Anger is one of the few emotions considered socially acceptable for men to express. It also “appears” to be the emotion that gets men into the most trouble as it can lead to aggression. I say “appears” because when we delve into that anger we see that it’s often covering up shame, sadness, fear, or some other vulnerability. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding has led to all these Anger Management classes and men seeking help to control their anger because from the outside the progression looks like:
3) destructive behavior
This simple progression leaves out all the other emotions anger is covering up for, and it also gives the impression that Anger, in and of itself, is negative and destructive.
Anger is an appropriate response to many situations. There are times it is not a secondary emotion but that you’re angry because you’re angry. So many of us have gotten the idea that it is “bad” and that anger must be avoided. That our anger shouldn’t be shown at work, shouldn’t be had toward our partner or our kids. So we often swallow it. We lose access to an emotion that can be very intimate and real. We need to learn to productively access our anger and to express it in a healthy way—not to avoid it or to let it control us.
It can be done, but it’s going to take some work.
The Fear of Letting Out the Anger
A pattern I’ve noticed among many of my clients is an initial belief or sense that they just don’t get angry. What they discover through our work together is that anger may not be manifesting in the way we are used to seeing it—it’s not pounding on tables or getting into bar fights—but it’s emerging as an overuse of sarcasm, way-too-easy irritation, or even depression (many people consider depression to be anger turned inward).
Once we begin to unpack some of those things, then my clients start to talk about how angry they are. Angry at himself, at a partner, at his kids, at his station in life, at his choices, at many, many things. However, this anger isn’t helpfully expressed anywhere. It’s kept locked in because he didn’t want to be That Guy. That macho, tossing his weight around, masculine stereotype guy. So instead he’s the guy who holds it all in, never gets what he wants, never feels that he can achieve what he wants.
He is angry, but so angry that he doesn’t realize he’s angry. And so afraid of getting in touch with that anger because the only way he thinks it can come out is in a destructively aggressive manner.
There are more ways to let out your anger.
If this sounds like you, take some time to consider where your anger is currently going. How does it get expressed? I often find it helpful to start with the physical—does it go to your stomach, your back? Unexplained aches and pains? Trouble sleeping or staying awake? Eating? Sexual issues?
If you can know where your anger is going—and that it is indeed anger—you can start to use it as a clue to connect to your anger because right now all those other ways of expressing it are actually a means to avoid it. Avoiding it means that it can control when and how it’s going to emerge.
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