The Anger Management Mythology

Men and Anger Management

Out of every ten phone calls I receive from potential clients, about two of them are men, and almost every man who calls me initiates therapy for one of two reasons: couple therapy and anger. The former is rare. The latter? I can almost depend on it. Anger is a comfortable problem. It is the kind of problem that says, "I'm dangerous. You better not push me too far." This is one of the few communicative messages our culture has decided to allow men. Fear? Not an option. I remember when I was kid, the "No Fear" brand was quite popular.  I remember because I used to horde the apparel.  The two damning words accompanied a pair of dangerous looking eyes casting intimidating glares at the world. No fear. That's the motto of the American man. Oh, and also, no sadness, weakness, or pain.  

Above all, no fear.

So what does this have to do with anger? When men call me asking for help with their anger, it is usually because a relationship they have has either recently ended, or is about too, and they are trying to understand why they feel angry all the time. Or, they want to save their relationship by appeasing their partner, which of course, they try to accomplish with anger management. It is a routine cycle, so much so that my intake forms, which display enumerate lists of issues from which to choose, need only list a handful of challenges for individual men. The majority of which always stem back to anger, and learning how to control anger. 

But there's a problem with anger management.

Most of the time, anger falls to pieces to under the microscope. Does that mean anger is not a problem? By no means.  Rather, anger is the armor we wear to keep pain and vulnerability inside, hidden where we need not notice. Anger is the hammer we yield to hide the fear we are not allowed. Although research demonstrates that men and women's brains are alike and dissimilar in various ways, we also know that despite all media evidence to the contrary, men are emotional as well as logical animals. The problem is not our lack of emotional programming; rather, it is that we learn from such a young age that our range of acceptable emotional communication is severely limited. Like young children, then, we latch on to anger when we feel afraid, lonely, displaced, abandoned, isolated, regretful, sad, or shameful to name a few. That last one carries a bit of weight to it.

Anger management is about polishing armor.

And the last thing we need to do is look prettier while wearing armor. What we need to do is stop fighting. What we need to do is recognize the shame that drives us to anger, to choose to be vulnerable with that shame by talking about it, processing it, allowing ourselves to admit that its there, and then listening to the story it tells.  

That's really a lot of fluffy language to describe the process of being vulnerable in relationships. Half of the work I do, whether it is with couples or with individual men is about increasing vulnerability and removing the armor.

Do you know someone who needs anger management?

Chances are, you know someone who really needs to be seen. You know someone whose consistent use of anger has programmed their brains to respond to situations they perceive as emotionally threatening with dangerous adrenaline and noradrenaline, flooding their body's fight response with energy. You know someone who, after some hard work, can limit the trauma of consistent anger by reaching out for support. Most of the time, anger is the armor that protects us from the pain. We usually don't need more strategies to walk around in armor. What we need is for someone to invite us to step out from behind our shields.

Dr. Mathis Kennington