• Anger is an emotion that many women find complicated and go to huge efforts to suppress

  • Psychotherapist Jennifer Cox explains why she founded the platform Women Are Mad

  • We have therapists and counsellors available to support you here

I’m a psychodynamic psychotherapist in private practice. And I’m preoccupied with women’s anger.

It had been obvious to me from before the pandemic that anger appeared to underlie many presenting illnesses in women. This observation crystallised during and following the lockdown experience, and I began to scrutinise the source.

Based on observation, this is the frozen rage of a mass gaslight. Women are told that sexism has gone, that we do ‘have it all’. But something feels very wrong. Has sexism gone underground? It appears more hateful than ever, and it uses our desires against us. We can have it all; but something takes the hit, something pays the price. And that’s us. This hidden aggression creates a rage in us, but we don’t speak of it, because we don’t know we’re feeling it.

In my practice, women present feeling sad and anxious, or suffering from a range of somatic symptoms; from panic attacks to migraines, from IBS to depression. But I don't think this is the whole story. There's anger too. Anger is eating them up, from the inside out.

When I began to notice this, I noticed it everywhere. I obviously try to help a certain number of women in my practice, but I feel if as a society we can just get talking about our anger in a very ordinary way, it doesn’t need to build to this extent. I feel passionate about the difference psychoanalytic thinking can make to people’s lives. And aggrieved that so few people get to experience the life-changing impact of this type of therapy. Because of the cost and time commitment, this type of deep and intensive work remains the privilege of very few. At the beginning of this year, I decided enough was enough. I needed to do something to allow more women access to these tools.

Women Are Mad is my solution. A project using psychoanalytic theory to empower women to look at their lives differently. By looking to the unconscious provenance of so much of our illness (physical and psychological) we free ourselves for recovery. I now run processing groups to give women a space to work feelings through, and get used to straightforwardly owning their anger. Primary schools are now generally getting better at talking about feelings, and normalising children’s emotional responses. But there’s a definite difficulty for anyone older than 10. The Women Are Mad Instagram community (@womenaremad) has the capacity to reach more people, and get them talking about a feeling which is so maligned. What we need to realise is that, when we channel that apparently negative energy – instead of leaving it dormant to do damage in our minds and bodies – it can be a powerfully motivating force.

Interest in the Women Are Mad initiative exploded following its feature as cover story of The Guardian magazine. In just a few months since its launch, WAM has hundreds of subscribers, as well as the Instagram followers – evidencing the desperate need among women for change in the way their health and emotions are thought about.

Recently, Women Are Mad hosted an event in London called Scream On The Green. This proved to be an exhilarating and deeply moving experience. Typically, women seem to be frightened of their rage and what it may lead to. They feel it may alienate people, or lead to behaviours which are intimidating or feel out of control. In truth, this is not what happens at all. In allowing the anger space, to roam about, to be articulated and understood, the feeling becomes more complex. When we can eventually look at it as an amalgam of constituent parts, some of which inevitably representative of the pressures placed on us by society, we realise we have choices. We can learn to become more assertive, set boundaries, challenge unrealistic expectations. We learn to tune into our instincts more about our physical capacities – aspects that we so often override in service of others, or what we tell ourselves others expect.

The Instagram account is all about drawing a mischievous awareness to the labels placed on us by ourselves and others. Through humour, we diffuse the power of these categories, and we arm ourselves with a tool which can rival anger. This lightness of touch and empathy helps to make women aware of their repressed rage, without feeling afraid of it. The more we can tolerate it and learn from what it’s teaching us, the more we can use it to our advantage.

The message has been so well received that I’ve been invited to co-host a transatlantic podcast entitled Women Are Mad with the author Jane Green. The first episodes are due for release towards the end of April, with the aim that even more women will have the opportunity to consider the role of anger in their lives. My goal of getting women’s anger into everyday conversation is looking like more of a reality. Far more quickly than I could ever have predicted.

Follow Women Are Mad on Instagram @womenaremad or subscribe to our newsletter and live events via womenaremad.org

Jennifer Cox is a verified Welldoing therapist in London and online 

Further reading

Why women should get angry

What is your anger telling you about yourself?

How group therapy helped me understand my anger

The neuroscience of emotions

Therapy helped me realise and accept my anger