciate the work you do to bring clarity and insight to so many. Thank you.

    Comment by Karen Helsel — November 4, 2022 @ 6:02 AM

  3. I found this article very interesting. The difference in men and women's brains explains so much. I found how a women reacts around the time of her cycle was right on. I know personally that when I went through my cycle I was much more emotional. I could experience a lot of stressful or painful things during the month with no problem handling it. Yet around my cycle everything could be wonderful and I would be crying. It explains a lot. Thank you

    Comment by Pat — November 5, 2022 @ 3:03 AM

  4. How much is a brain scan and can it be paid in installments?

    Comment by Kelli — November 6, 2022 @ 5:37 PM

  5. had a tbi when i was nearly 3yrs old – undiagnosed cos i woke up, and we lived many miles from medical aid, so impossible
    never knew what a joke was till i was about 7/8yrs – then pathos from norman wisdom!
    was lucky that i appeared to be able to go over my behaviour and try to make it better but became so much easier when i was involved in womens movement and consciousness raising – every week – in 2 different groups
    the tbi fractured my skull bones, twisted my sphenoid and i believe, compromised my pituitary so i never really transitioned into a fully endocrined female resulting in nulliparity and ovarian cancer and confusion for me regarding sex and gender so have an informed opinion
    trans woman – nonsensical with cosmetic genital surgery – damn surgeons!!

    Comment by penny waters — November 6, 2022 @ 6:42 PM

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