We think of anger as protecting ourselves and others from external things. However, we can also be defending ourselves from, well .... ourselves. Anger is an inflating emotion, meaning we feel powerful and justified in its wake.
Often, our experience of anger is an attempt to defend ourselves from other emotions. As men, we have learned early on to appear strong. I think of my four year-old nephew, falling to the ground, gashing his knee, then getting up immediately, and, while limping and blushing, yelling: “I'm fine, nothing hurts me!”
Early on, we learn to accommodate certain emotions, while denying others. We do this for many reasons—to save face (or realistically stay safe), make Dad proud, and conform into the “Idealized Man.” This limited expression actually shuts off our capacity to feel the full range of emotions (even deep pleasure and joy). As we habitually rely on the emotions we learned were okay, we are depriving ourselves of fully engaging with our world.
Let's explore what may really be going on for you the next time you get pissed:
For most of us, aggression is a habitual and attempted antidote to shame: How dare they!, or Who does he think he? is or I'll show him... Underneath this layer of defensiveness and aggression is a pervasive sense of shame and self doubt. Shame is such a deflating emotion that any antidote to its defenselessness is welcomed. At the slightest hint of exposure, we protect ourselves from feeling it at all costs. Unfortunately, this tends to keep others away and leave us emotionally isolated.
The next time you have thoughts of vindication or are critical of others, ask yourself if you are feeling wronged, hurt, or flat out shameful. Starting from this place, however uncomfortable, is the first step to uncover what is actually happening, freeing yourself from your habitual contempt and critical reactivity.
Especially with men, sadness is an emotion we learned not to express. Sadness is a deep sense of loss that weighs heavily on our hearts. In a society that privileges retaliation over grief, we avoid and feel shameful about experiencing this deep sense of loss. Whether the loss of an object, idea, status, relationship, job, pet, or significant person—sadness is the body's signal for us to viscerally process these things leaving our lives, though it leaves us feeling vulnerable.
Unfortunately, sadness is antithetical to our social view of masculinity and therefore is the first emotion to be squelched. It's often protected by a moody and irritable flavor of defensiveness. The next time you're a grump, examine whether there are things in your life that are changing or are in transition that may justify feelings of sadness and share how you are experiencing these changes with someone you trust.
The anger that comes with jealousy is usually passive aggressiveness, or overt shaming and blaming. It's a pervasive feeling of mistrust as a reaction to being possibly rejected or replaced. This fear can feel so intense to the point of physical illness and nausea. To even imagine feeling into this emotion can be unfathomable, therefore our defensive strategy is to get big or biting.
This strategy, however, usually goes nowhere fast, disempowering its recipient through shame and fear, proving a short-term gain with an insidious mark on relationship. Try feeling the sensations of jealousy the next time it arises: tight, churning belly, aching chest, constricted throat. Bring your awareness to your breath and breathe through those places of contraction. Name the feeling of jealousy to yourself and possibly to the one it feels most relevant towards. Having the courage to notice and name an emotion without it hijacking our momentary way of being can actually deepen the potency and possibility of true intimacy.
The only way to expand your repertoire of being is to slowly uncover the feelings underneath your automatic offensive stances by coming more from the root of your actual experience. Unfortunately the majority of us were never taught this and it stands to get in the way of deep, meaningful relationships. Exploring these territories with people you trust or even a professional is a great way forward in getting to the heart of your experience, expanding your emotional repertoire, and increasing the vibrancy of your world.
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