We’re taught a lot about how a man can deal with anger and shame. As a child I got a lesson that some — definitely not all — boys receive. It came in the form of balled fists, pursed lips and a garage door that was shut to me while my father took time alone, working wood or tinkering.
My experience of my father has been described as “sharp peaks and deep valleys”. Explosions of anger and brooding absences were the only two methods I was taught for how a man might deal with his darker emotions.
But there’s one movie that taught me more about how a man can deal with shame and anger in 2 hours than my father taught me in 11 years.
It’s perhaps an unlikely candidate, especially if, like me, you don’t consider yourself as a big fan of rap music.
It’s the movie 8 Mile. You might remember it as “the Eminem movie” or “the movie with Lose Yourself in it”.
Thanks to 8 Mile, I connected with my own anger and shame. It drove me to find a way to deal with those emotions that was not only healthy, but maybe even beautiful.
If you come to this movie with an open, raging heart and a willingness to be moved to your dark side, maybe it could do the same for you too…
When I sat down to watch 8 Mile, I was deep in the process of recovering from childhood abuse.
I had deep seated, unexpressed anger in me. I felt a lot of shame about victimhood and how the abuse had impacted my ability to connect with other people, especially women.
But I didn’t have that in mind at all as I parked myself on my bed with a bar of chocolate. A friend had told me 8 Mile was worth a watch, and I had an empty evening to fill.
Spoiler alert: I’m afraid I can’t tell you why it taught me so much about masculinity without talking about the ending…
After following Rabbit, an aspiring rapper, through a series of betrayals, beatdowns and disappointments, the movie ends in a crescendo of Rabbit’s darkest emotions.
In the movie’s final rap battle, Rabbit chooses not to bury his anger and shame. He knows his opponent will just use it against him. So he lays his life bare, on stage, in front of a room full of the harshest, coldest rappers.
Behind the blistering words of an angry, shame driven rap there is the tenderest act of vulnerability. But Rabbit is not flaunting his vulnerability as a virtue in itself. He’s vulnerable because he’s finally taking ownership of his shame and anger and everything that causes it.
The movie ends with him walking off stage and going back to his job as a laborer in a car factory.
He knows that he’ll have to work hard to become the man he wants to be. But he seems at ease with himself. He’s given a voice to his darkest emotions and now he’s ready to work his way out of the situation that is causing them.
His honesty about his darker side, and how he finds a way to release those emotions through art, is a masterclass in how a man can deal with shame and anger.
Growing up, I had only ever seen anger expressed in raised fists and holes in dry walls, seering insults and abandonment. Now that I think back, maybe my dad’s closed garage door was shut out of shame…
8 Mile taught me that anger need not be destructive, and shame need not be toxic. Shame can be shared, and anger can be transformative. Both emotions can be expressed artfully, even beautifully.
In 8 Mile anger and shame are a force that drives a young man away from darker places and towards who he really wants to be in life.
It’s true to say that I watched 8 Mile in an evening (and ate that whole chocolate bar too). But my experience of that movie stretched on for a few more days.
It put a thought in my mind. Not a conscious one, but somewhere deep down. It must have sounded something like: “Can I become more of the man I want to be by working WITH my anger instead of DESPITE it?”
The evening after I watched the movie I sat down to write a poem. What came out was an angry, shame filled expression of a lot of pent up toxicity.
I wrote about anger and shame. Anger at my parents for how they abused me, and shame at having been turned into a victim.
I wrote about that how those emotions, my emotions, led me to cut myself off from romantic and sexual relationships.
Writing it shook me to tears, like a release from my body.
And the last two lines have had a lasting impact on my life and wellbeing.
Not because of what they say… but because of what they made me do after I wrote them…
“I know all my shameful secrets
And now they are free.”
How could I write that my shameful secrets were “free” if they were stuck on a page in a notepad, or read to my therapist like a twisted school project?
In the town where I was living at the time there was an open mic for performers of every type (spoken word, music, dance — you name it). The weekly event was very aptly named “Healing House”.
Maybe you can see where this is going…
The day after I laid myself bare in my poem, I was walking to the open mic. I felt afraid.
There were people that I knew in the audience — would they judge me if they knew me better? And there were total strangers too — was it safe to share what I was about to say with them?
I also felt a strange sense that I had previously only felt in flickers: an unshakeable, genuine belief that whatever happened that night I would be fine. Better even…
When I got to the venue, I asked to perform early on. “Maybe not first,” I said. I didn’t want to be the one who set the tone for the evening with a poem about abuse. After a beautiful solo guitarist/singer I got up on stage.
I outed all my shame, let loose the anger and looked the audience in the eye while I did it.
I felt basically nothing. All of the emotion I felt while writing the poem was locked away while I was on stage. But I’d rehearsed the delivery in the full throes of the emotions, and I knew I held the room.
A friend gave me a hug after I got off stage, and the host of the event praised the power of my words and the courage of my performance.
A few people who had been at that event came and spoke to me privately in the days that followed. They told me what had come up for them as they listened. They thanked me for sharing.
It was like everything I thought was too dangerous to be aired, too crushing to be held and too shameful to expose — well it was out there now. And after crying in private as I wrote, it was a necessary step for me to make myself heard.
I needed to see past what I had learnt from my father about how a man can deal with anger and shame.
I needed to know how shame can be shown to other people who will listen. I needed to know how anger could lead to transformation.
And I needed a man to show me how I might do that.
I found my teacher in a fictional character called Rabbit, in an excelled movie called 8 Mile.
If you want to learn something about anger, shame and manhood, then you can do a lot worse than watching 8 Mile with one evening and a bar of chocolate.
Previously Published on Medium