Note: The following is a partial transcript of a Facebook Live Presentation Dan Griffin, MA, Senior Fellow at The Meadows, did on August 26, 2016. You can find the recorded video version on his Facebook page.
First and foremost, let me be very clear about what I mean by “the illusion of men’s anger,” because I can already hear some people saying, “The illusion of men’s anger?! My father’s anger, my mother’s anger, my husband’s, my partner’s anger is not an illusion, Dan! It’s not an illusion when the person is yelling at me, it’s not an illusion when the person is hitting me, it’s not an illusion when the person is acting violently toward me.”
I absolutely agree with you. That is not the intention of this conversation.
The purpose of this conversation is to get at the root of what’s behind men’s anger and to share thoughts on how we can all interact with one another in a more authentic way.
This is a personal topic for me. I’ve been an “angry man.” I’ve had a lot of problems with anger. But, has anger really been the issue for me? That’s the question I really think all men should ask themselves if they want to be able to heal the impact that anger has had on their relationships—their relationship with self, their relationships with others, and their relationships with the community.
Anger Is a Mask
I am far from perfect in this practice, but I hope that what I’m learning about myself and my anger might be helpful for some of the men—and some of the women—out there.
The truth is I’m not angry.
I act angry, but often, what I really am feeling is fear. Or, I’m feeling insecure, or I’m dealing with other feelings and they are coming out as anger because I haven’t allowed myself to feel things or taken the time to process what’s really going on.
This is important because as men we are often backed into a corner with our feelings. We’re told that the only feeling that’s socially acceptable for us, the only one that you’re not going to be shamed for is anger. “Yeah, he’s angry, but at least he’s not crying like a little baby. “
He’s acting angry because there’s no space for him to talk about his fear.
Emotional Authenticity vs. Anger Management
Why does that matter? We talk a lot about anger management, and we talk about the problems men have with anger. I don’t think the solution to men’s problem with anger is teaching them “anger management.” I think the solution is helping them to have a better connection to self, better connections to others, and the space and permission for authentic emotional expression.
I care deeply about my relationships. But, I didn’t have the best model for how a man can be open and vulnerable in relationships so I’m still learning how to do that. What I’m beginning to realize is that anger has never really been the issue for me. The issue is how deeply I experience and feel things—how emotional I am, how quickly I feel sad, how quickly I feel afraid, how quickly I feel insecure. The more that I can stay true to those feeling and experiences, the easier it is for me to navigate.
Although, if I allow myself to feel afraid, and to express that to others, I still have to deal with the shame that comes along with the fear. Like a lot of men, I didn’t really have anybody when I was growing up who told me that it was okay for a man to feel afraid and that it was okay for a man to feel sad. So, I have to work through all of this shame and stuff I have in my head about that.
But, the more I feed my authentic self, the more the anger dissipates. That’s not “anger management;” that’s emotional congruence. It’s emotional authenticity. We don’t “manage” the anger. The anger just dissolves. The anger dissipates when it’s just smoke that hides my true self.
Permission to Be Your Authentic Self
So, for men, the challenge is for us to be able to find permission to be the men we really are.
Who are you? Who are you in each of your relationships, who are you in each of your experiences? Are you aware of how you’re feeling? Can you take a deep breath? Can you look below the surface of what’s beneath the anger?
When you feel the anger rising, can you stop before you say or do anything, and find the space to recognize your true feelings? If you feel afraid, can you say to yourself, “I feel afraid, and when I feel afraid I feel weak, and when I feel weak I feel ashamed?” And can you recognize that deciding what to do with those feelings is nobody’s problem but yours?
When I feel sad, I feel ashamed and I feel embarrassed. I feel like there’s something wrong with me as a man—but that’s not true. That’s the illusion of men’s anger.
Real Change is Possible
When men act out in anger there’s no illusion to it. It can destroy; it can hurt; it can damage. The illusion is us thinking that if we just manage men’s anger, it’s going to get better—that if we just create programs that are about men having to control their behavior, it’s going to get better.
Things will change when…
- we raise boys to be open and authentic in how they express themselves,
- we create safe places for men to be open and authentic in how they express themselves, and
- we coach and support men in all their relationships to be the man that they desperately want to be.
If you struggle with anger, take some time to just take a deep breath and notice what other emotions are coming up. Find someone you trust that you can talk to about those challenges you are feeling on a regular basis. Someone who will understand when you say that you noticed how afraid you were feeling or how shame came up for you and will respond with compassion and understanding.
And then when you do act angry, you can go back and you clean it up because you took the time to reflect on what you were really feeling and to see the illusion of your anger.
It’s not about doing it perfectly, it’s about doing it consciously. That’s the gift.
Learn More with Dan
If you’re a mental health professional or clinician who’d like some tips on how to address the unique needs of men in trauma treatment, be sure to sign up for Dan’s FREE webinar on The Man Rules & The Principles of Recovery. It’s happening on September 14, 2016; 11 a.m. – 12:30 Pacific (2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Eastern).
If you’re a man in recovery, who’s ready to take it up a notch, and transform your experience of recovery register for A Man’s Way Retreat at the Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows. During the five-day intensive, Dan will lead you through activities, group sessions, and mindfulness exercises focused on taking your recovery - and your life - to the next level. The next session is coming up October 3 – 7, 2016. To register call 800-244-4949, and ask about the limited-time 25 percent discount offer!