The Hidden Reason Men Get Angry With Women Over “Nothing”

Anger has been a problem my whole life. It contributed to ending of my two marriages and nearly brought about the demise of my third. When my anger was pointed out to me, usually by my wife, I immediately became defensive and insisted loudly, I’m not angry, God damn it! Inside I felt confused, out-of-control, and righteous. In my mind I would say to myself, Well, who wouldn’t get angry, when someone is attacking you like she is?

When I tried to explain my feelings to my wife, she was mystified. Nothing she did seemed to her like an attack and I couldn’t articulate what it was about what she said that triggered by defensive anger. Clearly my anger wasn’t over “nothing,” but what was really triggering my anger remained hidden for a long time.

It took me years to begin to understand why my wife was afraid of me. I never hit her. So, I told myself, she’s just being overly sensitive. I dismissed my angry outbursts and wasn’t aware of the looks I was giving her. “When you get angry, even when you’re trying to keep it in,” my wife told me, “you get that beady-eyed look that chills my soul.”

My wife, Carlin, and I have been married now for 38 years. It’s the third marriage for both of us and we’ve learned a lot about why we are the way we are and how to deal with my anger. The writer, Margaret Atwood, offers an insightful understanding of a male/female dynamic that has taken us years to understand.  

Atwood says, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Do you know how sometimes you read something and think to yourself, I know what she’s saying is right, but you can’t quite explain to yourself why it’s right?

On the surface these two statements don’t make sense. They don’t seem to have equal weight. How can you compare fear of being laughed at to fear of being killed? Yet, Atwood is suggesting that fear of death and fear of being laughed at are comparable.

It’s a lot easier to understand women’s fear of being killed by a man, than men’s fear of being laughed at by a woman. Men are generally bigger, stronger, and more aggressive. Every day in the news we see examples of male violence. There are mass shootings, men killing their wives and girlfriends in fits of jealous rage, rapes, and sexual harassment.

In order to understand why men are afraid of being laughed at by women, we have to take a journey into the world of men and try and see things through their eyes. Here are a few highlights that I’ve come to understand over the years:

  • Being born of a woman has a different meaning for males than females.

All females learn quickly that they are the same sex as the mother and there is a primal identification, “I’m a female, like Mom, and I can grow up to be like her.” All males learn that they are the other sex and there is a primal disappointment when they realize that they will never grow up to be like mother.

  • Males are dependent on women, but frightened and ambivalent about their dependence.

In his book, Misogyny: The Male Malady, anthropologist David Gilmore describes the near universal dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women that is built into the male psyche. He says it stems from unresolved conflicts between men’s intense need for and dependence upon women and their equally intense fear of that dependence, and the underlying reason for our anger is almost totally subconscious.

  • Here are the subconscious needs that are usually so uncomfortable to acknowledge that men block them out:
  • Unconscious wishes to return to infancy
  • Longings to suckle at the breast
  • To return to the womb
  • The powerful temptation to surrender one’s masculine autonomy to the omnipotent mother of childhood fantasy.

“All these secret desires,” says Gilmore, “spark unconscious opposition, internal conflict, and consequently psychic turmoil in men. Men’s ambivalence toward women creates an uncomfortable and endless tension at every psychic level which leads to an effort to diminish the source of the turmoil by attacking its source: women.

 Men can be overt in their anger or they can be covert. Their anger can be aggressive and explosive or it can be passive and “nice.” Mostly I was the nice guy, but my anger would come out in subtle ways. I’d forget an anniversary. I’d flirt with my wife’s best friend. I’d listen to her, but not fully. I’d forget something she’d ask me to get for her. Sound familiar

  • Men feel an unconscious bondage to WOMAN.

In his book, Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man, Sam Keen offers a perspective that resonates deeply with me. “It was slow in dawning on me that WOMAN had in overwhelming influence on my life and on the lives of all the men I knew,” says Keen. He goes on to say that “I am not talking about women, the actual flesh-and-blood creatures, but about WOMEN, those larger-than-life shadowy female figures who inhabit our imaginations, inform our emotions, and indirectly give shape to many of our actions.”

Keen says, “One of the major tasks of manhood is to explore the unconscious feelings that surround our various images of WOMAN, to dispel false mystification, to dissolve the vague sense of threat and fear, and finally to learn to respect and love the strangeness of womankind.”

In sum, he says, “It may be useful to think about sexual-spiritual maturation—the journey to manhood—as a process of changing WOMAN into women, into Jane (or one certain woman), of learning to see members of the opposite sex not as archetypes or members of a class but as individuals.”

“It is the WOMAN in our heads, more than the women in our beds or boardrooms, who cause most of our problems, Keen concludes. “And these archetypical creatures—goddesses, bitches, angels, Madonnas, castrators, witches, Gypsy maidens, earth mothers—must be exorcised from our minds and hearts before we can learn to love women.”

  • Men’s greatest fear is being ridiculed and disrespected.

I still remember being in a room with my mother and a number of neighbor friends. They were talking about their husbands amid derisive laughter about the various short-comings of the men. I was six years old. I can’t remember the details of their complaints, but the feelings of pity, contempt, and disrespect remain burned into my psyche nearly seventy years later.

I felt deeply ashamed of my father for not living up to my mother’s expectations, and I made a vow, as a six-year-old, that I would die before I would ever let a woman talk about me that way.

James Gilligan, M.D., one of the world’s experts on male violence and author of the book, Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Cause says, “I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed.” Most often men turn the shame inwards, become depressed, and suicidal, but the anger that comes out at women is often shame-based and related to feeling overwhelmed by feminine power.

  • Most men have a hole in their soul as a result of the father wound.

When I was five years old my mid-life father became increasingly angry and depressed because he couldn’t make a living to support his family. Unable to meet the demands of being the sole breadwinner in the family, he took an overdose of sleeping pills and was committed to the state mental hospital.

If a boy doesn’t grow up with a father who is present physically and emotionally, he clings more closely to his mother, which increases his fear and anger. This was true for me and for many men I know. With my father gone, I needed my mother even more. I was angry that my father had left and angry at my mother because I felt even more engulfed by her energy.

Richard Rohr founded the international movement known as Men As Learners & Elders (M.A.L.E.s), which focuses on ritual and rites of passage to encourage men to greater spiritual consciousness. He says, “In the heart of every man is a hunger for his father. It’s one of those inevitable things. It happens in both boys and girls actually, but the essence of this hunger is vitally different. There is something about the connection between the child and the same-sex parent that, when unmet, creates a gaping hole in their souls.”

At its core the reason men are so angry at women and so wounded by their laughter is that we feel unmanned and ashamed. So many of us have a hole in our soul, that a little laughter feels like a massive attack. In order to truly love ourselves and the women in our lives, we have to heal the father wound.

I’ve written a new book, Return of the Puppet Man:  Healing a Man’s Anger and His Father Wound. It will be available later this year. If you’d like a free copy of the first chapter, drop me an email. Put “father wound” in the subject line. Your comments below are welcomed and appreciated.

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  1. Do I have to post a comment to read other comments?

  2. Ted Elliott says:

    Jed, I’d like to know whether women really have this fear of being killed or more likely due to examples by their mothers/peers they disrespect and distrust men. Fear of being killed is likely never conciouis in most women except maybe in abusive relationships. What about fear of abandonment, I thought that was what women operate on. Men have a higher probability of being killed by homicide than women, maybe not by women but nonetheless it’s true. In addition, men have a much higher probability of being ridiculed, disrespected and criticized than women because not just women do that to them but other men do as well (patriarchy). As far as the father wound, maybe father wounds have existed forever because patriarchy has existed forever. More dysfunctional fathers are caused by it, thus the need for youngsters to being initiated by their community of elders and not just their fathers.

    • Ted, Your points are well-taken. I believe the fear women have of being killed operates on an archetypal, unconscious level. It stems from the reality of men’s larger size and strength and their dependency on men for much of human history for protection. Just as men’s fear of ridicule and believed disrespected comes from the subconscious dependency men have on WOMAN and protected on the particular women in our lives. Fortunately, what we call Patriarchy or the Dominator culture is not inherent, but really goes back only 6,000 years. When we were hunter-gatherers, which was for most of our human history, we lived in a much more egalitarian society.

  3. “There is something about the connection between the child and the same-sex parent that, when unmet, creates a gaping hole in their souls.” What if you swap the gender in the article, won’t the same be true?

  4. Hi. In my, and also all of my male friends experiences, this is not the case at all, what we have is a man (logical thinker) and a woman (emotional thinker) these two thinking patterns just do not mix well, that is one of the many reasons why women were more subservient in earlier times. When you think emotionally, there is a big gray area, depending on her mood will determine where and what the gray area is. men think logically, So every day, the same answer will be there. In todays society, where some of us actually encourage disharmony in relationships by trying to empower a sex that is way too powered already, a big reversal is needed to get back to an even keel. There is a saying, Every thing in the universe goes in an anti-clockwise direction except for the human female and she wonders why everyone else gets it wrong. The problem in society is not the men, it is the women, their flawed way of thinking, their immature anger issues, their misplaced blame, their inability to accept repercussions and responsibility for their actions. Giving equatity to women was like giving a child a loaded gun and now we are suffering for it. Back when we all had places and knew what they were, we, as a society, were so much better off, Domestic violence was way less than now – since women’s lib, we have devolved so much, just by trying to understand an illogical, emotional immature creature that struggles with clarity ona prolonged basis. But in saying that, a man that does not listen to his woman is a fool, she has the intelligence to have great ideas, as sporadic as they are, they definitely are there.

    • I don’t agree with all of what Emery is saying here but I appreciate that he was willing to “cross the line”. The social contract is broken and has been for a long time. Most men obviously try to find an attractive woman to marry who treats them half decent. Now, you’re competing against her and her friends. For the most part, men are, consciously or subconsciously, married just so that women can get pregnant. They realize that kids are a PITA, the father won’t do 110% of the work so they say “why not leave? I can get the kids which is the most important part”. This is besides women withholding sex while men see nothing but sexual abandon all over the internet. And it’s a problem to ask for a beer? That’s my $0.02.

  5. While women may have a fear a man will kill them, it’s more likely that a woman will laugh at a man than to be slain by one. Men save more lives than they take. From the time we’re very little, men are told we have to be strong and tough and that ‘big boys’ don’t cry.’ Who hasn’t heard that more than a few times growing up? We’re not supposed to show fear, self-doubt, or any other “weak” emotion. We were only left with anger. That was always appropriate for men. Women, on the other hand, could show every other emotion except anger. Now, in this politically correct environment, men are told they shouldn’t even so much as get angry with a woman, much less express it.

    Men endure a great deal of humiliation and disrespect from women in the world of romance, where men are still expected to make the first move and do it with the utmost concern and perhaps innate ability to foresee whether or not she’s interested in him. I don’t know a single non-gay man who hasn’t been ridiculed by women at some point in these circumstances. Of course, if men had left it up to women to make the first move, the human race would have died 10 million years ago. If women could even remotely understand how humiliating this can be for some men, they’d realize why some men engage in egregious behavior. It’s one reason why there are growing numbers of men who have never been married. Men are finally starting to realize, if women don’t need them for financial support, men don’t need women for emotional support.

    But men have to realize our overall health is more important than what others think we should be and what we should do with our lives.

  6. Thanks for the comments. They are interesting and appreciated. Clearly we are at a time in human history where we both need each other and feel wounded by each other. Its like the story of two porcupines in the snow. They would huddle together for warmth, but then hurt each other with their sharp spines. We need to learn, all of us, to be close, yet free and to love ourselves and our partners and also learn the ways we consciously and unconsciously wound each other.

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