An Angry Man: Dealing with Anger vs Rage

anger and rage

How To Love An Angry Man - Part 2

Many of us are unhappy with our romantic relationships, but don’t know what to do about it. There are times we swear ‘never again.’ Getting close is just too painful.

I get calls and e-mails regularly from women who are concerned about the man in their lives. They don’t understand his anger and rage and often feel blamed, demeaned, and abused. They often tell me that he’s been verbally or physically abusive. Most go on to tell me that they love their husband and want to do everything they can to help him so that they can return to the kind of good relationship they remember having before his anger became a constant plague in their relationship.

Dear Dr. Jed,

I’m worried about my husband. He’s angry all the time and blames me for everything that is wrong. He calls me names, yells at me, looks at me with such hatred, I want to disappear. He’s never hit me, but I’m afraid of him. He totally denies that there are any problems with him. When he gets mad he calls me a bitch and a lot worse and tells me I’m crazy and should be hospitalized.

His beliefs get reinforced by his family who also denies that there is anything wrong with him, though they’ve seen how angry and abusive he can be. They tell me that he wasn’t depressed before he married me so it must be me that is the problem.

I love my husband with all my heart and I want to get him the help he needs. I know that he must be suffering. If he would just acknowledge the problem I’m sure we could work things out. Can you help me get through to him? SL.

These women often recognize that the anger and rage may be covering over other feelings (which I discuss for fully here). They also may recognize that his outbursts may be symptoms of depression and or manic depression (bipolar disorder).

I shudder when I get these kinds of letters. I have no quarrel with their desire to help their man and to rescue their relationship, but I do have concerns about their priorities and the focus of their attention. Too many of these people remain in abusive, sometimes violent relationships, focusing their attention on helping him before thinking about helping themselves. I imagine myself reaching through the airwaves and shaking them. “Don’t you know that you can’t help him or help the relationship until you first help yourself?” I want to tell them.

Irritable Males Can Become Addicted to Rage

When we talk about addiction, most people think about drugs like heroin or cocaine. Addicts are seen as people who have little self-respect and can’t control their behavior. But having worked with addictions for more than 40 years, I have a broader view. I believe that people can become addicted to anything that can bring feelings of well-being, however short-lived, or can provide relief from pain, no matter how temporary.

With this understanding we can see how people can become addicted to gambling, pornography, the internet, other people, or strong emotions. All of these behaviors can give people feelings of pleasure or well-being or can provide relief from pain or unhappiness.

Let’s first take a look at how men can become hooked on rage. Most people confuse rage with anger. John Lee, author of The Anger Solution, says

“Rage is as different from anger as night is from day, as applies are from orangutans. Anger is a feeling and emotion. Rage has the ability to cover other feelings, but it is not a feeling or emotion in itself. Rage is like a huge dose of morphine. It is a drug that is legal, plentiful, readily available, and can be addictive.”

The reason that rage can become addictive is that it doesn’t satisfy a real need. Anger, on the other hand, is an emotion that expresses our need to defend ourselves against the loss of something we value. Rage is a cover for past losses and so can continue to escalate without end. Have you noticed that the more a man expresses rage, the more rageful he becomes?

Lee offers a number of helpful contrasts between anger and rage:

  • Anger clears the air, while rage clouds communication.
  • Anger rights injustices and wrongs. Rage is an injustice and wrongs people further.
  • Anger concerns the present. Rage concerns the past.
  • Anger is about “me,” about how I’m feeling. Rage is about “you,” my judgment of your perceived inadequacies.

Men who get hooked on rage are looking for love, but don’t know how to find it. They hunger for someone to love and comfort them, but they settle for trying to control those they have become dependent upon. They feel powerless and small and their rage gives them a temporary feeling of strength and superiority.

The People Who Love IMS Men Become Addicted to Them

In his book Love and Addiction, Stanton Peele described the connection between “love” and “addiction” this way:

“May of us are addicts, but we don’t know it. We turn to each other out of the same needs that drive some people to drink and others to heroin. Interpersonal addiction—love addiction—is just about the most common, yet least recognized, form of addiction we know.”

Many women are taught from childhood to put other people’s needs above their own. They are raised to be care-givers. As children they often take care of their parents, siblings, or friends. They often grow up with many unmet needs, choosing mates who seem secure and caring on the surface, but are actually quite wounded. These wounded men often suffer from Irritable Male Syndrome as adults. And these wounded women are often the ones who fall in love with them.

In my book, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Overcoming Romantic and Sexual Addictions, I describe the experiences that many people have with relationships.

“Many of us are unhappy with our romantic relationships, but don’t know what to do about it. There are times we swear ‘never again.’ Getting close is just too painful. But there is only so much energy we can devote to our jobs, our friends, our hobbies. Sooner or later we return to the search for love. When we finally find that special someone, we cling to them like orphaned children. Even when the relationship goes bad, we hold on for dear life. We can’t seem to let go, even when the relationship is harming us. We ride a roller coaster of hope and despair.”

Does this sound familiar at all to you?

If it does, it’s time you got your priorities in order. First, you have to take care of yourself. Second, you have to be sure you are safe. That may mean leaving the relationship temporarily or it may mean getting help from professionals who can be sure you are not being abused physically or emotionally. Third, it means recognizing that you can’t help the man in your life until you help yourself. The best thing you can do for him is to start taking care of you.

This post was originally published in ‘Men Alive’ as How to Love an Angry Man: Part 2 – Dealing with Anger vs. Rage.

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Image Credit: Flickr/Elazar Yifrach (Creative Commons)