Exploring The “Angry Woman” Stereotype: Healthy Ways To Express Anger

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

From a psychological standpoint, stereotypes are mental tools that help us make sense of the world, which includes our identities and relationships with other people. As defined by the American Psychological Association (APA), stereotypes are “cognitive generalizations” about the qualities of individual members of a group or social category. Although stereotypes can streamline the process of making perceptions and judgments, they are often exaggerated and more negative than positive. 

Throughout your lifetime, you’ve likely encountered many negative stereotypes, including the generalization of an “angry woman.” Within the framework of traditional gender norms, men are often encouraged to be more overt with their anger. In contrast, women are often advised to suppress their anger in accordance with societal views of anger as “unpleasant” or “unfeminine,” as a foundational 2003 study describes it.

Of course, people across the gender spectrum experience anger — an innately human emotion. With the support of a mental health professional, people of all genders can find ways to express anger in healthy, respectful ways.

In this exploration of the “angry woman” stereotype, we’ll consider how women (and people of other gender identities) can accept and communicate their anger, challenging the gendered conception of certain emotions as “inappropriate” for women to express. 

Looking for healthier ways to express anger?

What is anger?

Before reviewing the latest research on anger and stereotypes, it’s important to understand the psychological definition of anger. Most of us understand what anger feels like, but how do psychologists define this emotion?

The APA describes anger as an emotion characterized by tension and hostility, typically arising from frustration, a real or imagined wrongdoing by another person, or perceived injustice. While anger and aggression are often lumped together, aggression is distinctly defined as a behavior intended to harm someone. Anger is associated with several expressive behaviors, including swearing, yelling, verbal fighting, and potentially aggression, although aggressive behaviors can occur in the absence of anger and vice versa.

While these behaviors can be uncomfortable to experience and witness, anger has a valuable psychological purpose. When we are angered by a person or situation, we are often more motivated to find solutions or clearer ways to articulate our feelings and frustrations. In excess, however, anger can cause several physical and emotional problems, including:

  • High blood pressure

  • Increased severity of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions

  • Digestive challenges

  • Insomnia

  • Skin conditions

  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke

In a moment of frustration, we can learn to harness the powerful benefits of this emotion without experiencing the long-term effects of ongoing, unmanaged anger. While this ideal is complicated by gender norms around anger, learning about the latest research on anger — and its impact on women — can empower individuals to combat this stereotype in their daily lives. 

The “angry woman” stereotype: What the research tells us

Numerous studies find that gender is a contributor to perceptions of anger. According to standard gender norms, sensitivity and a caring nature are the desirable, expected qualities in women. However, people often place these traits in opposition to anger and leadership skills — even when provided evidence to the contrary.  

In response, many women grapple with a disconnect between their natural traits, social expectations, and potential leadership aspirations. Notably, in a 2020 study of anger expression in leaders, researchers found that when a female leader expressed no anger, she received the highest evaluations of “leadership effectiveness” and status. This may suggest that a calmer, relatively unemotional female leader is preferable to an angry woman, even if anger is the most fitting or natural response to a situation. 

This study did not find significant effects of gender on the perception of leadership effectiveness. The researchers theorize that the gradual shedding of gender norms and rise in female leadership may have affected this finding, although more research is needed to understand and expand upon these results.

In another 2020 study of women expressing anger in the workplace, researchers assessed the layered effects of race, gender, and individual styles of expression on the perception of anger at work. The study included 630 participants, who were asked to assess an imagined employee’s competence and status based on their gender, race, and prior emotional response (either anger or sadness).

In the participants’ responses, anger was associated with higher competence irrespective of race or gender, compared to expressions of sadness.

Importantly, women who expressed anger were accorded the lowest status, compared to women who showed sadness and men who expressed either anger or sadness.

While this study did not find significant differences in perceptions of anger depending on race, the researchers noted that participants were mostly nonwhite. Therefore, racialized stereotypes about anger that may influence white Americans’ judgments may not have been “activated” in the predominantly nonwhite study sample. 

The “angry Black woman” stereotype

This 2020 study also brings up the “angry Black woman” stereotype, which shows the intersectionality of gender and race in discussions of anger. This stereotype depicts Black women as domineering and angry, which has real-world implications for professional success and everyday social interactions. Some Black women report sensing the need to “censor” themselves to avoid perpetuating this stereotype; and in the workplace, they may invest more emotional labor to combat stereotypical characterizations of Black women as overly aggressive, hostile, and bad-tempered.

As we proceed to explore healthy expressions of anger, be aware of these racialized expectations and their influence on the “angry woman” stereotype, which is best understood and debunked from a broader cultural lens.  

Healthy ways to process and express your anger

There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with being angry. This natural, near-universal emotion can compel us to find creative solutions and clear, honest ways to communicate. However, excess anger can have negative effects on our minds and bodies. If you’re struggling to find healthy ways to communicate this emotion, the following four strategies may help you process your anger and respond to frustrating situations more effectively. 

1.  Remove yourself from the situation

If you believe you’re incapable of expressing your anger in an appropriate or respectful way, removing yourself from the situation is often the first and most important step. 

When you start to feel that budding sense of frustration, simply say to yourself or the people with you, “I just need a minute.” Sometimes, you just need a brief intermission to cool down, clear your mind, and reflect on what you’d actually like to say, rather than saying something hurtful or rash in a moment of frustration. 

2. Try deep breathing exercises

When you’re angry or upset, you may notice that your breathing becomes shallower or irregular — a somatic reflection of your emotions at work.

By regaining control of your breathing, you can feel calmer in your body and more prepared for anger-inducing situations ahead. Deep breathing exercises come in many forms and are often very simple, but they can be incredibly effective.

Some popular breathing exercises include: 

  • Abdominal or “natural” breathing, which emphasizes slow, deep breaths from the belly instead of shallow, rapid breathing from the chest. 

  • “Countdown to calm,” which involves taking 10 gentle breaths and slowly counting down from 10 to one on each exhale.

  • “Carbon dioxide rebreathing” into a paper bag or cupped hands, intended for use in the event of a panic attack or hyperventilation.

Although many breathing exercises are used to address anxiety symptoms, many people find them helpful when they’re feeling angry, as this emotion often follows or coincides with anxiety, nervousness, or general uncertainty. 

3. Look at your language

What kinds of words do you use when you’re upset or angry? In the heat of anger, your language may become more colorful. You may curse or use more extreme words like “never” or “always,” which can inhibit you from solving the problem at hand. Rather than saying, “This thing never works,” or “She’s always late,” ask yourself how you can adjust these sentences to be more accurate and solution-oriented.

This process is known as cognitive restructuring, which simply means changing the way you think to improve your behaviors. Because our words often reflect our inner thoughts, we can wield the power of words to reflect on our thoughts and behavioral processes — and then change them for the better.

4. Explore anger management strategies with a therapist

Many people find that deep breathing exercises, self-reflection, and other calming activities are sufficient to manage their anger and other emotions. But if you’re looking for strategies to express your anger and navigate conflict in the context of being a woman, a therapist can work with you to develop your personal toolbox of coping and communication skills.

Some people prefer to begin this process with an in-person therapist, but a growing number of people prefer online therapy to address their emotional needs and mental health concerns. Using a digital platform like BetterHelp, you can connect with a licensed therapist in as little as 48 hours after completing a brief questionnaire.

Several studies find that online therapy can be just as effective as face-to-face options, including a 2022 study that concluded that just four weeks of therapy delivered over the Internet can help people with anger and aggression. Therapist-assisted cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is especially promising for individuals struggling with anger management, given its emphasis on thoughts to promote positive behavior change.

Looking for healthier ways to express anger?


As a woman, you may be especially motivated to understand and unpack the “angry woman” stereotype. By finding the right way to communicate anger, you can gradually become more comfortable with conflict and assert your needs with honesty and clarity.

Throughout your process of self-exploration, a mental health professional can help you understand the cultural context and health consequences of this stereotype. With a therapist’s guidance, you can enhance your emotional awareness and reframe your view of anger as a natural, necessary, and even useful emotion.

Learn to separate anger from behavior
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