The Power of Speaking Up

January 8th, 2015

expressing angerWhat do you do when you hear racist, transphobic, sexist or otherwise offensive comments? What does it feel like when you don’t speak up? Do you justify your actions and then feel uncomfortable with that justification? Do you fear coming off as rude or socially unacceptable.  Do you fear offending the person who has offended you…or making others uncomfortable.

With an onslaught of news items about racism recently and then the inevitable discussions in-person and on-line, these questions have been coming up with regularity – with clients and in my personal life. When someone says or does something that goes against our values and offends our sensibilities and friendships, we feel some distress. This distress is often anger. Anger is a powerful feeling…one that many of us are uncomfortable expressing.  In fact, I know many people who believe that it’s wrong to express anger; even harmful. Expressing anger is difficult for many of us.

I think differently though. Anger is a natural, human reaction. It is often coupled with other feelings, like sadness and grief.  Feelings are meant to be expressed.  When we don’t express feelings, we are at risk of experiencing depression, as repressed and unacknowledged feelings are still percolating and affecting us emotionally and physically.

I spoke with one person who had been in several situations where he felt offended by racist comments.  He was in a “funk” – feeling sad and low-energy. This individual was also tired of the simmering anger towards others as well as the disappointment in himself for not standing up for his beliefs. He made a resolution to speak up when offended – basically saying, “When I feel anger about a racist statement, I will say so, to the offending person.” He was challenged soon there after and but followed his commitment.  While experiencing some discomfort, he is much happier with himself. He’s no longer carrying pent-up anger and his “funk” lifted.  In fact, he says that he feels empowered and authentic.  To me – those two words speak for themselves. Expressing anger may seem like the wrong thing to do, but when done in a non-harming way, we find that while others might not like it, it can do us a world of good.

If you’re looking for a therapist who’s attuned to the affects of oppression on your emotional well-being, contact Mike Giordano, LICSW, in Dupont Circle, Washington, DC at 202-460-6384 or

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