Although anger has a negative impact on men, I learned that it is often the women and children who suffer the most. “Recently, he has begun venting, to anyone who will listen, about how horrible we all are,” 53 year-old Jennifer wrote me. “If our adult-children aren’t living up to his standards, it is my fault. If he can’t find his socks, he accuses me of misplacing them, just to piss him off. I’m not kidding—that’s what he tells me. What hurts the most is that he has withdrawn all affection. It’s like someone transformed him from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. I want my husband back!”
This is typical of the thousands of letters and e-mails I have received from women all over the world since The Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression was first published by Rodale in 2004. I get the question, why is my husband so angry?, a lot. More and more women are feeling the pain of living with an angry male and want help for themselves, their children, and for the man they all love.
Anger is an increasingly serious problem in our society today according to Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and former President of the American Psychological Association. “Out-of-hand anger ruins many lives,” he says. “More, I believe, than schizophrenia, more than alcohol, more than AIDS. Maybe even more than depression.” Seligman’s research also shows that when couples fight, it can damage their children, often in lasting ways.
Anger Manifests in Different Forms
Paul Ekman, Ph.D., one of the world’s experts on emotions and author of Emotions Revealed, says that anger is expressed in many ways. “There is a range of angry feelings, from slight annoyance to rage. There are not just differences in the strength of angry feelings, but also differences in the kind of anger felt. Indignation is self-righteous anger, sulking is passive anger; exasperation refers to having one’s patience tried excessively. Revenge is a type of angry action usually committed after a period of reflection about the offense.”
We often perceive anger as a negative emotion that can damage people and their relationships, yet anger can also lead to emotional and spiritual growth. The practices readers will learn in the book can deepen and enrich their ability to be more loving to their partner and to others. In his book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hahn says, “In the past, we were allied in making each other suffer more, allied in the escalation of anger. “Now we want to be allied in taking good care of our sorrow, our anger, and our frustration. We want to negotiate a strategy for peace.”
Stressed Out Men Become Angry
Most of us recognize that stress is increasing in our lives. We notice it as we drive to work, when we feel rushed and overwhelmed, when we come home to relax, but find more and more things at home that demand our attention. In my years counseling men and women, I have found that men and women often express stress in their lives differently. Women often “act in” their stress and feel sad and depressed. Men, on the other hand, often “act out” their stress and become irritable and angry.
Women often internalize their pain and blame themselves for their problems. Men often externalize their pain and blame the women in their lives. When I counsel men, I often hear a litany of complaints that often focus on their wives. After listening and empathizing I begin to help them recognize that it isn’t their “wife” that is the problem, but rather their “life” that is out of balance. I also help them see that the stress isn’t just coming from their internal state of being, but also results from the world around us.
We are living at a time of major earth changes. We have moved beyond the era of peak oil and are reaching limits of all our natural resources, what author Richard Heinberg describes as “peak everything.” Our economy is changing rapidly and more and more people are out of work or worried about losing their jobs. Global warming is real and we are all feeling the effects of a planet that has an increasingly “high fever.”
Healing Ourselves, Healing Our Planet
Most of us are tired of war and would like human beings to get along with each other. But it seems that wars go on and on. The truth is that we can’t stop wars until we learn to stop fighting with our mates. If we can’t learn to get along with the one we love, how can we expect to get along with people we don’t know and don’t understand? The good news is that we are learning how to become more peaceful partners. We are learning the skills of non-violent communication. We are learning how to listen with a more open heart, to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person.
Here’s a little exercise that developed by the folks at the Institute of HeartMath and it’s guaranteed to reduce stress in your life and help you feel more loving:
- Put your attention on the area around your heart. Place your hand there to feel the life pulsing through you.
- Imagine that with each breath you breathe in you are taking in healing energy through your heart and with each breath you breathe out you send that loving energy out to someone you’d like to feel more loving towards.
- Think of a time when you felt deep gratitude. It could be a memory of one of your children, or when you first fell in love, or the time you were overwhelmed by the beauty of a sunset.
- Continue to breathe while you hold this memory of gratitude.
Think what it would mean if everyone in the world did this exercise three or four times a day. Are you willing to start? It’s easy and you have nothing to lose but your anger.
You can also take the Quiz to learn more.
What do you think? What tools have been effective for you in dealing with your, or your mate’s, anger?