Working with Anger
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
When I first started sitting in men's circles several years ago it became obvious quickly that all men were experiencing anger in their lives to varying degrees. Each man had a certain "style"or pattern for how they expressed their anger. Some styles seemed productive, while others caused problems. Just knowing the anger styles and bringing awareness to which one of them you typically express is very helpful. From this awakening awareness we learn how to use our anger tactically and maybe even befriend this fiery emotion. Anger is normal and to be expected for people of all ages, both men and women as well as children. Anger is not good or bad necessarily. "Good" or "bad" labels can depend a lot on what we do with that anger. Anger like any of our emotions makes us human. Without our emotions we would pretty much be robots. One of my 1 and a half year old daughter's favorite books all about emotions has a picture per page of a person representing each of the basic emotions. Happy, sad, mad, etc... Anger is on a red page and shows a guy named Mr. Elton with steam coming from his ears, a furrowed brow and a big frown. I have dramatic voices for each of the different emotion characters and entertain both her and myself constantly...My wife is perhaps less amused;) Anger comes up for my daughter in bursts that we navigate as parents the best we can when she doesn't get her way. She experiences the anger, then moves on to the next emotion she is feeling pretty quickly - most of the time. What's interesting to me is that at some point in our lives we tend to go from being little kids freely expressing the anger we feel in the moment to something else altogether. Certain anger styles still allow the feeling to rise in the moment, while others kick the can down the road so to speak.
Common Anger Styles: Violent These types respond immediately with physical violence to people or property. Think of the guy smashing his phone, beating his wife or slugging someone in the mouth.
Hostile Verbal These types blow up in the moment as well but are not physically violent. Yelling, cursing and belittling those in the path of anger. Stuffer / Swallower / Denier These types don't react in the moment and act like everything is fine but stuff the anger down deep. Often they won't admit they get angry at all to themselves or others. It's all good bro! These "All good bro" types can secretly have violent thoughts which they likely won't act out but that can make them feel crazy. This style is dangerous because the anger can brew inside like a pressure cooker leading either to seemingly out of character action or if never acted on at all, a wide variety of illnesses from pain in the back and neck to diseases. Whiner / Holder These types don't have an explosion but rather just complain to everyone around them about why the world is out to get them, etc and stay fixated for way too long about whatever the thing was that set them off. For the whiner, something can happen in the morning and they will continue to complain about it through dinner and beyond. Debater / Deflector These people will not admit that they are angry exactly but will go around a topic bringing up why it's not a good time to talk about the thing that is making them angry. They are more aware of their anger than the stuffer, but still not facing head on like the other styles do. If you ask a debater what is making them so upset they will bring up tons of topics that deflect from the actual source. They may or may not do this consciously. More than likely, they do it unconsciously. Which of these resonates?
Often people will have a dominant style but still use the others on occasion. Each of them has their dangers although the violent or hostile styles can do more obvious short term damage. Each style can be navigated skillfully but it starts with awareness. We need to learn how to feel the authentic emotion and express it but in an appropriate manner.
Here's a few good ways to let out anger in a dedicated/ritualized way:
1) Punching bag practice.
...Careful on your hands.
...Go out in nature to secluded place and just primal scream!! Careful on your voice. Don't yell at someone but into the ocean for instance.
3) Batting cage.
4) Kicking a ball or a bag.
5) Have an Anger buddy
...that you can call and quickly let them know something happened that pissed you off. Try to avoid getting into the story. Stick with the feeling.
6) Join a men's circle
...and practice expressing the anger there where it is safe among your peers. Women can do this work as well but it's really powerful for men specifically to have a safe container to bring emotions since it is taboo for men to "feel" much of anything in our culture.