Men can display anger in various ways, but they often use it to mask a more vulnerable underlying emotion. Though it’s healthy to control anger, it is unhealthy to avoid or suppress it. Consequences may include anything from physical health and interpersonal issues to diagnosable mental health and substance dependence disorders that can lead to suicide or violence.
Understanding Men With Anger Issues
To experience anger is normal.1 In fact, it is less normal to never experience it. For many men, anger is something uncomfortable, scary, and unwanted. For others, it has become a regular part of life—perhaps even feeling as though one’s personality is angry.
During situations where anger is appropriate, it’s healthy to express it in a controlled fashion. This may include anything from taking a step back, engaging in deep breathing, visualizing something more positive, or asserting oneself tactfully. However, when anger becomes the default emotion, personal and interpersonal problems may arise. Chronic anger issues and problems coping with anger can lead to abuse, violence, road rage, problems at home and work, and much more.
“The research shows that men and women become angry at approximately the same frequency, but men tend to express their anger outwardly and in more aggressive ways (yelling, hitting, swearing). In that sense, men are more likely to have anger ‘issues’ than women are. At the same time, though, suppressing anger has consequences too (other negative emotions, stress, physical health problems, etc.).” – Dr. Ryan Martin, Professor of Psychology and Associate Dean for the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.
Though statistics specific to the male experience with anger are limited, some research has indicated that men are more likely to struggle in coping with anger.2,3 In a study of 34,000 adults aged 18 and over, anger was especially common among men and younger adults, and was associated with decreased psychosocial functioning.2
Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is a condition in which individuals explode into rage seemingly out of nowhere. Anything may trigger it at any time. Though treatable and curable, the condition often grows in intensity until it is corrected. A 2019 report revealed a 4% lifetime prevalence for IED with past year prevalence being 3%.4 Gender rates tend to be a bit higher here for men than women, although study findings are mixed.5
How Men Use Anger to Mask Other Painful Feelings
Anger issues are more common among men with adverse childhood experiences, adult trauma, poor interpersonal functioning, and the presence of a mental health or substance dependence disorders.2 Covering up other feelings with displaced anger is a defense mechanism to protect a deeper vulnerability.6
Martin states, “There’s a popular belief out there that anger is a “secondary emotion” that stems from unresolved sadness or fear. I think that can be true but often isn’t. Most of the time, emotions are complicated and we feel lots of things at the same time. For some people, though, it’s easier for them to focus on the anger because it feels safer that those other feelings. It’s not so much that the are suppressing their sadness or fear, but that they are focusing on the parts of a situation that make them angry instead of the parts that make them sad.”
Anger issues in men are often used to mask painful feelings, including:
Although males experience all the basic emotions and variations of emotions, socialization has led toward greater acceptance of men expressing anger.6,7 In fact, fear can be seen as a weakness while outward expression of anger is rewarded and seen as powerful.7 If men can’t express true emotions, it directly impacts that man’s mental wellness, even when men try to deny it. As fear becomes overwhelming to contain, it comes out in anger.
Expressing sadness makes us vulnerable. In some communities, men expressing sadness may be punished with torture or even death. In other relationships where the man is expected to always remain strong, expressing sadness may also be poorly received. With much to lose, outward expression of anger may be safer.
Guilt & Shame
Guilt is feeling genuine remorse for wrongdoing, but shame is arriving at the core belief that one is bad.8 Given the intensity of this emotion, many men are too ashamed to acknowledge it.8
Envy & Jealousy
Envy is wanting that of another while jealousy is worrying that someone is attempting to take that of one’s own.9 Both lead to feelings of inadequacy, which can be negative and intimidating. Publicly acknowledging envy or shame may also pose risk.
Because human beings are not meant to exist in isolation, loneliness negatively impacts well-being. Negative thoughts may ruminate while emotions become increasingly unstable and volatile. Anger toward others may fester, potentially leading to feelings of hatred for others, and then be taken out either spontaneously or with intent.
A common experience of emasculation is performance anxiety or other perceived limitations or inadequacies when it comes to sexual performance (e.g., premature ejaculation or small penis size). Another example may be when a man feels inferior to other men in respect of fulfilling his “duties” or expectations of the male role. When a man feels “less than,” he may act out in anger.
Impacts of Anger Issues In Men’s Lives
Anger issues can lead toward any number of problems in a man’s life. On a personal level, it may negatively impact their health by continually activating the sympathetic nervous system’s fight-flight-freeze response—stressing the rest of the body’s delicate systems. Interpersonally, it may impact a person’s marriage, ability to parent, friendships, and career while ultimately leading toward burned bridges and legal trouble.
Here are some potential impacts of anger issues in men’s lives:
- Acts of domestic violence in the form of physical, sexual, verbal, emotional abuse, or neglect
- Harming others to the point of hospitalization, disability, or murder
- Loss of relationships (divorce) and friendships
- Issues in the workplace that may result in termination of employment
- Others responding back in anger
- Physical harm to self, such as being beaten up, tortured, or killed
- Being someone others are reluctant to be around
- Destruction of property—both that of self and others
- Arrest or legal issues
- Being mandated to anger management classes or therapy
- Health issues (e.g., high blood pressure, heart problems, headaches)
Another unfortunate consequence of anger is its impact on others. Partners and children may experience low self-esteem, depression, and fear. Their response, like that of the one with anger issues, may be to act out with anger—not only in the household but toward others. As such, the cycle continues repeating itself.
A common example is how many children who demonstrate anger issues at school come from households of abuse.10 Even when anger outbursts are not directed toward anyone specific, they still increase stress and may lead toward mental health issues, dependence, and interpersonal struggles.
Types of Anger Issues in Men
It’s common to imagine bursts of rage when trying to conceptualize anger issues, but the expression of anger varies. Some may be more or less unpleasant than others, but all lead toward personal and interpersonal issues.
In a compilation of evidence-based research, the American Addiction Centers identified six common expressions of anger, including chronic anger, passive anger, and overwhelmed anger. If any of the following expressions are consistently present, there is a sign of an anger issue.
Here are six expressions of anger:11
- Chronic anger: This type of anger is prolonged and can impact the immune system and be the cause of other mental disorders
- Passive anger: This type of anger doesn’t always come across as anger and can be difficult to identify
- Overwhelmed anger: This type of anger is caused by life demands that are too much for an individual to cope with
- Self-inflicted anger: This type of anger is directed toward the self and may be caused by feelings of guilt
- Judgmental anger: This type of anger is directed toward others and may come with feelings of resentment
- Volatile anger: This type of anger involves sometimes spontaneous bouts of excessive or violent anger
13 Anger Management Strategies for Men
Effectively managing anger takes time and patience. Anger is a natural emotion, and controlled expression is healthy, but it can be easy to resort to old behaviors if not careful. Serious anger issues—especially those posing risk to self or others—should always be addressed with a professional.
Here are thirteen anger management strategies for men with anger issues:
- Talking about it with a trusted other
- Distancing oneself from persons, places, and things that trigger anger
- Removing oneself from situations when anger is rising
- Using humor to make light of a situation
- Engaging in relaxation strategies such as visualization, meditation, or praying
- Reading, writing, or watching an enjoyable program
- Listening to music that counteracts anger
- Journaling about the underlying emotion or experience that led toward anger
- Taking it out in a controlled, aggressive manner such as hitting a punching bag
- Finding a place with no one else around and let out a good scream or cry
- Avoiding drugs and alcohol
- Speaking with a professional
When Should Men Seek Professional Help for Anger Management?
If anger issues have become noticeable, that’s an indication that professional help may be necessary. The earlier one seeks help, the better. This helps minimize the consequences of anger while correcting the problem before it gets worse. Depending on preference and need, individual or group therapy may be effective.
Individual therapy provides an opportunity to delve deep into the root cause of anger. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anger management can be effective in helping to identify triggers and introducing coping skills to help you manage it.
Group therapy is powerful in that there is a shared cathartic experience among group members. Members share experiences, caution against pitfalls, provide useful tips and resources, and hold one another accountable. A combination of individual and group therapy is often most effective.
When anger issues have compromised romantic or familial relationships, couples counseling and family therapy may prove necessary. In this setting, everyone’s issues are addressed to help rebuild healthy relationships. Because couples and family therapies are more focused on relationships than individuals, a combination of individual and couples or family therapy is recommended. For more guidance on choosing a therapist, use the Choosing Therapy directory to find a mental health professional in your state.
How to Tell a Man He Has an Anger Problem
First, when deciding to tell a man he has an anger problem, it is important to consider safety—both of self and others. Having the conversation in a safe, public place with other social support or a professional. The conversation should take place as soon as possible. Again, the earlier the intervention, the better.
Some preparatory work is necessary. It is important to understand anger, be aware of treatment options, and have some insight into how to speak with a man with anger problems. Reading an article like this, and others, is a great start. It may also help to consult with a professional.
Before speaking, ensure he is in a calm state. While engaging, use firm words that express love and support but also set boundaries. There is some tough love here, and resistance is likely. Although the conversation may be difficult, it can help ultimately put an end to the problem or at least reduce it substantially.
Final Thoughts on Men With Anger Issues
Men with anger issues can be hard to deal with, but there are healthy ways to cope. Acknowledging the problem is the first step. From there, it’s a matter of scaffolding a plan and sticking to it. Given the likelihood that there is a deep-seeded underlying cause feeding into the anger, it helps to work through that. Recovery is hard and takes time, but it is possible. People are here to help.