ANGRY MEN & WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

What we want to focus on is, do I have too much anger? Do I get angry too easily? When I get angry, do I stay angry too long? Do I do destructive things when I get angry? So, rather than the anger itself, what we tend to focus on, is my anger making me unhappy?

Anger is an important tool in the emotional toolbox & the most misunderstood of emotions. Anger gives you energy to burn , it can be a rocket ship to get you out of a bad relationship. Anger is used to be unfair, to mistreat others & to make certain you maintain control. Anger can give all of us a delicious experience of power & winning.

Anger is a tricky business. Anger is important to adolescents because it creates distance and a sense of power when they are frustrated by parents. Anger is an important tool when used constructively. Anger is about making room for the differences. When anger is ugly it erases people and the differences. In general, truth is always in between people. Rarely if ever, does one person have a corner on the market. Anger is used to blame someone else and avoid. Anger is used to deflect responsibility. Anger is used to manipulate. Anger can be used abusively. Anger can be used to totally derail truth.

A good book for women about anger is the “Dance of Anger” by Harriet Lerner who unfortunately hasn’t responded to my requests to be on the show though it is a wonderful

resource for women!

Today I’ve invited Dr. Harbin to help us understand more about anger in men. He’s written a very important book

that I’ve recommended for years to my clients who have found it very helpful. I was very excited he agreed to come on the show today.

Let me tell you a bit more about Dr. Thomas J. Harbin. His professional interests include treatment of anger, neuropsychology and forensic assessment. He is a member of the National Academy of Neuropsychology. He is a licensed as a psychologist in North Carolina. His book, “Beyond Anger: A Guide For Men,” is now in its 11th printing, and has been translated for international markets. You can reach Dr. Harbin through his website harbinandassociates.com.

#1. In reading your updated version of your book (only $1.99 on Kindle) I thought your discussion how angry men are able to be in touch with angry men online which feeds their anger, was a really important point given today’s culture wars. Could you share more about the loss of social interaction skills & how shame is missing in online interactions & how shame works to remind us to improve?

Dr. Harbin: Well, first of all, Rhoda, thank you for having me on your program. It’s a pleasure to talk with you this morning. I think that one of the influences that the internet & various social media have had on men’s anger is what many have called the echo chamber. Angry men can get online & find other angry men, & they just fuel each other back & forth. & people online aren’t confronted with other people face to face. So they do & say many things online that they would never do if they were face to face with people. In particular, they seem to be able to avoid the normal sense of shame that we get when we do something that we shouldn’t do. Because there’s no consequences for it if you’re anonymously online. 

Rhoda: That’s for sure. Let’s explore the important idea that angry men are often not as happy as other men seem to be. 

Dr. Harbin: Chronically angry people are just not happy. But many angry men have been angry for so long that they think of it as normal. They think that what they feel is normal, that it’s what other people feel, & somewhere along the line, angry guy start noticing that other people seem to be in a better mood than they are most of the time. I think in my own case, & in my clinical practice, I’ve noticed that guys started developing some insight when they get to be in their late 20s to mid-30s & they start looking around & they noticed that other people, other men seem to be happier than they are & and they often begin to wonder why & that is often the time when they start taking a look at their own anger. 

Rhoda: That’s a good thing to begin to explore. Another important point in your book is that angry men have to decide they have too much anger, that it keeps you lonely & shortens your life. Could you talk about the importance of learning to exercise & deciding to do that? 

Dr. Harbin: When we talk about anger, it is my belief that we don’t need to be trying to eliminate anger. First of all, it’s not possible. Secondly, anger is part of the emotional makeup of human beings, just like any other emotion. So, there are times when it is appropriate to be angry; if somebody does something to you, if you see social injustice that you don’t like, it’s appropriate to feel some anger. But what we want to focus on is, do I have too much anger? Do I get angry too easily? When I get angry, do I stay angry too long? Do I do destructive things when I get angry? So, rather than the anger itself, what we tend to focus on, is my anger making me unhappy? Is it making other people unhappy? Am I doing destructive or hurtful things when I get angry? I think it’s those facets of the emotion that we try to focus on. 

Rhoda: Could you talk about the hypersensitivity of angry men? & what are the other emotional tools they need to learn? 

Dr. Harbin: One of the things that I have come to believe about a lot of anger is that it comes very often from a core sense of inferiority. Despite the show they put on for other people, many angry guys feel like they just don’t measure up—they’re not as smart as other people, they’re not as good looking as other people, they’re not as wealthy as other people. & that sense of not being as good as other people, leads them to be scanning the environment for indications that other people feel the same way, that other people think that the angry guy is not as good as they are. & that leads to the hypersensitivity that you referred to. Angry guys, they’re always looking around, always scanning their environments to make sure that that no one is putting them in a bad light. 

Rhoda: That’s my experience, too. How can angry men go about taking responsibility for their unhappiness? 

Dr. Harbin: That’s a tough one. That is the tough first step. Angry guys tend to deny that there’s a problem. They don’t want to acknowledge their own deficiencies. They don’t want anybody else to point out or notice their deficiencies, & so they go through life trying to put on an outward appearance of everything being okay. & the toughest first step, I think, is to try to punch through that denial. & at least get the angry guy to admit to himself that, you know, maybe there are ways that he could be happier, that there are things he could do differently or that he could interact with other people differently, so that he has a happier life, a less stressful life or a life less being on guard all the time. 

Rhoda: Would that include being more empathic?

Dr. Harbin: That is an interesting question. 

Rhoda: I think that’s something that they’re [inaudible 10:10]

Dr. Harbin: I think that that perpetual scanning that I referred to earlier, leads to sort of a—I don’t want to say narcissism, but a self-focus; always scanning to make sure my appearance is okay, always scanning to make sure I don’t say something stupid, always scanning to see if other people think I’m doing it, okay. & that inward focus can lead to kind of a de-emphasizing or not noticing the other people in the world. Other people have their own emotional & practical life that have nothing to do with the angry guy. But he can be so wound up & focused on his own emotional being that he really has no time or energy left over for other people. 

Rhoda: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking as I was listening to you & as I reread your book. One of the most important relationship tips in your book was about how men see a woman’s desire to talk about their problems in the relationship as criticism of them, & they ended up very defensive. What can a partner do to improve that situation? 

Dr. Harbin: I think you’re not going to like this answer. One of the things that I tell partners all the time, male & female, is, A, you didn’t cause it, & B, you can’t fix it. So, the angry man’s journey is pretty much a solo journey. The partners, there’s not a whole lot they can do. I mean, they obviously don’t want to be antagonizing the guy. They don’t want to be a pain. But dealing with my anger is my responsibility, & in fact, I am the only one that can do it. 

Rhoda: Yeah, but I do think they can set limits & boundaries about what’s okay and what’s not okay. 

Dr. Harbin: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. The partner needs to decide, what is too much? What am I going to put up with? & be ready to do something about it. I mean, some relationships are just too damaged by the guy’s anger, & they have to [inaudible 12:57] you know, the woman has to know when it’s time to get out of the relationship or get a divorce. But even less catastrophic, she needs to decide what she will & will not tolerate & then enforce that decision. 

Rhoda: Yeah, that’s right. Control is very important to angry men as a way to maintain certainty. Angry men want predictability. Could you share more about their distaste for uncertainty, disagreement & intimacy? 

Dr. Harbin: That’s a big question. Let me deal with uncertainty first. For an angry guy, the world is a dangerous place. People are out to get him, people are out to make fun of him, people are out to ridicule him. He may get into a situation where he doesn’t know something & his fallibility will become obvious. All these things are challenging to an angry guy who remember, quite often feels like he doesn’t measure up to other people. & so unstructured situations, meeting new people, going to a party, engaging in a conversation with people who know something that he doesn’t. All of those can be threatening to an angry guy, because he wants to appear flawless to the world. & if he doesn’t know something, or if he says something that doesn’t make sense, then, of course, everybody in the rest of the world is going to see that he’s not perfect. &, of course, he wants everyone to think that he’s perfect. & I forget the other two parts of your question. 

Rhoda: The other two were disagreement & intimacy.

Dr. Harbin:  As far as disagreements go, if you disagree with me, that may mean that I said something wrong, & therefore, there’s something wrong with me. Or if you disagree with me, you are indicating that you believe there’s something wrong with me, fundamentally. & so any disagreement becomes a personal challenge, I have to beat an argument into the ground, so that you finally agree that I right. Otherwise, there’s something wrong with me. 

As far as intimacy goes, many angry guys are afraid that the rest of the world will get to know them. & if the rest of the world gets to know them, then they will see that the angry guy, again, is not perfect, is not flawless, is fallible & human. & intimate relationships are a challenge or a threat, just for that very reason, because there is nobody who knows you better than an intimate partner, especially a sexually intimate partner. & in order to develop an intimate relationship, you have to make yourself vulnerable, you have to let people see parts of you that other people don’t see. & all of that can be threatening to an angry guy. 

Rhoda: They’re messy, you know, those relationships can be messy & scary a little bit. In your book, you are clear that once physical abuse occurs & that door has been opened, it is most likely to be repeated. Could you say a bit more about that? 

Dr. Harbin: The data from law enforcement from the domestic violence world are pretty clear that verbal abuse leads to physical abuse, physical abuse leads to worsening physical abuse. & so generally, we think that okay, one incident, while not acceptable, the guy lost his temper, he did something he shouldn’t have done, maybe we can give him a second chance. Maybe not, but maybe we could give him a second chance. Third chances shouldn’t happen if an incident happens twice. That definitely means that it’s going to keep on happening. & the partner needs to think about whether or not to continue that relationship. 

Rhoda: I like the clarity of that. I think that’s great for people to know. In chapter seven, you are very clear that to deal with access anger, you have to begin by stop denying it as a problem, similar to the first step in Alcoholics Anonymous, that minimizing anger is a roadblock to real change, then the next step is being ready to have replacement behaviors in order to remove bad behaviors. Could you talk about some replacement behaviors? 

Rhoda: In my freshman in college physics class, one of the first things that we learned is nature abhors a vacuum, nature hates a vacuum. & along the way, in my clinical practice, I came across the idea that behavior also hates a vacuum. It is much easier to replace a behavior that you don’t want to be happening than it is to just try to stop it. So, for example, instead of saying, “Okay, I’m just not going to argue with my brother anymore,” it’s much more effective to have an idea of what you will do differently the next time you find your brother irritating. 

So, developing alternative behaviors to some of the angry behaviors is much more effective than just trying to stop. In addition, I have come to believe that trying to manage or trying to change the precursors of anger is much more effective than trying to stop the anger once it’s there. So, some of those are trying to mitigate some of the effects of feeling shame, frustration, embarrassment, you know, better stress tolerance & coping skills. Focusing on those behaviors, I think is generally more effective than trying to put the genie back into the bottle once the anger is out there. 

Rhoda: That really makes sense. Core beliefs are challenged when anybody is serious about change, all changes, what are some of the core beliefs that angry man must face?

Dr. Harbin: We’ve alluded to one early on, which is that a lot of anger guys believe that they don’t measure up, that they’re inferior to other people. That obviously is not true; there are people that you’re going to be better looking than, there are people that you’re not going to be as handsome of, there are people that are better tennis players than you, there are people that you are better than. So, we all fall somewhere on a scale of our abilities, of our qualities & so forth. 

Another core belief is that the world is a dangerous place & you always have to be on your guard, that you can’t trust other people, that situations are going to go bad, that things are going to go south for you. Another core belief is that you should not reveal yourself to other people. If you reveal yourself to other people, then that gives them leverage to use against you in the future. Generally, you can’t trust people, is another core belief for many angry guys. Yeah, I think those are some of them.

Rhoda: Yeah, & it’s really hard to change.

Dr. Harbin:  Oh, yeah. 

Rhoda: I think experiences can help, but that gives you a different insight.

Dr. Harbin: Any habit is hard to change, including thinking habits, including opinion habits. Any long-held behavior pattern is hard to change. 

Rhoda: Yep. It’s work. I always say my clients come & sweat. There’s a lot of work. I say to tell my audience more about the…

Dr. Harbin: I was going to say what I say to people is that if your therapy is comfortable, then it’s not being done right. 

Rhoda: That’s right. That’s right. I totally agree with that 100%. Tell my audience more about the importance of recognizing distorted thinking, just one example: “casual comments are not always criticism”. I really like that because I think that’s some hypersensitivity moment. 

Dr. Harbin: Well, that comes from my theoretical orientation in therapy, which is cognitive behavioral. & one of the bases of cognitive behavioral therapy is the tenet that we all tend to distort the information that we perceive. & some of these distortions are so common that we can give them names & we can talk about them. The one you just talked about, the hypersensitivity, can be an example of personalization, taking things personally that were not meant personally. Another common one with angry guys is what we call “black white thinking” or “polarize thinking”. Angry guys tend to think in black & white when in reality, the world is shades of grey. So, for example, you’re either my friend or you’re not my friend, there’s no in between. I’m either right or I’m wrong, there’s no compromise. & so many of the distortions that lead to other unpleasant emotions also can contribute to anger in overly angry guys. 

Rhoda: I think black white thinking is such a problem in so many ways. & any final thoughts about angry men & recovery that would be helpful to my audience listening today?

Dr. Harbin:  Well, again, this may be an answer that you’re not going to like. But I think that from my own personal experiences with anger & dealing with angry men in my office, dealing with chronic anger is one of the most difficult things that a person can face. If someone comes into my office & has a problem with anxiety, if they stick with me for four or five months or so, generally, they’re going to be feeling better, 90% of them will feel better. Depression is a little bit tougher, maybe 70% will be feeling better. But I tell the angry guys that come into my office, that probably only 10 or 15% of them are going to derive any benefit from being there. & there are several reasons for that, I think. Reason number one is, often they’re not there because they want to be, they’re there because the court sent them or because their wives are going to leave them, or some other reason. They’re not there voluntarily so their heart’s not really in it. 

A second reason is that part of any therapist’s job is to sort of hold up the mirror & say, “This is what you look like,” to other people. & at that point, the angry guys get angry & they leave & they don’t come back. But I think probably the most difficult aspect of dealing with anger compared to other unpleasant emotional states is that it requires—you can’t appreciate it until you’ve been into it—it requires almost a complete overhaul of your outlook on life & and your interactions with the world. It’s a tremendous change that has to take place & it’s very difficult. Guys can do it, but it’s not easy. 

Rhoda: I would agree with that. One of the things that I thought was really important that was in your book is the tests that men can take, which is in your book, & it can be found online, The Novaco…am I saying that correctly?

Dr. Harbin: Yeah.

Rhoda: …Provocation Inventory. It’s got 80 incidents to be answered honestly. Dr. Harbin thanks so much for covering a very important topic today. Please share the name of your book again. 

Dr. Harbin: It’s called Beyond Anger: A Guide for Men. 

Rhoda: Yes, I’ll return next month, & in the meantime, consider buying the children’s book on Amazon, Dancing With Your Lizard Brain for kids 4 to 10. Thanks for listening & subscribing. 

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