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Workplace intimidation, bullying, and negativity: "Not this day!"

Lately, I’ve had anger issues. The injustice in the world has me raging and my blood pressure soaring. In this issue, you get a story about anger management and the neuroscience behind our emotions, a podcast episode about moving through fear, and so much more.

STORY: "Not this day!" How I used a sword and a pen and washcloth to deal with my anger issues.

READ MORE: About Emotional Intelligence. Blogs, books, and videos to dive deeper

BOOK STUFF: Book Update and Book Club. Join me 4PM PST Thursday, April 25, 2024 to discuss Mastery by Robert Greene.

PODCAST STUFF: FIVE episodes! WOW! 125 downloads and counting after just a month. Thank you so much for listening.

GOING FURTHER: Retreat and Circle. Early bird pricing for the Heroine's Journey retreat ends May 3, 2024, after which the price goes up $500.


STORY: "Not this day!"

Lately, I’ve had anger issues. 

Yesterday I was speaking with a woman who was forced to endure hours of public humiliation at a board meeting, until her boss finally said, “Enough!” 

A few weeks ago, I attended a panel shining a spotlight on female leaders "navigating negativity". There I heard stories about:

  • Intimidation and bullying behind closed session board room doors.

  • Sexual harassment by men in power.

  • Five hours of your work day spent talking to members of the press and public who think they know a better way to do your job, even though you've been in this field full time for decades and they learned their information on the Internet.

  • Just wanting to do their job and do it well (count votes, provide medical care, educate kids, etc.) but instead spending the day attending trainings on how to manage terrorist threats.

  • Taking a different route home every night in case extremists follow you home from the office parking lot.

  • Being glad that their daughters have a different last name. (That one made me cry.)

What the f**k?!?! This is not okay.

I was so enraged yesterday after my meeting that I picked up my son’s great sword (doesn’t every teenage boy keep a great sword under his bed?), and I wrote this poem, shamelessly stolen from Aragorn's battle speech at the Black Gates in Lord of the Rings

Daughters of this land, of Planet Earth, 

my sisters in leadership,

I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.

A day may come when the courage of womankind fails,

when we forsake our friends

and break all bonds of fellowship,

but it is not this day.

An hour may pass of sexism and shattered selves,

when we give up and give in to the pressures around us,

when we let board members bully us,

when we turn a blind eye to sexual harassment,

when 84 cents on the dollar is good enough,

when 28 percent women in the C-suite is acceptable, 

when the age of RBG comes crashing down,

when we willingly don red handmaid's cloaks,

but it is not this day!

This day we fight!!!

By all that you hold dear on this good Earth,

I bid you stand together, 

heroes, heroines, and humans!!

Anger issues indeed. 

The Science of Anger

Aristotle said emotions are “feelings accompanied by pleasure or pain” that are natural, normal human states, intrinsic to life. They motivate our every action, and any effort to live well must give them their due. 

In nearly any psychology textbook you’ll find the following definition (or something like it): emotions are coordinated responses to a significant event in one’s life. Something triggers me—like the navigating negativity panel—which leads to thoughts in my mind (this isn’t right), sensations in my body (clenched fists, scowling face, heat rising, tense muscles, heart racing), and a subjective feeling (I’m angry!) 

Trigger → thoughts + sensations + feelings = emotion. 


For years, my tendency was to erect a firm brick wall between my feeling heart (governed by the brain’s limbic system) and my thinking mind (governed by mybrain’s  neocortex). A significant event might trigger a physiological response: a facial expression and change my blood pressure, posture, and muscle tone. It might even evoke one of Ekman’s subjective feelings: fear, pleasure, anger, sadness. But as soon as that woo-woo, frou-frou emotion tries to sneak its way into my neocortex and impact cognition or behavior, I slam down a steel blast door to wall it off, shove it down, and make it go away. 

I’m perfectly fine. I don’t have time for messy, squishy emotions. They get in the way of my overachieving and perfectionism, thank you very much.

Well, the pop superstar of sociology Brené Brown says, “Anger is a full contact emotion. Because it activates our nervous system and can hijack our thoughts and behaviors, it can take a real toll on our mental and physical health.” 

Soraya Chemaly, author of Rage Becomes Her, says, “When a girl or a woman is angry, she is saying, ‘What I am feeling, thinking and saying matters.’ …by effectively severing anger from good womanhood, we choose to sever girls and women from the emotion that best protects us from danger and injustice.” Chemaly claims that anger is an asset which can be transformed into the fires of empowerment, motivation, the fight against injustice, passion, determination, and assertiveness.

Brené Brown echoes this when she writes, “Anger is a catalyst. Holding on to it will make us exhausted and sick. Internalizing anger will take away our joy and spirit; externalizing anger will make us less effective in our attempts to create change and forge connection. It’s an emotion that we need to transform into something life-giving: courage, love, change, compassion, justice.” 

Let the Emotion Flow All the Way Through You (in a Safe Way)

What I’ve learned is that in order to transform anger into something different, instead of repressing/suppressing/hiding/ignoring the emotion, I must let it flow all the way through me. 

According to research from the KU Leuven Research Institute in Belgium, a single wave of emotion only lasts a few minutes, usually two minutes or less. While there may be multiple waves, and sometimes the waves can be huge as a tsunami, however big they are, emotions will naturally move through your body on their own, if you let them. 

Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Warner Klemp are the authors of my current favorite leadership book of all time (see “read more” below) and guide leaders through the five steps of “letting the emotion flow all the way through you”:

  1. Name the emotion - Put a label on your experience. (I am feeling angry.)  What this does is bring the emotion out of the nonlinguistic limbic system into your thinking neocortex where language takes place. This practice alone has been linked in the psychology research to reducing emotional distress, reducing stress hormone levels, reducing anxiety, and on the plus side better emotional intelligence and greater resilience.

  2. Locate the sensation in your body - Where in your body do you feel the emotion the most and what do you feel there? Butterflies in the stomach? Tightness in your chest? Heat on your face? Pulsing behind your right temple? Whatever it might be, this step is a key to emotional self-awareness. This is how this emotion shows up in my body.  

  3. Breathe - So simple, yet so powerful. Breathing and moving our way through the emotion helps prevent the “freeze” response, something I know well from personal experience (check out episode 4 of my podcast for more on that story…)

  4. Allow - As Aristotle says, emotions are natural, normal human states, intrinsic to life. We are human. We have emotions. To deny our emotions is to deny our humanity. Instead, normalize the emotion and allow for it to be here. 

  5. Match your experience with your expression - Move, breathe, and vocalize in a way that aligns with the emotion you feel. Emotions will naturally move in waves – rising, cresting, then falling. Let a full wave move through you, accentuating the experience by leaning into the expression. If it’s sadness, as the wave rises, curl up in a ball and let yourself ugly cry until you feel the wave has passed. If it’s joy, stand in the sunshine, arms outstretched laughing or shouting your gratitude until it starts to feel silly. If it’s anger, my favorite thing to do is get a washcloth and twist it, bite it, and scream into it until the surge of rage falls back into a simmer. This final step, may seem like only something that only an improv drama class might do, it’s the best way to avoid emotional repression and suppression.

If you want to me to guide you through these five steps, you’re in luck! On my author page, I have a link to a RAIN meditation (scroll half way down the page) where you can close your eyes and let my voice guide you.

Long Term Solutions

Anger is often indicative of an injustice in the world, a wrong that must be righted. While I can and will do my part to coach female leaders like these and keep them standing and supported, we need every single human's help to do something to create lasting change.

The way forward is together. Women and all their allies standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder, to both hold one another up through the hard times and create systematic change so that this generation's ceiling becomes the next generation's floor. 

When I was a school principal, we taught kids what to do when they witnessed bullying: "Be an up-stander." Stand up against the bully arm in arm with the victim. Wrap the victim in love and support. Report what you see. Hold bullies accountable. And particularly if you're in a position of power, be an ally.

It reminds me of this homage to RBG that I wrote a few years ago when Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away. What would Ruth do after hearing the stories I’m hearing? Ruth would say, “Get up and keep fighting Irene. Show up even if you are undone inside because that’s what I did, every day of my life.”

Read More: About Emotional Intelligence

If anger is as new to you as it was for me a few years ago, check out this post of mine: “How to Find Anger and turn it into Rocket Fuel”. 

If you are looking for some amazing books to read, consider:

And if videos are your thing, take a look at my talk in Barcelona (⅔ of the way down the page) about the first time I truly let anger flow through me or Soraya Chemaly’s TED talk about “The Power of Women’s Anger”.

Book Stuff: Book Update and Book Club

Thanks to those who were able to join me in February for a great conversation on the egomania of youth, what it means to be an adult, and how to take care of the body we’re given through all of life’s changes.

The new book for March/April 2024 is… Mastery by Robert Greene!Q: What's the key to mastery? A: It's about passion, not genius. If you’re short on time, there’s also a “Concise” version that clocks in at 224 pages (vs 318). And don’t feel bad if you haven’t started the book yet…I’m still waiting for my copy from the library (#1 on hold list now)!

Looking forward to seeing you on Thursday, March 28th, 4 pm Pacific time! Email to be added to the notification list that contains the zoom link.

Podcast Stuff: TWO new episodes

This link takes you to Episode 4 on my YouTube channel and will teach you to move through your fear and anger instead of freeze. You can also find the Leaders' Playground on Spotify, Apple, Amazon, and all your other favorite channels.

Pretty please...if you like what you hear, click that follow button and forward this email to a friend who would love their work to feel more like play.

Going Further: Retreat and Circle

If my rage this week resonates in even a little way with you, consider joining the Heroine's Journey Leadership Retreat where you will stand with other heroines in leadership so that none of us ever has to stand alone. Mendocino. Glamping. Leadership development. Two exec coaches. Curated group. Apply ASAP to learn more. Early bird pricing ends in 2 weeks on May 3rd! 

And if you want longer term support enrollment in my Collective Wisdom Leadership Circle will close soon. And I have just one opening for private one-on-one thought partnership. As one former client said: 

“When I started to work with Irene I was feeling trapped.I wanted to make a change, but I was no longer trusting myself to take a risk. It wasn’t easy for me to find the time or the money, but it was worth it. I made the changes and I did the work, but without the space to worry, the shoulder to cry on, the mirror to reflect back my ideas and the cheering behind me I might not have been able to make those steps.”

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