Operation Anger Man-agement!
A Guy’s Guide to Understanding His Inner Hulk
She did it. She freaking did it. After screaming at your wife 10 times about leaving the kitchen light on overnight, she did it again. Beneath the surface you know it’s not really such a big deal, but it doesn’t matter – you storm into the bedroom, waking her up in an uncontrollable rage. Screams barrel out of you faster than you can process them. You love her, and you know in 20 minutes you’re going to hate yourself for acting this way, so why can’t you stop?
The age of rage
It might surprise some to learn that research hasn’t found any innate differences in aggression between boys and girls, yet anger issues are much higher in adult men than women. This has a lot to do with how we socialize boys differently than girls from a young age. In general, girls are encouraged to express emotions through crying, pouting, or expressing sadness. Boys on the other hand, may be conditioned to repress them, often ending in emotions boiling up until they overflow with anger. For example, if a group of kids are playing outside and a girl skins her knee, her parents may react by consoling her, whereas a boy in the same situation may be told to “suck it up,” and to “stop crying.”
Everyone gets mad, so what?
The occasional outburst is natural, healthy even. Anger is used as a shield; when we feel threatened, the sensory areas of our brain trigger our fight-or-flight response and we can react with anger as it provides a sense of protection. Boys are taught from a young age that anger is masculine and reflects toughness and strength. In reality, anger may be more of a reflection of a man’s feelings of inadequacy or powerlessness and can be their method to feel in control. When this becomes a man’s go-to coping strategy, anger goes beyond healthy venting and can damage several areas of his life.
It’s not me, it’s you
After a job loss or breakup, men may convince themselves that once their jerk boss or nagging girlfriend is out of the picture, their anger issues will go away. But it’s only a matter of time before old habits start to surface with new people in their life, showing that a changed environment doesn’t change the brain. The truth is, even the world’s most annoying people don’t make a man angry; it is the way his brain perceives their words and actions that make him enraged.
The dangers of defense-mode
For a man whose main tool is anger, insignificant issues may start to appear as major threats. He’ll start to scan his environment, wait for something to pick up on his radar, and use it to displace his rage. Things like a waiter explaining that the cafe is out of waffles can make him react like Chuck Norris facing a legion of terrorists. A University of Chicago study found that men with anger issues perceived faces with neutral expressions as aggressive; they felt under attack even when they weren’t, and their bodies responded accordingly. This constant “defense-mode” makes everyday interactions targets for outbursts of rage. Sometimes these outbursts are expressed outward toward other people, other times they are experienced inward toward oneself.
Doing the “temper tip-toe”
For the chronically angry man, friends and family start to feel like they’re walking on eggshells when they’re around them. They fear that even small offenses like forgetting to fold the laundry will result in a massive blow-up, and having to fearfully tip-toe around his temper becomes emotionally exhausting. Without learning how to change his perceptions and reactions, anger can poison his relationships, career, and health, not to mention putting him at risk for harming himself or others.
Get help or get out!
Many men are reluctant to get help for their anger and only come to therapy because of an ultimatum given by a family member, employer, or law enforcement. They feel defensive and resentful for being there; from their perspective, the problem is not their anger, but rather the problem of others in their life or society as a whole. Their anger may have served as a cover for facing their feelings of shame or inadequacy, so the last thing they want to do is expose what they’ve been hiding with their rage, if they’re even aware of it.
Hands off my hammer!
It’s understandable that a man with anger issues would be resistant to getting help. In most cases, anger has been a way of living that has been ingrained in them from childhood. It may be their main tool for dealing with their emotions, and it has helped them feel safe against situations they perceived as threatening to their ego. When your only weapon is a hammer, you don’t want anyone taking it from you. Unless, they had something better to replace it with…
Where there’s a will, there’s a way
If you’re a man dealing with anger issues, try these tips to get a handle on your anger:
1. Breath like a boss
Chances are you’ve got Olympic skills in screaming, fist clenching, or arguing. An area you may need to work on – your breathing. When you get angry, your muscles tighten up and your breathing becomes shorter, both of which increase your irritability. When you start feeling heated, focus on taking deep breaths with slow exhales.
2. Become a neuro-ninja
Your brain has become predisposed to anger because of a little thing called “neuroplasticity.” Neuroplasticity is your brains ability to adapt to its environment and create patterns of thinking (neuropathways) based on your life experiences. If you have anger issues, you’ve carved paths for your thoughts that lead to feeling threatened, attacked, and angry. The good news is, neuroplasticity works both ways, and you can condition your brain to adopt healthier ways of thinking. When you feel angry thoughts coming on, challenge them. Become a neuro-ninja by slicing up thoughts that make you feel threatened. Dissect them, question them, and try to think of other thoughts that may reduce your anger.
3. Practice makes peaceful
Reversing a lifetime of brain wiring doesn’t happen overnight. Focus on progress, not perfection. A good way to practice is by rehearsing different reactions to triggering situations and getting to know your angry side. Think of a previous situation where you blew up. Replay the situation in your mind and figure out the exact point where you flew off the handle. What were you thinking in that moment in time? Was it true or false? Was your anger justified? Each time you replay the situation, try thinking of healthier ways you could have responded. The next time you feel triggered to fly off the handle, thinking of your rehearsals can help you choose a better reaction.
4. Time is your ally
One of the best things you can do when you are feeling enraged is to simply wait. You can scream just as loudly at your annoying co-worker tomorrow, but by waiting one day, you can enter the situation with a clearer head and determine if hostility is really the most effective way to address the situation. Many men find it helpful to take a minute or two to write down their thoughts, covering areas such as what they would want to say to the person that upset them, or jotting down some reasons the person may have done what bothered them. They can also talk to a friend to allow them to vent their anger instead of directing it to the person they are upset with. Taking time to reflect, vent, and write can help you process your thoughts and feelings in a healthy way.
5. Get to know your angry side
Be mindful of what triggers your anger – is it being behind slow drivers? Drinking tequila? Engaging in political debates on Facebook? Pay attention to the situations that seem to shorten your fuse, and when it’s reasonable, try to avoid what triggers you. If your trigger is something you can’t avoid, such as being around a loved one, take breaks or walk away when you start to feel heated.
6. Get a trainer for your mental fitness
Coming to grips that you may have anger issues and seeking support for it can be difficult on many levels. If your anger has affected your life to a significant degree, then having some professional support may aid you to not only understand your anger, but to decrease it to a manageable level. It’s important for men to overcome obstacles and gain the tool set and adopt a more empowering perspective on life
Dr. Christopher J. Sample, Psy.D. specializes in supporting men through life’s transitions. Dr. Sample is experienced in helping men cope with issues such as anger, marriage, relationship, and dating problems, work stress and career advancement, addiction, veteran’s issues, anxiety, depression, and trauma. Dr. Sample provides a comfortable place for men to overcome obstacles and gain the tools for leading successful and fulfilling lives.
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