Updated: Sep 16, 2020
by: Logan Cohen - Professional Therapist & Online Life Coach - Balanced Man Plan Online Life Coaching for Men
The concept of having “anger issues” or needing a course of anger management is a popularly accepted belief in Modern Society. Every year, millions of Men seek out support for their anger and resulting behavior at the request of their partners - “You need to go get those anger issues fixed!” What many people don’t recognize is that when one emotion like anger is that unstable, this is because the rest of our emotional experiences are not Balanced either. This can be solved with increasing "emotional intelligence".
Research shows that when we can fully experience more vulnerable emotions like fear, shame, insecurity, and sadness in a more Balanced manner, unstable behavior directed by reactive Anger just does not happen the same way because our emotional intelligence increases.
Like the other natural human emotions, anger has a PURPOSE - that is why it is there, just like the rest of our emotional experiences!
Emotions are like little internal gauges or “warning lights” that go off (think the dashboard of your car) to let you know that you need to consider what is happening in the present with a critical eye.
Emotions tell us that something is important enough that it stands to impact our integrity. If we didn’t have emotions, we would be like machines following orders - ONLY making decisions based on pure logic and rationale without any consideration of morality or basic fairness.
This is what we will refer to here as Integrity, defined as someone’s fundamental sense of “what is OK versus not OK with you”, and referring to your own internal sense of morality/fairness rather than some external judgement of right versus wrong.
Earlier I referred to anger having an important purpose, as any other emotional experience. Anger is a very primal and powerful emotion, which has two fundamental purposes:
1) Anger informs us that someone/something is impeding on our sense of “what is OK versus not OK” and this should be our alarm that this is unsustainable with us and/or our accessibility to resources.
2) Anger provides our physical body with the literal energy to advocate for our integrity being honored and/or respected.
The tricky part is that as Men, we are not traditionally taught to read all of our emotional experience “gauges”. In fact, we are not taught to read or interact with many emotions at all for that matter. We are definitely taught to recognize and (re)act to our Angry gauge.
Anger management problems are so much more common amongst Men because an Anger outburst is ALWAYS OK for our perceived “Man-ness”.
Nobody will ever challenge you as a Man on your fundamental Manhood (traditionally) when we are Angry. The only other truly accepted emotion in the traditional male script is Happy, but let’s also be real - not TOO happy, or someone will call you a homophobic slur. All of the other emotions - fear, sadness, jealousy, insecurity - we are told, whether directly or indirectly, to bottle that crap up and bury it. There might be a time that it is appropriate to talk to your own Momma about it - that is unless you have to protect her as well.
These “gauges”, or emotions, all actually go back to the same place - your BRAIN! And just as if we were talking about the dash on your car whose indicators all connect back to the car’s computer/diagnostics. Just like your brain, these all work in concert with each other to create Balance in the system.
Our emotions actually have a system of internal “checks and balances” to hold each other accountable as they bump off one another into little combinations or “cocktails” (you are rarely having just one emotion at a time), that are actually DESIGNED to compliment each other in specific ways that balance each other out.
Furthermore, we are EXTRAORDINARILY SOCIAL CREATURES, so we have evolved physical systems in our body such as tongues, esophagus, etc to provide us with the the ability to speak VERY dynamic verbal languages to further ensure our ability to cooperate with each other. This mutual cooperation, which is sometimes even just openly sharing our authentic and unabridged emotional experiences with our own Tribe members, is actually what keeps us in Balance both interpersonally (relationships between each other) AND INTRApersonally(relationship with ourselves) as Human Beings.
We are not only programmed to function optimally with internal emotional Balance, but also with Balance among our fellow Tribe members. At a basic, neurophysiological level (the physical characteristics of our brain), we are programmed to Balance each-other out in a soothing, bonding, and generally pro-social experience that researchers refer to as “mutual soothing”. While we have evolved on a different path than Apes for hundreds of thousands of years at this point, even our ancestral precursors relied on mutual soothing to support their own Tribe members in maintaining Balanced emotional health.
Apes do not have all of the linguistic capability from evolutionary adaptations that allow verbalization like Humans, so they settle for an interaction that is much more simple in its process, but exactly THE SAME in its intent and outcome.
One ape will literally sit behind another, more distressed ape and pluck bugs off of their Tribe member in a process that anthropologists refer to as a “social grooming ritual” (sometimes there aren’t even any bugs, but they still run their fingers through the fur as a grooming ritual to maintain a soothing presence and physical proximity).
When researchers have analyzed the brainwaves and taken blood samples of the Tribe member who is receiving the “social grooming ritual” through this process, they see that as the grooming ritual continues, previously high levels of Cortisol (stress hormone) and Epinephrine (adrenaline - fight or flight response) go down, while oxytocin (love/belonging needs being met) and serotonin (correlates to confidence) go up.
This means that BEFORE our genetic ancestors branched off of the Great Apes, we have been literally programmed to keep OURSELVES and EACH OTHER Balanced with a dynamic tension amongst authentic emotional experiencing in a safe space with trusted Loved Ones.
This is good and well for the monkeys, but what about us Humans? As a Marriage & Family Therapist, sometimes I wish it were as easy as plucking bugs off of our Loved One’s back to create authentic intimacy and safety, but alas, Human Beings just aren’t that simple! Again, we are a pretty dynamic species that is even MORE capable of social cooperation, so this means our skill-sets must be a bit more dynamic if we intend to have more a powerful impact.
How do we as Human Beings utilize the innate and ancient wisdom of our genetic programming to create Balance in ourselves and Loved Ones emotionally?
Even though it is not as simple as the social grooming rituals of the Apes, it is NOT so complicated that it might as well be “rocket science”. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than making sure these 4 Anger Management Tools that also increase emotional intelligence:
#1 Anger Management Tool from Emotional Intelligence - Increase Trust
In order to practice anger management prevention, be open and honest as much as possible with trusted Loved Ones and especially when you are upset.
Even when you feel VERY ANGRY, you have to present your thoughts/feelings in a way that allows insight into your perceived vulnerability, not just your anger.
REMEMBER, the Ape that needs the soothing allows it’s Loved One to sit BEHIND it. This is because it is displaying vulnerability, not behaving in a threatening way.
When there is a combination of honesty, trust and proximity, People feel safe and over time and learn to consistently expect this. This is all that the concept of “trust” really is at the end of the day and if you don’t have that, you can't have much else. This is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence.
#2 Anger Management Tool from Emotional Intelligence - Soothing
When you are processing with Yourself or with a Loved One, it is important to validate the uncomfortable position in ALL of it’s discomfort. Practice anger management by engaging with empathy and allow emotional intelligence to play out naturally.
Oftentimes when we think we see a solution, we are prone to jumping straight to it. Don’t follow this impulse! There will be a time for that, but only when your Loved One asks for the feedback.
If you “jump the gun” with the advice, your partner will most likely perceive criticism and either defend themselves or shut down.
#3 Anger Management Tool from Emotional Intelligence - Gratitude
Whether you agree with your Loved One or not, help yourself with the anger management skill of expressing gratitude for their being willing to bring you into these authentic and inherently vulnerable spaces.
This emotional intelligence skill is the most straight-forward, but often trickiest part because more often than not, we DON’T AGREE with all of our Partner’s position. And you know what? You don’t have to! You can either agree or be in a Relationship - the choice is yours.
#4 Anger Management Tool from Emotional Intelligence - Empathy/Compassion
People need anger management skills when their emotional intelligence is so restricted that it cannot maintain Balanced emotional experiences. In these cases, the more we are able to have empathy or compassion with Self and Loved Ones through uncomfortable emotional experience(s), the more we are able to support emotional regulation - rather than conflict avoidance or "people pleasing."