The Silence of Men With "Anger Management Problems"
I have been working with men in my practice for roughly twenty years. Not surprisingly, many of them show up reluctantly, often prompted by the threat of a partner who has had enough. "Go to therapy or we are through!" is the typical ultimatum.
There has been a great deal of research suggesting men are deprived psychologically, neglected as boys emotionally and raised not only to not show feelings but to not have any feelings at all. Except anger. The men that I see professionally as well as those I have known personally would support these ideas.
Told by their parents, coaches, teachers, friends and society in general that they should never cry, feel pain or complain, these boys often grow up into men who don't really know how to navigate their way in relationships, advocate clearly for themselves or identify what their needs are.
They are also very angry and frequently don't know why. These are men who get irritated and short tempered with family members, often lashing out around seemingly insignificant things and appearing as though they care very little for the needs and feelings of those around them.
Let me be clear here, this particular group of guys are not narcissistic sociopaths who get off on hurting other people. I've worked with this population. The men I am writing about here have remorse and empathy, but these aspects are hard to access in the face of their frustrations.
So these guys begin therapy by putting it down (careful not to completely put me down in the process) and calling it a "weakness" to need help or a place to talk out what is going on in their lives. After a while, they realize that their definitions of "strength" and "weakness" may need some revising and that being a man means owning your emotions instead of your emotions owning you. After a while they realize that underneath all the rage is a great deal of sadness and loss, all of which gets in the way of being able to communicate clearly with others.
Frequently, these men are so focused on the needs of those around them by refuting or minimizing these needs, they don't have a clue as to what their own desires and values really are. Thus they are loud and obnoxious in their protestations but silent in their own ability to self advocate.
Therapy for men in these situations involves confronting them about their nastiness while at the same time, helping them see they actually need to speak up about their own experiences and that their fee lings have value and worth. These folks and their families also benefit from learning how to balance and respect the needs of themselves with the needs of those around them.
Funny thing is, this type of client who protests at the beginning, often stays in therapy for a long time and really works through his issues thoroughly. How do these guys end therapy you might ask?
The most common statement is "I think everybody should go. This stuff really works."
Which never fails to make me smile.