MEN AND ANGER: VIEW FROM A THERAPIST*
by David Yeats, M.S.W., L.C.S.W.
*“Men and Anger: View from a Therapist” in Men’s Council Journal No.11, November l99l.
Editor's Note: David Yeats. A Boulder therapist was recently quoted in the Sunday Camera as saying: "Make no mistake. Men fare victimized in real and destructive ways. Nevertheless, men can really achieve healing and growth only to the extent that they accept personal responsibility for meeting their needs, while both acknowledging and struggling consciously to eradicate male privilege." When asked to explore this idea of male privilege and explain what if anything, male privilege has to do with male anger, David replied in the following article.
There are a few powerful and difficult ideas that I think it's very important for men to hear and work with. I'm primarily talking about us men who live in industrialized countries, and about white and heterosexual men, although there's probably something important for other men to note too.
First, we have a lot of privileges. Economically, certainly, we Western white males have more resources, assets, and fiscal power than any other population group in the history of the world. Politically, we also dominate in numbers and inf1uence, and we exert a whole lot of control over others' destinies. We have to "get" this: we are privileged and advantaged.
Second, most of us men, as a gender, feel like we are unprivileged and disadvantaged. We feel misunderstood, accused, isolated, and most of us feel we aren't getting what we need. We work hard and honestly, we sacrifice, we struggle, we put our bodies and our lives at risk almost daily, and often for our loved ones' sakes. Yet, no one really appreciates our efforts and, worse yet, we often feel like more and more is demanded of us. I believe this kind of experience is engendered into male experience.
We're told we have much and feel little. It's quite a set up. Nobody is ever really going to convince us that what we feel is "privilege." We would never say it, but the truth is we feel victimized. And the natural response for a lot of men is to react to this deprived feeling with indignation, resentment, disbelief and fury,
Men can target anybody—parents, kids, bosses, Saddam, Nebraska, our partners, the driver in front of us----with the anger we generate. And when we are angry, regardless of the cause, we feel justified.
Compounding this for many of us is our relationship with women. We all could benefit from a little understanding, nurturing and sexuality. But too often we feel frustrated that women seem to neither appreciate nor respond to us.
Great, huh? Of course, we really are good problem solvers, so we work more, climb more 14ers, watch the game, drink, and drug. Some of us go to a meeting or a sweat or we drum. These things can distract us or divert us, some in positive ways and some not so positively. In ANY case, in the quiet spaces where we are alone with ourselves, we can still feel angry.
So our male anger is the number one most important piece of feedback we can get from our bodies or our psyches. Because feeling anger means we feel a threat. It's that simple. If I'm threatened, adrenalin is released. If the threat is a wooly mammoth from our human past, a critical or non-understanding partner, a child who isn't listening, or a
driver in a Chevy truck, the effect will be the same: these represent threats—something unpleasant and out of our control is going on—and threats stimulate anger, so we can protect ourselves.
"Who me, out of control? No way, man! Not me," says the man who harnesses his adrenalin to make her listen, make his son obey, or drive the knife deeper. "Go to hell, bitch!"
But that doesn't help us feel better. It's the kind of stuff that makes us feel more alone, angrier, more powerless.
When we are angry, there are options: ventilate (rant and rave, name-call, threaten), control others (dump, coerce, frighten, shame, or otherwise try to manipulate someone else to act differently), OR take control of ourselves and our actions, respectfully and with integrity (e.g., take space—time-out—to decide how best to take care of ourselves). There's probably little or no point staying in a situation that my anger tells me is high risk.
Here's the punch line: In order to really take care of myself so that it works, I have to take self responsibility for:
1) noticing my anger 2) connecting with what it's about—threat, risk, fear of losing control of the situation or myself, even loneliness and sadness; and 3) dealing with my own responsibility to meet my needs.
I may not like it—since I already feel deprived—but it's my job to take care of me, not anyone else's. And it's the only way, in the last analysis. One of the best things I can do for myself is to recognize that I'll feel less a victim, less deprived, the more that I act respectfully and with integrity on my own behalf.
Whether we men are with the guys at the pub, on the peak, beating the drum, sharing an intimate moment with a partner, sitting at the desk, pounding nails, we owe it to ourselves to remember that, as much as we're comforted and reassured by these and other things, our capacity to feel cared about is really determined by how we take responsibility to care for ourselves.
David Yeats is a psychotherapist with the Boulder Men's Center and AM.E.N.D.