Young Men and Understanding Anger

February 18, 2020

Anger is often perceived as a purely negative emotion, but it has evolved as a natural response to challenges and threats. There is nothing wrong with experiencing anger; it’s part of life and of being human. However, it can be expressed in both healthy and unhealthy ways. Understanding anger and how to manage or express it are key to maintaining a balance with our mental health.

Anger is often a secondary emotion; this means that it can be a result of things like low mood and depression, or a mask for other emotions, like fear. Many men may feel that it is a mark of shame or weakness to express these feelings to their peers or colleagues. In a significant number of individuals, low mood presents initially as irritability or anger. This can be distressing for family and friends and is therefore often neglected as a symptom associated with a mental health issue. Because the underlying cause of the anger often goes unnoticed, we can tend to push people away when they become irritable for extended periods. When really, we should be supporting them most during these times.

Here lies a key reason for better understanding anger.

The root of anger being used to hide other feelings is probably in societal expectations. That is, the ways in which we are traditionally expected to behave. These traits that are considered ‘Masculine’ typically include things like strength, dominance and stoicism. Taken on their own these traits are not singularly negative, but if young men try to adhere to them too rigidly then this can be extremely detrimental to one’s mental wellbeing. For example; A man may be less likely to admit that they have a mental health problem, in a display of stoicism, and thus be less likely to seek help from a mental health professional.

I’ve had my own experiences with the often-misunderstood connection between depression and anger. For a large portion of my teenage years I thought that I was just an angry, short tempered individual. The vicious arguments with my parents became too numerous to count, the smallest things would make my blood boil. Someone chewing too loudly, disturbing me while I was occupied with something. It wasn’t until my low mood and feelings of hopelessness became all-consuming and I actually broke down in the kitchen in front of my mum one night, that we realised there was something else going on.

Thankfully I was able to access the CAMHS service fairly quickly at the time, this was around 2012. Pretty soon I received a diagnosis of MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) and began a course of antidepressants in conjunction with regularly meeting a psychologist from CAMHS. However, it wasn’t until I was on my second therapist that I began to understand the connection between my lashing out and my depression.

Unfortunately, it is often our family and closest friends that bear the brunt of our temper. This is generally because when we interact with colleagues or peers, we have expectations for how to behave and boundaries that will stop us from behaving aggressively. This causes us to bottle up frustration throughout the day. When we then arrive home and interact with the people closest to us, those behavioural expectations are lessened, and the boundaries shift or are removed completely. This is where we vent our anger.

The priority here, is finding constructive and positive ways in which to manage or vent these feelings. Physical activities such as walking or running, cycling, swimming, going to the gym. Team sports are great as well, it’s just finding what works best for you personally. For me its short, intense weight sessions and some time with a punch bag, when I was younger it was swimming.

Creative activities are brilliant too, especially if you’re someone who wouldn’t normally engage with them! Learning or even just messing with an instrument, painting, photography or writing are all brilliant. It adds a different element to your day or week, and can allow you to express yourself in a new way.

So I suppose we still have a lot to learn on both sides of this situation. For those dealing with their own anger, we can improve our awareness and control of emotions. For people living with loved ones that appear to be angry and short tempered, maybe we could learn, to a degree, not to take this so personally and instead take a moment to realise that there could be a lot more to the situation than meets the eye. 

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