Anger and the Superior Man [Is it about Gender or Personal Inadequacy?]
I look at the anger surrounding a shooting in the US, and explain how it relates to personal inadequacy. We need to understand the issues men and women face and not see them as a gender war.
Anger is a part of all our lives whether it comes from inside or whether we experience it from other people. Anger is a recurring theme in relations between men and women both on a personal and cultural level. The recent shooting in the US has generated countless pages both about the shooter's anger and the anger of those reacting to him and what he did. Much of that anger has been directed at a perceived battle between men and women, some of it has been about the pressure of men's entitlement and the effect this has on women.
Not All Men
Dixie Gillaspie wrote a powerful piece on 'Why #NotAllMen is Irrelevant' here. In its conclusion she said,
[...] the cultural norm of the alpha male, the superior male, the entitled male [...] no more allows men the freedom to fully express themselves and embrace their lives than it allows women to do the same.
She is right in what she says, but is that the problem? Is the issue that men and women face about 'alpha males' or is it simply about anger and inadequacy? Is the desire for men to find the freedom to express themselves about what they feel about women or is it simply about what they feel about themselves?
I attended meetings at Al-Anon for a number of years to deal with my reaction to alcoholism in family members, in particular my wife and my brother. Like most members, I went to learn how to 'fix' the alcoholic that was 'destroying my life'. I wanted to know what I could do to get my life back on track. I was a man, a problem solver, I knew how to make things work. I had not been able to cure the alcohol addiction in my wife. I was sure I was missing something. If I could just find the key, I could help resolve the issues behind the problem.
I had spent some years in personal development work and had learned how to resolve personal issues, I thought, and how to help others create an empowering future for themselves. I had enabled a number of people to see a great new future and let go of what was blocking their move forward.
This didn't work in my family. There must have been been something I was missing.
I'd started with the simple ways of dealing with the situation, like looking for hidden bottles and not having alcohol in the house. I worked on the daily schedule, helping the alcoholic deal with the low points in the day, suggesting routes that avoided the liquor shop. I tried deeper approaches, working on their past stories, what caused the drinking. Nothing seemed to work.
My awareness started growing. Eventually my friends at Al-Anon helped me to see that all I could do was take responsibility for my own life. I had to focus on me and what I could do to change my life. I had frequently expressed my anger against the alcoholic, my wife. I had never been physical but I had put enormous emotional pressure on her. The pressure came from my inability to deal with my anger at the effect the alcoholism had on my life.
I remember speaking to an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) conference about my addiction and the effect that was having on my family. It was an addiction to control that affected my personal and my business life. It was as destructive as alcoholism but it was well hidden.
Once I took back control over my own life, and let go of the idea that the failings of others were controlling it, I was able to let go of my anger at the situation and able to separate myself from it. I did the only thing I could, which was to change my life not hers. I followed the mantra that all alcoholics learn,
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
The key realisation was that my anger was at myself and my inability to deal with the stress in my life. This anger came from my frustration with my father and my elder brothers, something I have talked about previously in 'My Father Was an Angry Man'. For me the source of the anger was a male against male problem, it was a problem stemming from a lack of a good male role model. It was my problem borne out of my lack of understanding of how to be a man.
Anger and Domination
I see a lot of anger in this world, in both men and women. I see a lot of that anger taken out on other people, a lot on members of the other sex. But I rarely see anger that comes from any sense of entitlement or injustice stemming from the person's sex or gender. What I see and what I have experienced in my own life is anger about oneself and about the life choices that have been made. That anger is often taken out on a weaker person, often a woman, but has nothing to with any kind of discord between the sexes.
We too often rail against cultural norms when it is simply how people are brought up that is at fault. Men frequently grow up with expectations that are not fulfilled by the lives they lead. They feel they should be superior, they feel they are entitled, not against women but against how they are in reality. What we fail to do is educate these men about how live and how to take responsibility for themselves and their aspirations.
My point in all this is that things are not always what they seem. What, in my life, appeared to be a tension between a man and a woman was really about a man and his ability to understand his lack of masculinity. I took it out on a woman because of my inability to deal with my issues. It happened because of our proximity not because of any sense of entitlement or superiority on my part. It was part of what goes wrong with life.
We need to understand the issues both men and women face and see how they often stem from their problems as people rather than jump into seeing them as battles in a gender war. We attribute too much to cultural norms rather than to inadequate upbringing. For me the power of The Good Men Project is its ability to look at the issues men face outside the concept of a gender war. Men frequently need to deal with their father's inadequacy and need a place to express what that feels like and how to go about taking responsibility for themselves.
My Father Was An Angry Man
My sons learned from what I did, not from what I said. They inherited what I learned from my father and he learned from his, to be angry. Manhood is passed down from generation to generation but often not as we would want.
My son came back from touring in the UK with his band and came to me for advice. He was a punk drummer at the time, energetic and fast, with his own idiosyncratic life as an artist and musician. His life was sorted out, and he loved what he was doing. He'd recently come back from a UK tour. He told me a story that scared him, but for me brought up many images of men in my family.
The band were playing in the South West of England. They were successful in the underground punk scene and were riding a wave. One night they went to a local club after playing their gig. They were drinking with some fans, laughing and having fun. A guy they weren't with started making some remarks to them and they jeered back at him.
Suddenly my son erupted and started punching this other guy. The fight got worse and they were all thrown out of the club. After it was over, my son went back to the van and sat, shaking. He couldn't understand what had happened, where the anger had come from so quickly.
This was unusual behaviour for him. He wasn't the type to fight for no reason and in the club that night, there was no reason. Yes, he had been drinking and that loosened his inhibitions, but the ferocity of his attack had shaken him and made him wonder what was going on inside.
After telling me the story, he asked if I could help him understand what had happened.
I told him a story of my own from when I was in my late teens. I had left home about a year before and was working in the theatre as a technician. I was loving the freedom of living how I wanted and being my own man. Free from my own father's over-bearing control, I was able to make my own decisions and have the last word.
It was a new job in a new theatre, and I was looking forward to impressing people. One of the important duties I had was to take charge of the part-time stage crew. They were all men who lived locally and had been working at the theatre for some time.
The first time I met them I was nervous. I hadn't been in charge of a group of men like this before. They were older and more experienced than I was. We stood in the centre of the stage in a circle while I talked and tried to establish some authority.
Then one of them made some remark that I felt undermined me. I felt instant anger and lashed out at him, punching him in the stomach. He doubled up and shut up.
This instant reaction had shocked me, and still shocks me when I think about it today. Where had it come from? Why was it so ferocious?
My father's Anger
My father had a deep need to have the last word on everything. I was the youngest of three boys and we all absorbed this quality. Our house was full of argument and anger.
I found I could never win, no matter how hard I tried. There were three adversaries I had to battle to win an argument, even though it was impossible for me to do so. Men win, I learned, men have the last word, and men are in absolute control.
Not surprisingly, this behavior carried over into my own family. I had two sons and created an environment where I could win, where I could have the last word. I argued with my sons, my wife, even my business colleagues, and finally I had perfected my persuasive skills. I was a master at my art.
Tom Matlack said recently:
It used to be that manhood was passed down generation to generation by 'role models.' Does that still exist? ... "Do what I do, not what I say" is how kids, especially male kids, learn, in my experience.
Manhood is passed down from generation to generation but often not as we would want. As a father, I was a role model and my sons learned from me, but they learned from what I did, not what I said.
I explained to my son that his anger was only what he had learned from me, what I had learned from my father, and what he had learned, probably, from his father. It flowed through the generations with an amazing will to survive.
I couldn't give him advice on what to do to counteract the anger, I just helped him to see how it was learned and suggested that he could, as easily, unlearn it. Whether that is true is a question that will only be answered when he has sons of his own. What will they learn from their role model?
Love And Anger—Living With Emotional Authenticity
How I live with my emotions and what I need to do to remain authentic. I am committed to clearing my emotional baggage. I will live my emotional truth and be open, honest and transparent with others and myself.
Love and Anger are two emotions that are central to how I live my life. On the one hand love is at the core of my emotional responses. It is either the lack of love, the desire for love or the need for love. On the other anger is such a powerful emotion for me, it has dominated my life and caused untold chaos. The desire, or need, for love is easy to confuse with the play of love in my life.
The Comfort of Love
I love my wife. I love to be with her. I love to talk to her, to be silent with her. It satisfies a need in me. I know it satisfies a desire in me. Beyond that, we are like-minded people who have many similarities in our nature. We are passionate, exciting and comfortable together. We love each other.
Love, for me, starts with myself, with my ability to be comfortable by myself. The problem with basing my idea of love on my childhood experiences was that it did not take this into account. As a child I had a need for love, a need that was not fulfilled in the way I would have liked.
I have spent much of my life seeking this fulfillment and failing. It is not surprising it failed, I based it on a false premise. The false idea that a relationship would fill the void and solve my problems.
The answer was to start to love myself, to love every part of myself. It was good to start with liking myself but that was not enough. I needed to love myself in all my aspects; good, bad and ugly.
My wife was talking to me last night about taking baby steps in achieving a difficult goal. She told me the story of a woman in a wheelchair who hated her life. She became determined to change this and start to love herself. She failed at this until she realised that she had to start small.
She sat, in her wheelchair, in front of a mirror and decided to love her eyebrows. Next day she moved on to her nose, and so on. Over time she had a remarkable transformation—she started to love herself. Then she was able to move on and appreciate the love in her life.
The Domination of Anger
Anger has dominated much of my life. I was so unsure of myself that I used it to create the person I was.
In the anger was confusion, hurt and a deep desire to know who I was. I was hitting out at those around me, blaming them for what I saw was wrong in my life. Anger was a powerful emotion that made me feel strong, even though it was an empty strength. I wanted those around me to bow down to my will and I knew no other way to achieve it.
When I was running a design consultancy, a woman who was a senior member of the team gave me her resignation. I asked her why and her response shocked me even more—it was because of my anger.
It was not that I was taking my anger out on her, it was that I ruled my whole life with anger. She could no longer work in that atmosphere. She said that it was part of everything that I did. My phone conversations with suppliers and clients and my demeanor were all responsible.
The conversation started me on a road to beat this destructive emotion. I took two specific steps. Together these altered my perspective on my anger, indeed on any negative emotion that I had.
The first step I learned from the Oneness University. It was to accept and embrace all my emotions. I meant that I had to work on each one and welcome it into my life.
My anger was part of my shadow, that part of myself that I disowned and hid from view. This appeared to work for a while. My shadow still had a tendency to jump out and claim its rightful part of me when I least expected it. Like me it felt unloved and needed to express this. Bringing my anger out into the open and accepting it as part of me was a transformational step. It ceased to have control over me because I acknowledged and loved it.
Anger will always be part of me and my life. It is hard-wired into me. It can still jump out and surprise me, but now I expect it and lessen its effect. It is no longer about the other person or what they do, it is about myself and that I now understand.
The second step I took at Tony Robbins' 'Date With Destiny'. One the last day I went through a process of integrating the changes I had planned for my life. I took the step of removing the sting from the tail of my anger. I stood in front of three other people and created my anger. I went into the centre of the emotion and expressed my anger. I created all the physical effects: blood pumping, adrenalin and lack of control. The others thought I was serious and they became worried about me. It took me a good half an hour to come down from the physical after effects.
I realised, as I watched myself go through this, that if I could create anger like this, I could not create it the same way. That made such a difference.
Living in Harmony
Looking forward I am committed to clearing my emotional baggage. I want to live my emotional truth. I will be open, honest and transparent in my dealings with other people, and with myself. I am committed to living true to the way I want to live and not live to meet the needs and wishes of other people.
I want to live in harmony with others and in community with some people, especially my wife. I will do this with emotional authenticity. I will be authentic about myself and let others live their life their way.
This may seem like a selfish way to live, it is not. Once I stop projecting my emotional issues on to others, life will be clearer. Once I stop seeing what others do as an attack on me, life will become easier, for me and those I am with. I will be able to live in my power and inspire people with how I live with myself.
Letting Go Of Anger—It Is Right But It Kicks You In The Gut
Let go of the necessity of being right. It can take courage to be silent but then you can look yourself in the eye and not flinch. As a man you have the power to step outside the immediate situation and see the truth.
Some years ago I ran a company along with a business partner. He had founded the company years before and he was proud of what he had achieved. I put money into the company and trusted what he told me. I did not look too deep because I was proud of what the company did and flattered to be asked to join as a director.
He went off to form a sister company abroad and I was left in charge. This was something I had always wanted, to run my own company, to be the boss. The company struggled and cash flow fell through the floor. We had obligations to the bank and to others, not least the staff. I came to realise we were insolvent.
It's a little too late, I'm a little too gone, a little too tired of this hangin' on, so I'm letting go while I'm still strong.\
I took action and, after taking advice, had a close look at the books. Once the dead wood had been cleared out, we were clearly insolvent, we could not continue without fresh funds. I put some money in, but no-one else did.
The ball started rolling and the bank took action. We disappeared, albeit slowly.
My partner pulled away and blamed me for what happened. He would not accept that the company had been trading insolvently, in practice, for years. I should not have taken action, I should have struggled on, I should have closed my eyes.
The exchanges became bitter and an old friendship disappeared. The founder had been a good friend, we had enjoyed meals and wine together – that disappeared.
Letting Go Of Anger
Some years later we had moved on, I had a new practice, and we were brought together in voluntary work for our profession. The bitterness and lies were still there.
I prefer the friendship to making points or being right. I prefer to be a man who takes care of his friends, no matter what they do in return.
I missed the friendship, I missed the times together. I took a deep breath and let my anger go. I decided that being right meant nothing, it was not about that.
I suggested we let the past go and leave it be. We would not discuss it again between ourselves or in public. Honour was served on both sides, friendship returned.
Now, many years later, he is telling me about how he has left the business he went away to set up. His partner, and now boss, will not accept that they are insolvent.
I smile to myself, thinking back, and wonder if he sees the irony – probably not.
But I don't mind, I prefer the friendship to making points or being right. I prefer to be a man who takes care of his friends, no matter what they do in return.
It is too easy to hang on to what is right, forgetting that you only see one side of the issue.
As a man you have the power to step outside the immediate situation and see the truth. We are all connected, and nothing matters more than how you treat and think of others.