Angry behaviour such as aggression and violence needs limits and boundaries. And rightly so.
If a situation gets out of control, managing behaviour is the first port of call and men need to take responsibility for their actions.
A common anger management approach is to teach people how to step back, calm down and examine what is going on.
Whilst behaviour needs boundaries, I believe feelings need acceptance and expression, whether we like it or not!
Behind and Underneath Anger
One of the central themes of high levels of emotional intelligence is the ability to use our feelings as a guide. The feeling of anger can be a marker letting us know something is important to us, and likely a sign that other emotions are lurking beneath.
Anger can be both an internal and external response triggered by overwhelming events. In my work with men in particular such events include:
- Loss of a job
- Death of a significant person
- End of a relationship
- Increased demands as a parent
- High stress at work
- Conflict with a partner
- Lack of intimacy with a partner
The feelings about feelings.
There are often a myriad of other thoughts and feelings associated (behind and underneath) with anger, which tend to be particularly difficult for men to accept. These include:
It’s usually men’s feelings about these feelings that lead to feelings of frustration or anger. Does that make sense?
Many men label these feelings as weakness and they should be avoided at all costs. Or some guys judge these feelings internally by telling themselves:
Often with an expletive or two thrown in!
Face value – A catch 22
Here is a classic example of a man’s internal emotional struggle that appears as anger.
A guy is about to go for an important job interview (sounds like the beginning of a joke!). He’s been unemployed for 6 months.
He is anxious and fearful of stuffing up the interview. He judges himself for feeling fearful and anxious in the first place and soon these ‘feelings about feelings’ escalate to a high degree of intolerance, aggression and anger towards himself and others.
He’s ‘moody’ and isn’t sleeping well. He struggles to accept his feelings resulting in him not wanting to talk about it, despite his partner’s requests.
This makes him a difficult person (putting it mildly!) for his partner and family to live with in the days leading up to the interview.
This guy’s internal experience is expressed outwardly, loudly and explicitly in his short temper and tolerance for demands of others, and inwardly, wrestling with himself as he attempts to convince himself to ‘stop worrying about it’.
There is a good chance, however, if he allows himself to recognise and accept his underlying feelings (fear and worry) there will be less need for him staying angry and irritable and more of an opportunity for developing empathy, compassion and self-care.
If only this guy was willing to accept fear as a normal reaction to being interviewed for this lucrative position.
If he did and allowed himself to share this with his partner he may well receive some compassion, validation and normalising of his feelings along with some healthy reassurance and major doses of loving support!
And then there’s his brain!
Brain science has recognised the gender differences with the physiology of anger.
Men, in general terms, typically have a longer physiological recovery period (e.g. adrenalin, heart rate, blood pressure) from an experience of anger than women – 20 minutes for men compared with 5 minutes for women.
This means that it is important to allow at least 20 minutes for calming down (without ruminating) before attempting to talk about whatever has sparked the angry response.
Dealing with Anger
There tend to be three productive ways to deal with anger.
- Expression or letting off steam (in ways that do not involve other people or are not in any way physically destructive)
- Talking about underlying feelings when things are calm
Lowering the intensity of anger is a great step toward making better sense of what else is going on.
Here is a method of creating some calm whilst decreasing the intensity of anger.
4 STEPS TO DECREASE THE POWER OF ANGER
‘Breathe’ 3 times slowly, inhale and focus on a long exhalation of the breath.
‘Observe’ – where are your feelings? In your head? In your body?
‘Allow’ yourself to consider what other feelings are under your anger.
‘Stay focused’ on the breath, and slow your breathing down with longer exhalation.
This requires practice, often. In calming and slowing down, it’s more realistic that recognising your underlying feelings will occur. Or at least setting limits on how the mood of anger impacts on others.
Acceptance of feelings is not about liking them; it’s about allowing them to be there, without getting too caught up by judging them, yourself or others.
Easier said than done? Yes!
Practice these 4 steps every day for 5 mins/day.
Remember feelings are a guide for making choices about how you behave and make decisions.
These steps form an incredibly powerful part of emotional intelligence.