You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry -Dr. Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk
As I see it, all emotions lead back to one of two sources – LOVE and FEAR. Both of which are essential for a man’s survival.
In my personal journey of recovery and in my professional life as a men’s coach, anger has been both the greatest catalyst and the greatest obstacle for men seeking change. It’s one of our superpowers as men and like all superpowers we must learn how to harness it and use it for good.
Many of us have been taught that anger is bad and should be stuffed away in a vault with chains and locks around it so it doesn’t destroy us or others. In my experience, this was usually taught by women. Whether it was mom, the Catholic school nun, or the Sunday school teacher, this lesson was frequently taught to us in the absence of our fathers.
Given the fact that women have borne the brunt of man’s misuse of anger, it’s understandable that they would see it as an evil force that needs to be eliminated. Sadly, this leads to vain attempts at removing an innate part of every man. By ignoring our very nature, we fail to develop certain skills needed to use it for its intended purpose.
Since everything in nature is good, harm can only be achieved through unskilled use of it.
When an unskilled man allows his anger to run wild and manifest into rage and misdirected aggression he gives anger a bad rap. Conversely, many of the greatest changes for good have been created by angry men who have developed the skills to harness and channel their anger.
Martin Luther King changed the world for people of color because he was pissed off at the unfair treatment of him and his race in America.
Mahatma Gandhi freed his people from the oppression being doled out by the Brits because he got pissed off.
The Dalai Lama has expressed his anger numerous times over the savagery dealt to his people by the Chinese empire. He expresses it by teaching the world about compassion and loving kindness.
Of course the list goes on and on of great men who learned the skill of civil disobedience and mastered the art of pissed-offery. As a man who considers himself more of a journeyman in this area, I look to the masters for my own life lessons.
This simple (but not always easy) 3 step process has been very helpful in my journey to becoming the powerful force for change I believe is every man’s destiny.
1. Find a safe outlet for the aggression. Opinions vary about whether anger and aggression go hand in hand. In my experience there is always a physiological response to anger that segues into aggression. It served men well back in more primitive days and is still useful today. Even though the saber toothed tigers are no longer with us, our world still has its share of predators. Aggression can be super helpful when being confronted by one.
Sometimes I can use breathing techniques to work my way through them but other times I find it necessary to follow through on the physical act. Taking it out on a heavy bag at the gym or taking a padded bat to your favorite dummy (not the human kind) can be effective ways to vent. We do this a lot when doing men’s “gut work” in our group. Before we can get to the part of our brain that solves problems we have to feed the beast that exists in the reptilian part of our brain known as the amygdala.
2. Investigate it. After you’ve punched yourself out and you’re exhausted, this is the perfect moment to sit still and look at your anger. Ask yourself three questions:
* What sparked this?
* What am I being asked to change?
* What actions are necessary for this change?
I like to journal these thoughts so I can look at them later. Otherwise I have a tendency to forget about it until it rears its ugly head again (and it undoubtedly will).
3. Take Action. Once you’ve purged the aggression you can shift into intentional assertive action. This may be in the form of civil disobedience, standing up for something you believe in, or maybe opening a can of whoop-ass is what the situation calls for. Either way, it will be a conscious choice not an unskilled reaction.
Most of the pain and suffering in my life has been as a result of anger. All of the significant growth I’ve experienced in my life has been as a result of anger. The difference has been whether I saw myself as a helpless victim or a powerful man.