Updated: Mar 23
Men who come to therapy are more than angry, stressed, success-driven "hot-heads." You are a person looking for growth and development toward the man you know yourself to be. Anger may be what brought you here, but when we look a little closer, there is often more to be discovered.
Families, work, traumatic experiences, and emotional imbalance may be a part of your story, and leave you feeling stressed. Many of you may feel that you are not living the life you hoped for or expected. Others may feel like you've failed in some way. Others still, may feel like you don't recognize the person you've become, and want to feel more balanced; at peace.
At the root of anger for many men, is some degree of vulnerability; feeling as if you are a failure, powerless, unimportant, etc. Terry Real has researched and published a great amount of work on covert and overt depression in men. My experience with anger (both lived and in my work with clients), as well as Terry Real's research, validate that anger is a natural emotion, often a surface symptom of something much deeper when it becomes chronically out of control.We've learned, rather through socialization or specific training that men are to be strong, and to respond strongly. This gets confusing when strong responses to to reactions that are hurtful. We often see the path of destruction in hindsight, and feel shame and/or guilt.
Today's world has so many stressors and obstacles, I cannot imagine trying to thrive as a teen in this time. The world tells you to perform higher and greater than those before you and those around you. A society of instant gratification conditions you to get what you want immediately; thereby, experiencing stress when delays get in the way. So often, young men simply want to be seen and heard. To not be seen is invalidating, and anger is one way of compensating for the perceived loss of value. When vulnerability is equated to weakness, it's perceived as a threat. We often react to threats with anger. Whether struggling with parents' divorce, moving, peer relationships, teachers, identity confusion, etc., you have something to communicate, and are having trouble expressing your thoughts and feelings in a way that others receive. Being a teen can be difficult. Sometimes, adults forget what it was like. It's no one's fault, we just have to find a way of communicating that everyone can effectively and more accurately interpret.
The simple explanation of anger reprocessing is shifting our focus from the trigger to the bigger picture - changing our perception of anger and our experience of it. In more detail, we start to explore our own relationship with anger. Where/when did we learn that this particular issue is a threat? Where/when did we learn to react this strongly? We begin to essentially explore our story of anger and our reactions to it. This process invites you to see yourself as a person, bigger than this powerful emotion and the problems that evoke it. This process also invites you to explore yourself and anger from a place of intention, with kindness, without judgment. Anger often prompts us to act immediately, to react. Afterall, our emotion center in our brains (the limbic system) tells us there is a threat to address. Learning to give space for an emotion, and first understand it before reacting to it, feels counter-intuitive. Anger reprocessing is not easy. It takes time, compassion, and vulnerability, all of which our society has generated a judgment-filled story about.
In my work with adolescents and adults (and with myself), I've learned that the conventional models of managing symptoms (anger management) or trying to control something that is intangible, more often than not, leave a lot to be desired. We end up contributing to the stress of unmet expectations when our expectation is to change an automatic process without actually investigating what initiates the process (our lived experiences and story about self and others). If you're familiar with mindfulness practices, you may recognize the approach I"m describing. My practice is mindfulness-based, and brings a new understanding to the way we see ourselves, our emotions, and the world around us.