Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cloaking Vulnerability with Anger

Some of the most important issues responsible for anger, particularly in men, are fear and shame. Feelings of inadequacy may be a trigger to his anger because those feelings of inadequacy are either shame or fear based. Resentments in a relationship may often be a result of building walls instead of bridges where feelings of inadequacy spur shame and fear. But, the underlying cause is still shame and fear. The resentment may be the symptom, not the cause.

Behavior which agrees with one's inner values is vital to being a comfortable human being. However, having vulnerable feelings is something that men in our society are taught from earliest times not to do, eg: big boys don't cry, suck it up, man it up, etc, etc. All these phrases tell men that it's not manly or okay to have vulnerable feelings. When men have those feelings they feel wimpy or girly or faggy. None of these tags are positive and therefore having vulnerable feelings is seen as unmanly and and weak by men themselves. Anger is an effective defense mechanism for cloaking vulnerable feelings, since it is a socially acceptable emotion for men to portray. Anger is manly, macho, primitive and fearsome. These tags are positive in the man's world.

The additional pressure in a relationship to be intimate and allow for human error and flexibility may draw men even further into the depths of despair when coming face to face with vulnerable feelings. It is common for folks to project their feelings onto others when upsetting issues come to the forefront. Men are no exception. When vulnerability surfaces they most often look to their partners to blame outward, whereas women most often tend to blame inward, accepting that this vulnerability may be their doing - whether earned or not. Anger again is a socially acceptable alternative to choosing vulnerability. Men tough it out! There's strong and then there's Army strong! Not the poster child for vulnerability.

The societal erosion of men's self esteem in this area of vulnerability is, I believe, quite serious. Sam Keen, in his book, Fire in the Belly, states that men are the canaries in the coal mine regarding the state of our nation in the area of emotional availability. I firmly believe that men's groups that allow men a safe place to vent and speak about their issues with other men in a safe environment, is the most important step we have taken in the recovery movement toward addressing these very difficult issues.


  1. Lisa you made a similar statement in Dr. Stosny's blog. Therefore I'm interested in your explaination for our disagreements and the reasons for them. Also why do you firmly believe in men's groups that allow men a safe place to vent and speak about their issues with other men in a safe environment. What is the goal or purpose of these groups? Is it what Dr. Stosny is saying, to get to compassion and being true to their core value?

  2. Hi, you asked me for my opinion as to the above-posted article. In my opinion there can be no question that a safe place in therapy is necessary for men to learn that there are other behavioral choices they may use to express their anger. Your article touches on this very important subject. As to fear and shame, I see anger as separate from both. This is not to say that fear and shame may not often accompany anger, but anger is its own motivation and should be treated in and of its own. Fear and shame are often great disciplinary tools in modifying angry felons as well as humiliation and self-doubt.

  3. I was going to reply to Steven Stosny's query here, but the comment by Anonymous really covers why men's groups are so vital. It allows men to see that there are other behavioral choices they can use to express their anger - choices that other men in group are successfully using.