Anger: The Mismanaged Emotion

Sandra P. Thomas


Dermatology Nursing. 2003;15(4) 

In This Article


Using similar interview methodology, a study conducted over a 4-year period (1997-2001) revealed key themes of men's anger (Thomas, McCoy, & Martin, 2001). In essence, a man's anger emanates from a perceived affront to his sense of control and/or his views of right and wrong. Judgments of right and wrong are made regarding the behavior of others as well as about his own "right" and "wrong" anger behaviors in response to others. Abstract principles and standards about proper human conduct (truth, fairness, sportsmanship, professionalism) are invoked to explain angry feelings. Anger narratives pertain to a variety of societal issues ranging from the specific (President Clinton not doing the "right thing") to the global (politics, monopolies, environmental pollution, misuse of the disability system). Although study participants view anger as a tool for dealing with moral wrongs against the self and/or others, they are wary of its potentially overwhelming and dangerous force. Metaphors they use to describe their anger are illustrative: a runaway horse, fire, flood, or vortex. "Wrong anger" can involve over-reaction (hitting objects or people) or failure to act according to internalized norms of masculinity. "Right anger" is justified, proportionate to the offense, and successful in making its point, as shown in this example:

"The senior pastor had transgressed a significant ethical boundary, and I had an ethical obligation to let that be known. I was trying to do the right thing by putting my anger forward. I confronted him."

The word "control" is ubiquitous in study participants' anger narratives. Having and maintaining control is desirable but difficult to achieve. Men become angry when they do not have the ability to control or "fix" things, whether the things are inanimate objects (computers, cars, or boats) or work-related problems (demanding customers or incompetent co-workers). Illogical actions of other people that are out of the men's sphere of personal control (for example, other drivers) provoke considerable ire, consistent with an implicit "should" that human action should be logical and reasonable. When the initial attempt to gain control is unsuccessful (as when a teacher cannot control defiant students or a father cannot control an unruly child), withdrawal is a common tactic. Many men say they learned to withdraw from a scene of conflict to prevent disastrous actions. Although they had been forced to learn to fight in childhood (encouraged by fathers and peers to demonstrate their aggressive "manliness" and defend themselves from schoolyard bullies), this physicality no longer serves them well in adulthood. They continue to have strong bodily arousal when angry but few available mechanisms to safely discharge the tension. Throwing hammers and hitting computers provides little relief and leaves them feeling foolish afterward.


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