Does That Anger Taste Good?

While shopping for clothes on a quiet afternoon, I encountered a frustrated worker who decided to take her irritation out on me.  As I left a dressing room with clothes on my arm, the young woman yelled - actually yelled - at me for not putting them on a nearby return rack.  When I started to explain that I was, in fact, buying the clothes, she abruptly interrupted me and continued her reprimand in a condescending tone:  "I told you to put the clothes right here!"

Immediately, I felt the signal in my body letting me know that I needed to speak up - tightness in my neck and shoulders - a signal that I used to ignore.  Recognizing that she had crossed the line of appropriateness, I quickly said (in a very firm voice), "Stop and listen to me.  I said I plan to purchase these clothes.  Please don't speak to me that way."  She looked up, surprised by my response, and replied "Oh, sorry, no big deal," and then proceeded to go about her business.  "No big deal," I thought to myself.  "What's up with kids today?"  

I walked out of the dressing room feeling clear and empowered instead of blindsided and upset.  Rather than do what I used to do - walk away with her frustration in my body - I left it where it belonged and continued my shopping.  Later that night, when I retold the story to my friend, Max, we talked about how so many people (especially women) put up with inappropriate behavior.  Instead of speaking up (a reasonable response to rudeness), the desire to avoid conflict or to protect another's feelings takes precedence.  Instead we keep our mouths shut and swallow the anger - a choice that has serious, long-term consequences.  Friendships erode over time under the weight of unspoken hurt feelings, marriages dissolve from the disabling pain of chronic resentment, or health suffers as we make our way to the fridge one more time to shove down our anger with food.

Over the years I've learned to pay close attention to the messages I get from my body so I know when to take care of myself by speaking up.  And, I know when to practice restraint.  Because I've practiced tuning in to what my body needs, I've come to recognize the warning signs that tell me when to open my mouth.  How about you? What are the common signals your body gives you when faced with inappropriate behavior?  Do you get tightness in your throat, a rush of anxiety down your arms, or a flushed feeling in your face?  As you raise your level of awareness by practicing Extreme Self Care, you'll find that your body becomes an ally, a barometer of sorts, that tells you when unsolicited criticism, a snide remark, or a sharp reprimand may need to be addressed.


What's your typical reaction to sarcasm, insensitive comments, or rude actions?  If you're like most people, you've probably found yourself in a situation where someone makes an unexpected, inappropriate comment and you suddenly freeze up.  You stand there like a statue completely disabled, unable to say a word.  When I talk to women about expressing their anger, this is the most common scenario they describe.  They get blindsided by a bully, for example, are stunned into silence, and end up beating themselves up for not saying anything.

When someone is inappropriately rude, it's not uncommon to be rendered speechless.  It's as if a part of our brain says, "Wait, he didn't just say that, did he?" Or, "I couldn't possibly have heard her right."  It makes sense that you'd have hard time processing something that goes against your nature quickly enough.  Sometimes the reason we keep our mouths shut is because the behavior is all too familiar.  If you had a parent or caretaker who had a tendency toward sudden outbursts, sarcasm, or humiliating you in front of others, you may have learned not to react in order to stay safe.  Silence may have been your best defense.  Then, as an adult, when someone portrays a similar behavior that triggers this past experience, you snap back into your old way of responding.  

Regardless of why you keep your mouth shut, it's too expensive to swallow your anger. There are few things that will erode self-esteem quicker than tolerating inappropriate behavior.  Whether you say something right away, or wait until later when you've had a chance to compose yourself or process your feelings, Extreme Self Care means using your voice.


An Excerpt from the Book "The Art of Extreme Self Care"

Watch video for more tips from Cheryl


Tzaddi 15th June 2012 7:50 am

Thanks for this timely post. It seems especially appropriate now. Last week I wrote about apologies--"Is an apology ever really necessary?"--in response to a similar experience. However, in my case, old fear coupled with the very long-term personal relationship (instead of a shop attendant) bridled my response to his angry outburst. Thinking back over what the incident, now I can see that a direct confrontation like the one you described would have been so much better--clear, incisive, and setting that boundary once and for all.

Rise Above It 15th June 2012 10:45 am

Hi Cheryl,

This is a big one for me. Thanks for bringing it up. One thing that would be helpful for me is after writing about your own experience of the rude sales clerk if you included other various possible situations and then suggestions for responding to the situation.

I freeze up and allow people to get away with their bad behavior rather than fight back. I don't want to "fight" back, I want to powerfully and calmly respond with energy that leaves their stuff with them. I'm not one of those people that have a quick comeback. I'm one of those who beat myself up hours later with the "should haves." I know I can break those old habits. Just takes practice.


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Author Information

Cheryl Richardson

Cheryl Richardson is the author of The New York Times bestselling books, Take Time for Your Life, Life Makeovers, Stand Up for Your Life, The Unmistakable Touch of Grace and her new book The Art of Extreme Self Care. She was the first president of the International Coach Federation and holds one of their first Master Certified Coach credentials.

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