Anger is a natural emotion we all experience but since our individual responses to anger differ, a deeper understanding of anger is needed to fully understand and manage it. While women tend to direct anger inwards and self blame, men commonly lash out with anger in effort to feel more in control of their space, emotions, and others. Culturally, anger is perhaps the only emotion considered acceptable for men to display and thus the emotion men tend to be most comfortable expressing.
While anger can be displayed in different ways by men, it’s typically used to mask or deflect a more vulnerable underlying emotion. An emotion like fear or sadness can transform to anger instantly and undetected. Anger is a concern when it becomes the default emotion and you’re harboring negative thoughts, venting anger onto others, or perhaps acting impulsively in shameful ways. Anger can damage your physical and mental health, lead to interpersonal problems, substance abuse, violence and even suicide.
The relationship between anger and men is complicated since it’s common for men to use anger to hide emotions and insecurities. If feeling anger has become routine for you, we can work with you to unearth and resolve underlying issues – and empower you to transform your life to a healthier and happy place.
Scientists believe anger has been hardwired into the human brain over millions of years and is rooted in the brain’s reward circuit. Anger is an adrenaline-fuelled fight or flight emotional response driving us to take action. Feeling vulnerable, not understood, appreciated or listened to are all situations in which our sense of self and ego would be harmed and our brain’s reward circuit triggers the anger alarm. For some, expressing anger through shouting or being aggressive protects the ego from this harm. Inability to express your emotions can also produce anger because you feel unable to live up to expectations you may have of yourself and the ego harmed.
Thus anger comes from a primitive part of the brain and is a response to perceived harm. However, how we respond to the triggering of the brain’s anger alarm depends on the cortex, the higher level decision-making and reasoning part of the brain. This puts our anger in context enabling us to mitigate and defuse anger by applying coping skills we develop. Therapy is recognized as effective in treating anger with the overall goal of helping you learn strategies (coping skills) to change your behaviors toward your triggers when they appear.
Several large analyses of the published research suggest that overall, approximately 75% of people receiving anger management therapy improved as a result. American Psychological Association.
Anger issues are more frequent with men that have endured adverse childhood experiences, dysfunctional relationships, adult trauma, and or a measure of a substance dependence or mental health disorder.1 Masking more painful feelings rooted in these issues with anger is a defense mechanism to shield untreated scars or a deeper vulnerability.
With many men, feelings of anger often mask other underlying emotions like sadness or fear(3). Some research concludes that when men ‘act out’ displaying irritability and anger, that may be their coping mechanism for co-existing with depression, particularly when coupled to emotions of stress or shame.
Sometimes when men display anger it’s not about a single event that just happened – it’s the last straw (event), the culmination of multiple things that happened earlier in the day. Similar to the frog in the pot of water who doesn’t realize it —until it’s too late and they are being gradually cooked, men often don’t recognize how a string of minor annoyances can push them past their boiling points.
How men experience and display anger commonly reflects societal expectations – on how men have been traditionally expected to carry themselves. Masculinity has been historically defined by traits of strength, dominance, stoicism and control. Though not inherently negative, strict adherence to these traits has worked against men’s mental health self care7, 8, 9. These are the behavioral traits driving men’s reluctance in expressing concerns about their mental health and exploring therapeutic services 10, 11. Simply put men, in a display of stoicism 3, are prone to deny any mental health issues12 whatsoever – and consequently have those issues processed and shift to anger.
For many men anger not only helps them feel more in command of their own emotional experience but they also use anger in an effort to control their partner’s expression of feelings. As a result anger becomes the default emotion some men are most familiar and comfortable with – relegating other feelings to either be suppressed or hidden beneath the anger. Conceptually people better understand this if they think of anger like an iceberg with most of it not visible and hidden below the surface of the water. Similarly, with anger, there are usually other emotions, the bulk of the issues, not visible and hidden beneath the surface. So while it’s easy to see a person’s anger, it can be challenging to see the underlying emotions and feelings the anger is protecting.
So as men resort to their familiar experience of anger to hide emotions, what they’re typically most feeling beneath their anger is fear. Are any of these everyday situations recognizable?
If you’re a man, recognizing the deeper fears underlying anger is a helpful conversation starter and a step in the right direction with your wife or partner. For wives and partners who find themselves on the receiving end of a man’s angry outbursts, it can be difficult to feel sympathy towards them. However it’s important to remain cognizant that anger in men is socially reinforced, starting from childhood, and commonly fuelled by any number of untreated traumatic events encountered through their life journey. While it’s challenging, it can make a tremendous difference not to be critical of anger but to understand anger as a signal and learn where the anger is coming from.
“The magnitude of the physiological changes are proportional to the magnitude of the anger, but the body changes blood distribution, getting a person ready to fight or to run away. That can be adaptive in the short run, you get all this blood going to your muscles and so forth. But in the long run, being chronically activated causes your tissues to break down. Angry guys are more likely to have hypertension, they’re more likely to have heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.” – Thomas Harbin, a clinical psychologist and author of the book Beyond Anger: A Guide for Men
There is only part of the wide body of research indicating that acute anger explosions, chronic anger, or any of an array of forms of anger expression, is detrimental to men’s health.
(1) Not talking when you’re angry is always advisable. Stay mindful with anger comes a physiological flooding hindering clarity of thought. Once you recognize you’re flooded with anger take a moment to self-reflect before talking with another person. Men commonly say or do something they later regret when they talk while angered. Step away from the situation and try something simple like 3-3-3 deep breathing (inhale for 3, hold for 3, exhale for 3). Here’s how:
(2) Slow things down and go for a walk. Instead of engaging while fueled with anger or doing something you will regret later, take a short trip (or two) around the block. A short walk will give you time to think, as well as time to get away from your anger triggers. The fresh air and exercise will get your blood flowing and down from the boiling point, get oxygen to your brain helping you clear your head, and allow your central nervous system to calm.
(3) Once you’ve managed to calm yourself, cool down and center your thoughts, restart the communication from a place of softness. Starting with an apology acknowledging your wife’s or partner’s feelings and opinions goes a long way in demonstrating you’re coming from a place of positivity. Focus your conversation on explaining your feelings, rather than being accusatory to the other person for making you feel that way. You may feel angry but that doesn’t mean that the other person intended to trigger you or their opinion isn’t valid.
1 Okuda, M., Picazo, J., Olfson, M., Hasin, D. S., Liu, S. M., Bernardi, S., & Blanco, C. (2015). Prevalence and correlates of anger in the community: results from a national survey. CNS spectrums, 20(2), 130–139. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1092852914000182
2 Katz, J. (2006). The macho paradox: Why some men hurt women and how all men can help. (How to end domestic violence, mental and emotional abuse, and sexual harassment). Sourcebooks, Inc.: Naperville, Illinois.
3 Pascual-Leone, A., Gillis, P., Singh, T., & Andreescu, C. (2013). Problem anger in psychotherapy: An emotion-focused perspective on hate, rage, and rejecting anger. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 43(2), 83–92.
4 Oliffe, J., & Phillips, M. (2008). Men, depression and masculinities: A review and recommendations. Journal of Men’s Health, 5, 194 –202. doi:10.1016/j.jomh.2008.03.016
5 Robertson, S. White, A. Gough, B. Robinson, M. Seims, A. Raine, G. Hanna, E. (2015) Promoting Mental Health and Wellbeing with Men and Boys: What Works? Centre for Men’s Health, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds.
6 Magovcevic, M., & Addis, M. E. (2008). The masculine depression scale: Development and psychometric evaluation. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 9, 117–1321 ] Winkler D, Pjrek E, Kasper S. Gender-specific symptoms of depression and anger attacks. jmhg 2006;3(1):19–24.
7 Seidler, Z.E., Dawes, A.J., Rice, S.M., Oliffe, J.L., & Dhillon, H.M. (2016). The role of masculinity in men’s help-seeking for depression: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 49:106-118. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735816300046
8 Wong, J.Y., Ho, M.R., Wang, S.Y., & Miller, I.S.K. (2016). Meta-analyses of the relationship between conformity to masculine norms and mental health-related outcomes. Journal of Counselling Psychology.
9 Wylie, C., Platt, S., Brownlie, J., Chandler, A., Connolly, S., Evans, R… Scourfield, J. (2012). Men, suicide, and society: Why disadvantaged men in mid-life die by suicide. Samaritans. Retrieved
10 Sharpe M.J. & Heppner, P.P. (1991) Gender role, gender-role conflict, and psychological wellbeing in men. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 38(3):323–30.
11 Winkler, D, Pjrek, E. & Kasper, S. (2006) Gender-specific symptoms of depression and anger attacks. jmhg;3(1):19–24.
12 Addis, M. E., & Mahalik, J. R. (2003). Men, masculinity, and the contexts of help seeking. American Psychologist, 58, 5–14.