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Masked Emotions Behind Men’s Anger 

September 6, 2016

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The Meadows

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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, husband’s, and partner’s anger isn’t 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’s not the intention of this conversation.

The purpose of this conversation is to get at the root of men’s emotions behind anger and 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.

Men and Anger 

According to psychotherapists, men are most familiar and comfortable with anger. There’s a lot of stigma around male emotions, and anger is often seen as the most socially acceptable. Men’s anger is interpreted as masculine and powerful whereas sadness or fear are seen as a weakness. Many men transfer feelings of vulnerability to anger to prove that they aren’t experiencing any masked emotions. 

Many people often perceive anger as an extremely negative emotion. However, it has positively evolved into a natural response to threats or challenges. Understanding anger is accepting that it’s not a negative emotion but one that’s expressed when you don’t like the way that a situation is playing out with another person. However, it becomes a problem when it’s acted out instead of talked about. 

Additionally, this inherently negative trait can impact men’s mental health in the future. In turn, men are more reluctant to express concerns of their mental health or seek resources to help them healthily manage it. To appear more stoic, men might deny that they have a mental health condition. 

Internalized Fear Masked as Anger 

I’m 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’m really feeling is fear and insecurity. Or, I’m dealing with masked emotions and they’re 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’re 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 internalized fear.

Some examples of when a men’s anger might be masked as internalized fear include:

  • Your partner texting or talking on the phone more with friends might signal that they don’t enjoy talking to you as much.
  • Your partner bringing home extra work might signal that they’re more successful than you. 
  • Your partner constantly criticizing you might signal that you can’t please them or make them happy. 
  • Your partner prioritizing your kids might signal that you don’t feel capable of having a close relationship with them. 

Once men begin to recognize some of the fears that underlie their anger, they can find value in talking through those emotions with their partner instead of masking them. Although vulnerability can be daunting at first, the payoff is quite rewarding. 

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 an issue for me. The problem 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 I can stay true to those feelings and experiences, the easier it is to navigate.

Although, if I allow myself to feel afraid and express that to others, I still have to deal with the shame that comes with the fear. Like many men, I didn’t 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.

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, it just dissolves. The anger dissipates when it’s just smoke that hides my true self.

Expressing Authentic Male Emotions 

For men, the challenge is for us to find permission to be the men we 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?” 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 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.

Change Is Possible

When men act out in anger, there’s no illusion to it. It can destroy, hurt, and damage. The illusion is us thinking that if we just manage men’s anger, it’s going to get better—than if we just create programs about men having to control their behavior, it’s going to get better.

Parents and teachers play an essential role in identifying the causes of male anger and supporting and nurturing them to grow up to be healthy, adult men who aren’t afraid to express their authentic emotions. 

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 honest and authentic in how they express themselves.
  • We coach and support men in all their relationships to be the man they desperately want to be.

If you struggle with anger management, 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’re regularly feeling. Someone who will understand when you say that you noticed how afraid you were or how shame came up for you will respond with compassion and understanding.

When you act angry, you can go back and clean it up because you took the time to reflect on what you were feeling and see the illusion of your anger. It’s not about doing it perfectly but consciously. That’s the gift.