Mad Men: The Three-Word Phrases That Lead To Men's Anger

Understanding what is really being said inside when men feel miserable & angry.

Posted Oct 29, 2017

Men have a hard time expressing that they feel emotionally vulnerable. So instead of sharing what is really bothering them, they tend to show they are upset through their "go-to" emotion: anger. Time and time again, I have seen way too many "good guys" get a negative rap as "bad husbands" or "bad dads" because of their overt anger overshadowing their well-meant, positive intentions. 

It goes without saying that no one gets a free pass to be verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive toward another person. But for that huge number of maddened men who truly mean well, have their heart in the right place, and are not abusive, their gaining an understanding of what lurking feelings truly drive their anger can be life-changing.

Confessions of a "Yeller in Recovery"

As a "yeller in recovery," I am beyond grateful for the huge positive impact that managing my own anger had on my relationships with my children. My wakeup call occurred many years ago when one of my three children said, "Dad, you're a psychologist and help other people with their feelings but you can't even manage your own anger!"

Whoa! What an eye (and ear) opener that was! I had insecurities as an early career psychologist and a new dad that led me to get easily frustrated and lose my patience and raise my voice way too often. I'm not saying that I now perfectly manage my anger. But I learned to tune into my own internal insecurities instead of acting them out. I also strive, where possible, to lead with understanding and empathy when relating to others. These changes help me become more self-aware and develop enhanced connections with others. 

A Long Time Misunderstood and Mismanaged Emotion

I have seen over 30 years of practice as a psychologist that anger, itself, is tragically misunderstood. A huge part of successfully managing anger is realizing what underlying feelings are driving it and how to express it. The idea of self-awareness being part of the wisdom helpful to manage anger is not new. Consider that way back in 320 B.C., the Greek philosopher, Aristotle stated, “Anybody can become angry—that is easy. However, to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way—that requires wisdom.”

Anger Often Comes Down to Three Words

It is crucial to bear in mind that anger is a surface emotion. Men, in particular, rely on anger to cover up other feelings. This is largely because of cultural norms, rendering men thinking they are "weak" if they feel vulnerable. Underneath the expressed anger of "mad men" is seemingly unspeakable three-word phrases, such as: 

  • I am scared 
  • I feel hurt
  • I am frustrated
  • I feel rejected
  • I feel insecure
  • I feel lonely

When men are able to slow down and really get a handle on these feelings that often are represented on the surface as anger, they gain emotional self-control. That is, as men learn to notice their underlying feelings and anger, they learn to react to them in a calmer way. I have seen this positive growth happen for men in their marriages, with their children, and in their careers.  

I designed my recently published, Letting Go of Anger Cards deck, based, in part, on the strategies that male teens and adult men in my counseling practice found most appealing and effective in reducing anger. My next blog post will cover specific strategies from cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness interventions that can help men relate to those three-word anger triggering phrases in a more positive way.