Anger: His go to Emotion

November 11, 2013

in Uncategorized

For many men anger is a “safe” emotion. I say safe because it feels safe for him.

Angry Man © Patrimonio Designs Limited | Dreamstime.com

There are a couple of things at play here.

  • Men are less empathetic than women (proven by testing, and probably based on differences in the brain). This makes it more difficult for him to negotiate emotionally charged situations. Because anger pushes people away, it is a good way to avoid the whole thing.
  • Boys are taught there are manly and unmanly emotions. (Peers will teach boys this even if they do not get the message from adults, and TV and movies reinforce the idea.) We learn to suppress weak or “feminine” emotions, and play up those that are considered masculine. Anger is one of the “approved” emotions. Anger is also a good fall back when a man needs to cover an “unacceptable” emotion.

A man may not default to anger intentionally; for many it is a habit. Once the habit is made, it is difficult to change. Anger becomes his cover emotion, the one he pulls on when he is unsure or when what he is really feeling is not acceptable.

You Can Help Him

First: If his anger results in violence toward you or the kids, get help now!

Obviously defaulting to anger is not a good thing. Changing that would be good for your marriage and for his life in general. However, telling him he has a problem with anger is just going to make him angry.

  • Try to help him find the emotions that are behind the mask of anger. Do this in private, and do not push too hard. Ask him why he feels angry, and give him time to think about it because he honestly may not know. You can also ask him what he feels in addition to the anger.
  • If you see a pattern of him getting angry in response to certain things you do or say, try to find a way to change the situation. I am not saying ignore it or let him walk all over you, just find a different way to deal with it. This can make it easier for him to avoid the anger habit.
  • Tell him how his anger makes you feel. Wait until sometime when he is not angry, and try to give him a short concise explanation of how his anger affects you. You do not have to suggest how he should change or push him to discuss it – just give him the information and let him think on it.
  • Show appreciation when he avoids anger. Words are okay, actions are better. Show him that limiting his anger will make things better with you, and he will have greater motivation to work on his anger.

~ Paul – XY and learning all the emotions.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Hetherington November 11, 2013 at 11:26 am

This advice is ok if the man is willing to accept responsibility and change. However, when all he does is continue/escalate the behavior while blaming his anger on everything and everyone else, no amount of attempts to avoid enraging him, telling him how you feel, or encouragement will make any difference. The only thing any of this will do is play right into his mindset that his anger and its consequences are “her fault”. The problem is how to get him to accept responsibility, admit he needs help, and obtain that help.

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Paul Byerly November 11, 2013 at 11:39 am

Paul – Very true. If he is as you say, then she will need outside help – and the sooner the better.

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Chris November 11, 2013 at 12:06 pm

I’m so glad you’ve addressed this, because male anger is one of those things that triggers difficulty for me. When my husband gets angry, and I end up in fight-flight-freeze mode.

Recently, we had a situation with one of our kids that had my husband saying (somewhat loudly) how angry he was. I pointed out that perhaps he was angry because he felt hurt. He was stunned because I’d given him an accurate word for what he was feeling–but then he said, “Well, now I’m angry because I don’t know what to do about feeling hurt. It’s easier to just be angry.”

You say, “Try to help him find the emotions that are behind the mask of anger.”

I did this–but then what? What are some things that some men find helpful in dealing with the emotions that underlie their anger? When I’m hurt, I can cry and then I feel better. What works for men?

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Lori November 11, 2013 at 6:09 pm

This is the first time he faced this and it’s bound to feel very very sucky. When it happens again, say the same sort of thing and then ask him to go for a walk or do some other physical activity. Then later when the angst begins to subside you can talk it through and look for solutions.

This may happen a number of times before he catches it and learns a new pattern.

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Paul Byerly November 11, 2013 at 1:08 pm

“What works for me?”

You mean other than sex? ;-) (For the rest of you, Chris blogs about sex on occasion – http://forgivenwife.com/)

In many ways anger is male crying. It changes nothing, but it makes us feel better. And both tend to be off-putting to the opposite sex spouse. Sometimes releasing emotion to feel better is all we need, but sometimes we need to go further. Anger is much more of a block to going further than crying.

Most of us have a lifetime of habit in the way, so it is not easy. As your guy said, it is easier to be angry. Still, being aware of the other emotions is good, and if he can learn to be aware of them more often he should eventually start to work on them.

The problem with feeling anger is that rarely leads to positive change. Being able to feel other emotions is far more likely to lead to change, which means feeling less badly in the future. It is a lot like pulling out a splinter – hurts more than leaving it alone now, but leaving it in is worse in the long run. We guys are great at just yanking it out when it is physical; we need to learn to do the same thing emotionally.

And again, that is not easy with decades of habit. I suppose the first step is convincing a man there is a good reason to make the change, to learn to feel and deal with the other emotions. If his doing that results in some positive changes a couple of times, then he will start to see value in it.

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Chris November 11, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Thanks for your reply, Paul. I think I will just need to keep helping him be able to name his emotions for a while, and then we’ll see what’s next. In the meantime, sex is indeed a good bandaid. ;)
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Celena November 11, 2013 at 2:14 pm

I bless you each: Paul Byerly, Chris, and Paul Hetherington. Thank you each for your posts, comments and replies to replies! :)

This post was an enjoyable reminder, was one worth reading. Thank you.

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Wendie November 12, 2013 at 7:01 am

Wow! Thanks so much for this post. I had never thought of anger this way, (since I obviously prefer crying!) :) This was helpful, not only in regards to my husband, but also in regards to my young teenage son. Maybe I can begin to help him learn new ways to deal with emotion and make better habits for the future.

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Paul Byerly November 12, 2013 at 11:05 am

Wendie – Being able to help your son build better habits now would be awesome! His future wife will praise you!

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libl November 12, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Indeed, male anger is frightening, but one thing I learned over the years is to not take it so personally. I used to panic and cower and try to fix it because I thought it was my job to. I never let hubby own or face his strong emotions. I never gracefully helped him through strong emotions or set boundaries on inappropriate ones (for example, the time he called me horrid names and was silent towards me for days simply because I didn’t finish doing him a favor he never asked me to do, but I was doing out of love, but had to stop in the middle of because our baby needed attending to). I grew up with an explosive father, too, so I was so afraid. I finally felt let to do two things: admit to hubby that I was afraid of him and stand up to him. I did just that only a few months ago. It wasn’t pretty, and he even threatened to hit me and raised his fist at me, but I stood my ground, spoke the truth, but remained loving and forgiving towards him. It was a turning point and since then I’ve been able to address other issues his anger/strong emotions brings up and he’s grown exponentially. He has never hit me, but that threat was real and I was prepared to take the blow and leave, if it came down to it. Thankfully, instead he sat on the bed and gathered me in his arms.

It isn’t this way with every husband, but with mine, he was trapped in his anger. It was his defense mechanism. It got people to back off of him. It helped him avoid getting hurt by others (even if that person was trying to help him, like an animal in a trap, he lashed out). He needed to know there was another way and I was not his enemy.

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Paul Byerly November 12, 2013 at 7:19 pm

libl – A heart-wrenching and brave story. Glad you did it, and very glad it worked out well.

What you said here fits very well with the Wednesday post coming out shortly – we either take a chance and stand our ground, or we live with bad behaviour for the rest of our lives. And to be able to stand our ground, we must be ready to take whatever.

Blessings!

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