I’ve recently received two comments about my blog, both from male friends (by the way, I love feedback so keep it coming please – likes and shares are also really really nice, but I don’t want to come across as too needy, so I’ll ask you for those next time). One of these comments said something along the lines of “I had a look at your new blog and I liked it, even if I’m a guy” and the other said “next time, can you write something about anger? I’m really pissed off about something”. And I’m very fond of both of them – so this post is about guys. And anger. Here goes!
I’m not at all an expert on anger, possibly because I spent a large part of my life dodging it: trying my best not to get angry or get in the way of other people’s anger. Having kids has pretty much shattered any ability I had to stifle my own anger – God is my witness, I try…and I typically manage to hold it together with them, but I’ve ended up having a pretty short fuse with everyone else! However, being in situations when other people get angry still makes me…let’s just be English and go with “rather uncomfortable”. So, in keeping with the nerdy way of Spring Mind, I’ve turned to books to try and figure out what the deal is with anger.
Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca talks about anger as similar to “temporary madness”, saying that
“it is equally devoid of self-control, forgetful of decency, unmindful of ties, persistent and diligent in whatever it begins, closed to reason and counsel, excited by trifling causes, unfit to discern the right and true […] you have only to behold the aspect of those possessed by anger to know that they are insane.”
Yes, yes and yes, dear Seneca…but why do we do it? And why do so many men, in particular, seem to turn to anger as their only (almost) emotional response to bad stuff?
Why? It’s The Law
Well, this is where I will, of course, end up quoting Brené Brown (if I ever write a post where she’s not mentioned, I will make sure to let you know right at the beginning so you don’t hold your breath). In her book “Daring Greatly”, she explains that while shame is universal (remember shame, our super-friend from the last post?), men and women experience it differently.
For women, shame is a “sticky, complex spiderweb of layered, conflicting and competing expectations that dictate exactly: who we should be, what we should be and how we should be” (she said spiderweb, see? So I was definitely on the right track with Spiderman – for women, at least).
For men, things are, in a way, simpler (I know, you always tell us that you are simple folk and it’s us women who overcomplicate everything. Yes, you told us so. Now can you stop smirking and keep reading?). Shame, for men, is not a web; it’s a box, “a shipping crate with a big stamp across it that reads, “CAUTION: Do Not Be Perceived as Weak”. That’s The Law.
Now, if you’re a guy living in that box and you’re having a really shitty time, what emotions are you likely to feel able to express? Sadness? Regret? Remorse? Anxiety? Fear? Disappointment? Discouragement? Hopelessness? (Uncomfortable, much, as you’re reading this, guys? I can feel you squirming across the Interwebs.)
Hell to the no! Real men don’t do…all of those sissy emotional things. No sir, real men suck it up and stay strong. And when they can’t suck it up anymore, they blow a fuse. Because anger, unlike all of these wallowing, whiny weaklings I just mentioned, is STRONG. I mean, just look at what that Seneca dude has to say about it – this emotion is so tough, it practically has a sixpack. So men feel safe expressing anger, because it’s one of the few negative emotions that isn’t against The Law.
Fraudsters vs Illegals
Now, the problem is that anger is, in fact, a bit of a fake – it’s like a bodybuilder on steroids. Anger, you see, is a “secondary emotion”, which means that it’s a discharge mechanism for other emotions: there’s always something else behind it. And that something is…you guessed it, one of the Wallowing Whiny Weaklings, pumped up by the shame steroids to turn into anger. As long as you don’t actually see anger for what it is, you can’t address its root cause. But to see it for what it is, you’d need to accept that you were hanging out with the WWWs, and we all know that’s illegal. Pretty tricky, huh? (So no, you’re actually not that simple. Yup, we told you so.)
Here Come the Cops
Another (but related) reason it’s so hard for guys to ditch their love affair with anger is the excellent Law enforcement apparatus, i.e. everyone else. We’re all upholders of The Law. If, whenever someone got angry, we’d say – “come on, man, you know anger is a secondary emotion, what’s really going on?”, we might get the odd punch in the face, but maybe, just maybe guys might slowly get a bit more comfortable exploring their full emotional repertoire. As it is, however, men are actually rewarded by society for turning to anger and not exploring underneath – at least not in front of other people.
In his book “Power: Why some People Have It – And Others Don’t” (hands down the most uncomfortable required reading I’ve had to do for my MBA), Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer includes “Display anger instead of sadness or remorse” as the second rule of Acting with Power (the first one is “Be aware of your audience”, in case you were wondering). There is, apparently, serious research to the effect that people who express anger are seen as “dominant, strong, competent and smart”, and “people actually conferred more status on people who expressed anger rather than sadness”. The research is mixed on whether this also holds for women, but it’s unequivocal for men.
Turns Out We Know The Villain
Ugh. I mean, this is the kind of stuff that makes me angry – at least in part because what I really feel is pretty damn guilty (secondary, emotion, remember?). You see, when I say “we’re all upholders of the Law”, I actually mean “we”. Not just men. All of us. To go back to Brené (and make sure that this post is an uncomfortable read for all, regardless of gender – I do like to keep things fair when I can), here’s a quote from a man she spoke to back in 2005, talking about how he felt his wife and daughters wouldn’t be able to take it if he tried to explore his emotions: “They’d rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall off. You say you want us to be vulnerable and real, but c’mon. You can’t stand it. It makes you sick to see us like that”. I know, ladies. Ouch. Unless you got angry reading this, in which case double ouch – when you’ve calmed down, have a look under there and see what’s really going on.
Happy springing, boys and girls, and remember – it’s good to think (and feel) outside of the box!
Copyright: kudryashka / 123RF Stock Photo
Cover photo copyright: solerf / 123RF Stock Photo