Understanding Anger in Men
Most of us believe we can tell when someone is angry. We look at the expression on a person’s face or their body language and come to a quick conclusion.
Anger is that powerful antagonistic emotion you feel when you are displeased or upset with something or someone. We humans are designed to use it as a mobilizing force to protect ourselves. It is a useful, natural and fundamental emotion that all humans experience from time to time.
It is only when anger gets out of control and turns destructive that it becomes a counterproductive force.
Uncontrolled anger or rage is likely to have a profoundly negative affect on our personal and social lives. In fact this type of angry expression has, for many, been the cause of serious interpersonal conflict.
Men are more likely to express anger directly than women because in our society it is seen as more acceptable and gender appropriate.
Anger is an emotion with a wide range of expression from irritation to rage. It is basic to the fight or flight mechanism that originates in the brain in a structure called the amygdala. This part of the brain is our warning system, sending out the alert when threats are present.
Some men perceive threats almost everywhere and have very little tolerance for even the smallest of things, often causing them to react inappropriately or too aggressively.
Not all threats are the same however. Therefore we have to be able to differentiate the level of threat (or if a threat even exists) in order to bring to bear the proper response to it. This is a perceptual process and that’s where the problem lies.
Anger is often a secondary emotion in men. Therefore a man might be feeling hurt or invalidated and act out angrily rather than express his hurt feelings more effectively. He likely has not learned to process his emotions appropriately and sometimes has difficulty distinguishing one emotion from another.
Whereas women are taught that emotions vary and learn that there are many to choose from, men generally have a much more limited menu.
A man is often taught early on that anger is acceptable. Anger fits into a very narrow array of emotional expressions that includes excitement and happiness and very little else. Many males identify anger as masculine but expressing fear, sadness and loneliness as weakness, even feminine.
Some men have “shorter fuses” than others and are prone to irritability and angry outbursts more so than average. They seem to have a lower tolerance for frustration. Other men can brood and become withdrawn, tense and sometimes depressed, keeping their anger inside, not knowing how to process their feelings.
This tendency to become frustrated or irritable may come from a genetic predisposition in some men. Some are born with a heightened sensitivity to frustration and, from an early age are easily upset and irritated.
Others can come from families where criticism, chaos and angry emotions were expressed freely.
Growing up in a hostile environment one learns early on how to defend against threats. Sometimes becoming more angry or hostile than ones’ own father or mother helps to empower you.
Otherwise you might accept the insults and become passive, a type of “doormat” that others can step on.
Some men who have developed passive styles may express their angry feelings indirectly. They can become saboteurs in an adult love relationship, causing their partners to become frustrated and insecure.
Confounding behavior like this can cause a partner to doubt the man’s real intention and may ultimately result in a breakup. This style is often referred to as passive-aggressive and frequently is not fully understood by the person who is guilty of it.
Men will often feel guilt, shame and remorse, sometimes leading to depression, when they have become angry or even raged against those they love. It can feel like the aftermath of an explosion for him and those around him. He looks around and sees the devastation his outburst has caused. He can feel helpless and hopeless, not knowing what to do or how to change his dysfunctional behavior.
Alternatively, when a man is unable to express his anger appropriately, that is in an assertive, healthy and productive way; he will likely suppress it or hold it in.
Here the attempt is to redirect the power of the anger by distraction. The danger in this method is that suppressed anger or anger directed inward can cause irritability, stress, and depression and can ultimately lead to a variety of health problems.
The style or pattern of expressing anger that a man develops from childhood, like all patterns or habits, is difficult to break. Fortunately, however, a man can change this type of behavior. It takes awareness, motivation, commitment and persistence to make that change.
About the Author
Dr. Stan Hyman is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach in private practice in Miami, Florida. He works with people struggling with powerful issues such as depression, addictions, anger, anxiety, stress, and work-life balance.