By Mark Bradman
The differences between men and women have often been regarded as being so pronounced that some have declared that we must surely have come from different planets.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the way in which we handle our emotions. While women are more likely to demonstrate their emotions, men are more likely to brush theirs aside as being ‘unhelpful’ or even ‘unmanly’.
And yet when it comes to anger, the opposite appears to be true. It would seem that men are the ones that are more likely to be openly demonstrative with their anger, while women seem to more likely resort to passive-aggressive measures such as silence, resentment, helplessness, etc.
So how do we deal with anger in a way that promotes good relationships with those closest to us rather than destroying them?
A useful analogy can be to regard anger as a ‘house on fire’:
You need to put the fire out as quickly as possible before it does too much damage to you and the people around you (commonly known as your “Loved Ones”), and
You also have to examine closely what started and fuelled the fire to ensure that ‘the furnace’ isn’t ignited again… and again… and again…
The first step is the traditional domain of ‘Anger Management’ programmes, or ‘Living Without Violence’ programmes as they’re more commonly known in NZ.
A Google search will reveal numerous organisations throughout the country which run these courses for both men and women. Having attended one myself (and been trained in their facilitation), I can’t recommend them more strongly, whether you think you have an anger problem or not. In fact, I wish they could be included in our official school curriculum so that our children can learn what many of us go on to wrestle with throughout our lives.
The second step, finding out what caused the ‘outbreak of the fire’ and what fuels it, is one of the things that the Men Being Real workshop does really well.
While there are many more dimensions to this workshop than just exploring anger – for example exploring our relationship with our fathers, our mothers, and others, etc – anger inevitably is one of the most commonly raised themes that seem to cause problems in many men’s lives.
Depression, being regarded by some as anger turned inwardly upon oneself, is another increasingly common theme men bring with them to this workshop. It’s as if, not wanting to take their inner frustrations out on others, they take them out instead on themselves in silent and often unconscious self-flagellation.
The Men Being Real workshop seeks to bring to consciousness the deep causes of anger, depression and other emotions that may lie buried in the story of men’s upbringing and their sense of male identity.
This is not a note-taking exercise that might allow participants to escape into their heads to try to analyse what feelings they might be experiencing. Over-analysing things can often be part of the barrier to actually experiencing these feelings. Instead, the course is an activity-based process which serves to take men into their bodies in a safe environment to where feelings may have been stewing for many years, left unacknowledged and suppressed.
And once these feelings start to surface, they are held by a group of men with acceptance rather than judgement, and understanding rather than condemnation. This occurs because of the agreements the men make together at the start of the workshop, as well as through the resonance across the room with these men’s feelings.
Another important ingredient that facilitates this process is ‘seclusion’. Away from the eyes and ears of any non-participants, men are free to rant, rave, cry, scream, and more in a way rarely available to us without upsetting someone nearby in another room, office, building, etc.
In the words of one participant:
“I expected you to ‘fix’ my anger. You instead made me realise I was not an angry man. The anger was the cry for help for what lay underneath.”
If it’s true that it can take a whole village to bring up a child, then it could equally be true that some feelings can be so intense that it takes a whole ‘village of men’ to hold these and the men experiencing them.
If you’re a man reading this, perhaps, this is the right time for you to give yourself some space to explore your anger in a safe environment held by a group of supportive men?
If you’re a woman reading this, perhaps you can pass this article onto a man you know who might welcome the opportunity to address some of his struggles in a different way?
Mark Bradman is a member of the Essentially Men Education Trust Network and previously worked for the Trust as the Programme and Marketing Coordinator