A stereotype about men in general, and part of the legacy many children have of their fathers is that men are an angry and aggressive species. After meeting with thousands of men over the years … I sadly agree.
A common question men come to see me for is, “How can I handle my anger better?” This question is similar to what family members, friends and colleagues ask, “Why does he get so angry and not handle it better?”
How the Brain Works
To understand anger, it’s helpful to remember how the brain works. The brain has two halves or hemispheres. Each side contains several unique resources that help in how our thinking brain functions.
- The right side or hemisphere contains several specialize features. These include a person’s emotional, intuitive, creative functions. This area responds to the world in a more colorful way, and can inspire, creative and confident.
- The left-brain, however, provides another set of functions. This hemisphere is more black-and-white. It equips a person to navigate life in an analytical, logical, and sequential manner. These “skills” help one evaluate, understand and make the “right decisions” in life through reflection, insight, problem solving and planning.
Most people do not use the right and left hemispheres in equal or symmetric ways. Instead of a 50/50 balance between the resources of each side, more often the proportion of right-brain and left-brain functioning may vary around 55% and 45%, maybe 70% and 30%, or even 90% and 10%.
Now consider the stereotypes. It has been suggested that women operate more out of the right-brain, or emotional and intuitive side. Men, in contrast, are said to operate out of the left-brain, or more logical, non-emotional and sequential side. While I will not enter this debate, I will suggest that anger and the left-brain hemisphere are often connected.
The Brain and Anger
What happens when things do not line up and go according to logic and planning? I believe anger can erupt when good intentions and the best laid plans seem to fail.
Consider these examples:
- A “simple” home project turns into a bigger mess and takes longer than planned.
- Long work hours might not be recognized or errors get noticed by a supervisor instead of effort, and then a colleague gets a promotion instead.
- Making good time on the freeway, but a traffic accident causes lateness.
- To one partner or parent believes family expectations and plans were clearly communicated, but the other partner or a child seem ignore or disregard.
What Is Anger?
As suggested a great deal of anger occurs when life does not line up. But I believe anger is only one obvious reaction when there are many factors are also occurring. As is often the case people I talk to discover that other brief or fleeting “feelings” also present as well.
- Surprise and shock – over the unexpected
- Embarrassment – that their efforts fell apart
- Self-rage and loathing – for not doing a better job
- Hurt – that someone is disregarding, ignoring or disrespecting them
- Fear – that it could happen again
- Confusion – as to what to do
- Loss of credibility – whereby others lose trust in the “failing”
- Sadness – A sense of failure and regrets makes the next
How a Person Handles Setbacks Gives Us Clues
How people handle setbacks often provides clues as to how they handle anger. Too much personal tension over expectations towards perfection adds greater pressure and distress in life, especially for the “left-brained” among us. This distress is put on the person to not fail again, on other to not get out of line, and in other fluid and rather uncontrollable settings. And that can lead to anger.
Help for Persistently Angry People
If you or someone close to you erupts with anger, then give them feedback. Admit to yourself or share with them that anger may be a sign that good intentions and plans are falling short in life, and that hurt, disappointment and frustration are a normal reaction to set-backs in life. But anger that is loud, mean or abusive may be causing more harm to the situation and to people. Suggest a time-out to rest, reflect and re-work a better solution for the project and with other people. Then with grace, latitude and patience try again.
If you still find anger to be a problem to control, redirect and understand, then consider calling or email me, Douglas Frey Ph.D. (952-920-2789) to begin finding help for anger.
The office is located in Eden Prairie, and is easily accessible to Chanhassen, Chaska, Shakopee, Minneapolis and other Western Suburbs.