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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Literature Review on Women's Anger and Other Emotions

Positive Functions Of Anger

While the manifestations of anger can often be problematic, and "for centuries anger was considered a sin, a weakness, or a madness and was to be avoided or contained" (Thomas, 1990), the literature is in agreement that anger can perform a valuable function for women. Anger serves primarily as a messenger (Potter-Efron & Potter-Efron, 1991), providing a clue that something is not right (Lerner, 1985; Potter-Efron & Potter-Efron, 1991; Denham & Bultemeier, 1993). Anger can serve as a teacher (Estés, 1992; Denham & Bultemeier, 1993), imparting the awareness that "all emotion, even rage, carries knowledge, insight, what some call enlightenment" (p. 352). Women, through their anger can learn to identify problems (Lerner, 1990), mobilize their energy to respond to a perceived threat (Person, 1993), and discern how to change, develop and protect themselves (Estés, 1992, Thomas, 1993c). In this sense, anger directed against societal or personal injustice is a source of power (Bishop, 1994).

Thomas (1993c) points out that there are situations in which the expression of anger actually promotes health. Women with cancer who express their anger are found to live longer than those who express no anger. Valentis and Devane (1994), in their interviews with women, encountered rage as a survival tool and a grounding technique by which women become centred and reconnected to themselves. As Saylor and Denham (1993) note, "as uncomfortable as anger is for many of us, it can be preferable to anxiety, as it lays the blame outside ourselves" (p. 98).