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by Kayla Bell-Consolver, MS, LMHC

Jul 1, 2024

Black Woman Rage

Do we need or have permission to release anger?

When our society talks about rage, we often associate it with aggression, a lack of control, and targeted behavior, which results in the fear of expressing or experiencing anger and rage. Even Merriam-Webster defines it as “uncontrollable anger; violent.” What if I told you that rage can be sacred and freeing when released in ways that honor you?


To be honest, if someone would have told me, years ago, that releasing rage can be healing I would have been in disbelief and attributed rage with symptoms of an individual concern. Like many mental health professionals, we have been taught to fear, control, and diagnose rage. There are names for this, such as intermittent explosive disorder, unexplained anger, and disruptive mood and dysregulation disorder.


However, as I’ve explored and become more curious about rage, I’ve learned that it holds a story, pain, and longing. We are taught to minimize and control these experiences, but our bodies, sprit, and mind can only hold so much before we either release it or metabolize it in various ways (i.e. chronic overwhelm, irritability, anxiety, arguments, etc). Without understanding the context of the concern, the ways that we diagnose rage can have significant consequences for Black people (i.e. school to prison pipeline, over medication, and biases when seeking help. 


It's clear we, as a westernized civilization, have a complex relationship with rage because, in some aspects of our country, we allow rage to be witnessed and encouraged. For example, rage rooms exist to offer permission to release and connect with rage. In addition, we celebrate “ragers,” get excited when a band member breaks their drumsticks or guitar after an exhilarating performance and understand when sport fans run to the streets to wreak havoc when their favorite team loses the Superbowl. 


If rage is acceptable, sometimes, then why do I feel terrified to express it publicly?


Well, that question is layered, and I imagine there are multiple books that can be, and are, written about this, but for me it’s quite simple: intersectionality. Intersectionality was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw during the late 1980s/early 1990s to highlight the ways the feminist movement did not acknowledge the interlocking systems of racism and sexism and its impact on Black women.


Bringing the topic of intersectionality to the topic of rage is important because our culture does not typically give permission for women (the identified caretakers, lovers, submissive) to hold and express anger, especially in comparison to men. In addition, when Black people express anger or rage, they are seen as scary, aggressive, and argumentative, which can have significant personal, professional, and life consequences. 


The compounded stereotypes can make any Black women feel it’s not okay to feel or express anger or rage. Unfortunately, the triggers of rage do not stop even though these stereotypes exist. Examples of things that have caused me to experience rage:

  • Inequity and discrimination

  • Loss of control, yet feeling blamed when I’m not in control

  • Gaslighting

  • Persistent disrespect, with the expectation to be forgiving

  • Feeling invisible and unheard


When you are a Black women in leadership, whether that be professionally (i.e. in a workplace or volunteer role) or personally (i.e. parent, caregiver, or matriarch in your family), these feelings may be even more intense, at least they were for me. You may have a different list of experiences that cause you to feel rage and anger and that is okay. As you begin to unpack your rage and anger, it’s important to understand what activates your rage. 


So, do we really need permission though?


Not necessarily. Well, at least not from the people that you think. A system that punishes Black women for anger and rage, cannot be the system that you seek approval from. Part of releasing rage and anger is reclaiming the permission and humanity in your experience. So, the permission to release anger comes from you…


It’s important to understand that rage is sacred. It has purpose, healing, and protection wrapped inside of it. Rage is not bad, but rather an inner experience that communicates a need for release and holds an experience of pain or hurt. As Black women, when we learn the stories attached to our rage, we may learn that it is historical and ancestral.


When I began listening to my rage parts, I realized they were the parts my mother, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, etc experienced. My rage told the story of “I just want to be free, but they won’t let me.” That encompassed freedom to love, to be at peace, to use my voice, to disagree, and to set boundaries. I also learned that expression of this rage and anger meant threat to safety for the self and family, and a lack of understanding, which ultimately was passed down to me. I credit Dr. Jennifer Mullan, author of Decolonizing Therapy, for helping me to explore ways to honor my rage in sacred ways.


Here are three ways that I create a sacred place for my rage:

  1. Create a designated space for rage. We consume societal messages that do not often give us permission to feel and express, therefore we learn to contain rage until we cannot continue to hold it safely. Creating a designated space helps to correct some of these messages and begin to honor our rage. This space may be in your home, nature, alter, mind, another location, etc. I have two sacred places where I can express my rage in the best ways for me: the gym and in my mind. I have also encouraged my clients to create a safe space for rage and they have come up with creative spaces, such as an art canvas and rage music playlist. Identify what feels honoring and safe for you.

  2. Listen to its needs and experiences. Building a relationship with your rage is essential because it’s often learning that it is the problem. Shame-rooted rage can become stuck in our nervous system because we realize it needs to be released, but label it as bad, therefore it does not have a place to go. Create a bridge to help it be released through getting to know it’s story and hopes. You may reflect on the following:

    1. What is my rage communicating to me? What does it want me to know?

    2. Where do you feel rage in your body? What does it feel like?

    3. What contexts (i.e. work, home, school, etc) do I notice my rage more? Where do I notice it less? 

    4. What does my rage wish it could do? Is there a way to offer it this safely and without harm to you or others?

  3. Release it. Releasing rage may sound complex, but I encourage you to think of rage as a building of energy inside of you that doesn’t know where to go. You can physically or through imagery release it through the earth, water, fire, or wind. You can also release it through exercise, poetry/spoken word or talking to someone, dance/step, music, singing/rap, chanting, etc. 


When I first practiced releasing my rage, I learned that I had a little part inside me that felt I had to hold more than what I was responsible for holding (i.e. the projections from others). I practiced listening to my rage parts, created a safe space in my mind (i.e. an inner rage room), and gave this part permission to throw chairs, scream, and share how unfair everything felt. I felt lighter after this experience because I was able to give this part what I needed: a place to be released. I also experience release, and strength, lifting weights and exercising when I experience rage. This provides my body with an additional space to release rage, and replace that space with worth.


To be honest, I still struggle with exploring ways to release my rage and anger outside of my sacred spaces, so this is something that I will continue to explore and work through. There are many parts of me that are aware of the stereotypes related to expressing anger and rage, as a Black woman, and they find value in knowing there are places to go when it needs. 


Kayla Bell-Consolver, MS, LMHC

Pronouns: She/Her

Question Kayla, LLC

Intersectionality

by Kayla Bell-Consolver, MS, LMHC

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