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  • Writer's pictureZebulon McCain

Anger in Men

Men do experience anger at times and for a variety of reasons. It is difficult to say if men today are necessarily angrier than our male ancestors, but male anger is certainly less acceptable today thanks to changes in societal attitude.

Anger is a topic that really needs some examination. As an extension of the social conditioning men have endured overt the last few decades, anger is now a bad word. In fact, men themselves are confused when experiencing this emotion and do not understand what is “wrong” with them when they do. As mentioned in my first book Ethos of Men, for over a generation boys have been conditioned to be “nice”. This is fundamentally different than masculine rites of passage and/or learning on self-discipline and leadership. I would like to see more of those practiced instead of the “nice” conditioning that produces ineffective males. Not only ineffective, but also inept at handling difficult emotions like anger.

Women indignantly tell each other that male anger is still somehow considered socially acceptable while female anger is not because…patriarchy. That was historically correct under the bygone patriarchy. For females today, fighting the imaginary patriarchy is a pleasurable priority. This fantasy is socially acceptable and stoked constantly by media and social justice warriors. meanwhile (back in reality) I argue that in fact expressing anger is NOT socially acceptable for straight men whatsoever as it only fuels the societal anti-male sentiment.

So how does any of this affect the regular guy? Well firstly be careful with expressing your anger in today’s political climate. I personally know a guy (not the brightest) sentenced to probation, many months of anger management classes and alcohol classes all stemming from an intoxicated angry phone call with his baby momma. It was labelled domestic violence. Naturally, I do not know every detail, but he was certainly surprised to learn that domestic assault charges could be incurred over the phone.

Let us dig deeper. I understand and respect that from the female perspective, male anger can be threatening or scary! Perhaps that is why we have the social narrative that female anger is cool, but male anger is “wrong”. Naturally if we believe that is the case, how are we expected to cure it? In my previous two seasons volunteering as facilitator for a fathers’ support group/class, I heard regularly: “How do I get rid of anger?” or “How do I fix my anger?” Of course, society uses the wrong framework to view male anger through so consequently men are misguided and confused.

When facilitating the father’s class, I learned right alongside the other dads. Our curriculum really nails an insight about anger when it says that “anger is a secondary emotion.” This is damn important to consider for individual men because we are conditioned to keep our heads down, work, provide and not make waves. So, to truly examine the concept that anger is not necessarily the “wrong” way to feel is a curious thing. The idea that anger is a secondary emotion stems from the simple concept that one or more emotions are directly behind the anger itself. There are underlying causes of the anger, typically some type of fear.

Unfortunately, most men only recognize anger when it builds up and becomes expressed externally, possibly in an explosive way that frightens others. Most men do not want to experience that, and I condemn it as well. Causing hurt, physical or psychological to others is completely fucked up and I prefer it would stop. All too often we do not register the buildup that leads to an explosive stage of anger. My recommendation to men is that when they recognize that stage approaching, they must remove themselves from the situation until calm. That is crucial. The next process (possibly over a period of months) is the earnest study of the underlying causes and related emotions that led to that incident. What follows must lead to positive lifestyle change, including likely ending unhealthy relationships and other bad habits.

The Ethos of Men book has a chapter called “Six Needs and the Importance of Getting Them Met”. The idea is that actively meeting those six human needs leads to a more stable and less volatile mentality. It is far more difficult to become angry when those areas of one’s life are mostly fulfilled. Most men are much like the fathers in my classes, overworked, underappreciated, and lacking the benefits of meeting all six needs in their lives thanks to their self-sacrifice. Enough of that lack in life will lead a man to having a damn short fuse. It is a slippery slope as only more relationship problems will develop. Self-medication on our part tends to make things even worse for everyone involved. We treat the symptoms with alcohol and other substances, but do not sort out why we are using them in the first place (addiction is serious and I recommend seeking a twelve-step program or professional help with it).

We can recognize that men can exist on the edge of getting angry; let us examine what triggers us to be truly pissed off. An article in Ideas and Discoveries magazine from July 2019 is insightful. The article examines what the author calls “the nine triggers of anger”, all drawn from the prehistoric human behavior perspective. I appreciate this Primalist perspective because these nine triggers existed in humans before we had rules and laws; in those times humans relied on their own internal sense of justice. Even today, despite our modern conveniences and societal changes, we still have the same brain wiring that can activate anger as a response to perceived injustice. I believe the nine triggers take much of the mystery out of anger, and so here they are.

First is “Life or Limb”; if we are faced with a threat to our physical body, we can be triggered to become angry. Suffering an injury can cause a downward spiral of problems in life for ourselves and as a result those loved ones that rely on us.

Second is “Insult”; insults are meant to demean and push someone down in the tribal dominance hierarchy. Historically that was bad news, even today we see a similar situation with kids and online bullying.

Third is “family”; this one probably has not changed much since ancient times. If something or someone is threatening a family member, getting angry enough to do something about it seems like normal human behavior.

Fourth is “Environment/Territory”; Our ancestors had to get angry enough to repel invaders of their territory. When the neighbor’s dog takes a dump on your front yard, that falls under a territorial violation.

Fifth is “Mate”; In ancient times healthy breeding age female mates probably required an investment of time and resources, if another male attempted to harm/and or impregnate a man’s female mate there would have been some anger. This trigger is particularly strong in women, they do not appreciate their man being lured away by a competing female.

Sixth is “Social Order”; When someone willfully violates what the rest of the tribe considers to be acceptable behavior guidelines, tempers can flare. Today we use civil or criminal penalties to enforce social order.

Seventh is “Resources”; Today as in our primitive past, possessions such as tools, weapons or currency are needed to survive. When someone takes what we worked to acquire, it activates that anger mechanism. Having been burglarized long ago (and capturing the teenage burglars), I can attest that total fury is a real thing.

Eighth is “Tribal Identity”; Historically, humans banded with those “like” themselves and defended against or at least were suspicious of those “not like” themselves. I absolutely see this hardwired in people today. It manifests in polarized politics, religious disagreements, or even sports team loyalties.

Ninth is “Denial of Freedom”; This one is self-explanatory. Throughout history (and today) humans have exploited one another through physical or political means. We tend to resent that restriction of our freedom. Although today (as at times in the past) we concede some freedom for some security. Benjamin Franklin famously said if we do that, then we deserve neither one.

Male anger will continue to be punished in individual men as well as in the broader context. We will be vilified by government, media and courts because it furthers popular political agendas. Women gleefully participate, casting males as the scary and oppressive gender. We males want to be acceptable to women and not be viewed as a “bad guy” so are essentially coerced into submission or ostracized if we do not. On some level men are vaguely aware of the trend and some feel helpless and angry about it. I theorize this is due in part to the primal nature of dominance hierarchies and a man’s need to fight to rise or at least maintain his place in such hierarchies. In short, male organisms for hundreds of millions of years have strived to thrive in nature, a chaotic and dangerous environment. At no point in the existence of life has rolling over and being a supplicating wussy been advantageous to survival, yet thanks to the politically correct today, this is exactly what is expected of men.

Men today are experiencing a societal shift wherein female power is more a growing factor than was the case historically. Ironically, we will be told to “man up” and quietly accept more loss of authority in our own households, workplaces and in general society. This is a typical shaming tactic used against men; male protest is shut down by a style of shaming that calls into question the manliness of the male that does not quietly comply. Our desire to be masculine is exploited by those backing the feminine imperative. Their manipulative message to us is that a strong secure male can easily afford to relinquish authority and only “weak men” become angry when maleness in society is under attack. Clever.

My writing is not meant to complain, but rather to help men survive and thrive. You nor I can fix this social reality, just raise awareness and provide tools and philosophies for individual men to lead a better life. Taking a moment to engage the rational part of our brain and sort out which of those nine triggers is being pushed can pull us out of that strictly reactionary mindset.

The 2014 book Letting Go by David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D. says anger is preferable to apathy. He writes that anger contains a lot of energy, and we can easily jump from anger to courage! If a man is angry with himself for being overweight, he could be motivated to make diet and lifestyle changes. Rather than lump all anger under the same umbrella of negativity, let us be discerning and use it in the motivational context whenever possible.

A man wiser than I once recommended: “Respond, don’t react.” When we react, someone else is pulling our chain. To rather pause, take control of our framework, then respond intelligently is the empowered path. Anger doesn’t have to be a bad word after all.


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