Some of the most amusing stories and videos on the web involve scenarios where hot-heads, notably celebrities, totally lose it. But for us mere mortals there can be serious consequences for displaying anger and aggression in public, particularly when behaviour is construed as threatening to others.
Sometimes even the meekest of souls can fly into a deranged paddy. The last thing you want to be viewed as is as an intemperate oaf. But worse, losing your cool big time may even affect a promising career and see the long arm of the law after you.
If you fear uncontrolled anger is affecting your home, work and social life, there are ways to prevent feelings of rage boiling over. Max Kershaw, a behavioural therapist, has seen an increase in male clients coming to him with anger issues. For extreme cases he recommends clients take up anger management courses but believes many people can help control their feelings with a few techniques.
Angry man scenarios
What kind of situations do some men find difficult to remain calm in and why?
"Some people have a natural disposition to act like a hot-head," says Kershaw. "In some ways that kind of personality is beneficial depending on what job you do. But generally, acting impulsively, emotionally without the ability to stand back and size a situation up isn't a good thing. Tactless and impulsive behaviour just inflames a heated situation."
Kershaw believes that it is a sense of not having control and fearing weakness in oneself that often makes men over-react to a situation and make things worse. "If a man believes that the only way he can get a result, get people to listen or impose his authority is through shouting, physical aggression or being threatening then that will more likely create negative feedback."
An example of this scenario is where Kershaw himself was personally confronted by a physically imposing man, who assumed that he had been 'dissed' by the therapist while the latter was riding his bike. "He was driving with his girlfriend," recalls Kershaw, "so he obviously felt he had to prove himself. After a few seconds of beating his chest, shouting and swearing at me, I calmly pointed that he was the one causing a scene and that I was happy to go on my way.
"He shut up and then went about his business. If I had retaliated like him and challenging his macho posturing, then the situation would have deteriorated. This is how violent reactions develop out of verbal fisticuffs. You've just got to be smarter than waving a red flag at an annoyed bull!"
Kershaw points out that scenarios where people find themselves severely criticised can sometimes evolve into angry or heated exchanges. "If you're someone who can't take criticism, especially from strangers then you should acknowledge how others may not be too keen either. So learn to be tactful.
"It's all about semantics. Directly accusing a guy of not being, say, an effective father, ie controlling his kids in public, is bound to cause a volatile reaction. A careless word or phrase can create antagonism. One trick is to appear concerned rather than angry or outraged. Making people feel guilty is far more effective than antagonising them with a litany of accusations."
One example of this was when Kershaw was personally annoyed by young children running wildly around a coffee shop while the parents ignored their broods' irritating behaviour. "I said in quite a humble way that I was worried the kids would have an accident, in the way another child had in the past when the tot bumped into a customer holding a scolding cup of coffee. It was a white lie but it worked."
"It's other people being inconsiderate that really gets my back up. Say for instance some idiot starts doing DIY on an early Sunday morning. It's difficult not to store up anger and resentment because if it's a neighbour annoying you, well you have to be careful not to upset relations."
"It's interesting how noise and in particular the feeling that your personal space is being invaded, intruded on, that can create anger. I try to get clients to accept that there are things totally beyond their control, such as noise from vehicles or a construction site, that they simply can't do anything about. So it's best to accept that.
"In the case where a neighbour is doing DIY at unsocial hours (that you can change) then you have no choice but to approach the people concerned. Appearing distressed or hurt is a far better way to get them to listen and show consideration than shouting, demanding and waving your arms about"
"I have a problem being able to tell someone off, or reproach a stranger without being overly aggressive, particularly if it's teenagers or kids who are causing trouble. I tend to get angry and I know a different approach would be more effective. But I can feel the adrenaline kicking in and taking over.
"I once nearly hit a kid, wanted to slap him even with people about because of his rudeness and disrespectful behaviour that got me so mad."
"This kind of reaction comes from a lack of confidence. It's fearing that your presence will be challenged and ridiculed. What happens is the person then over compensates like a silverback gorilla roaring loudly. In this case, the kid was testing him, seeing how far he could go.
"Men like Sam may need to undertake therapy to locate what the root cause of the problem may be before things get out of hand in situations where they could retaliate physically. Alternatively you can just step back and walk away from an explosive situation, particularly if it concerns teenagers who may be deliberately pressing those red buttons."
Emotional reasons behind anger
We tend to live in a society where some people often feel entitled or done out of things. The pressure for us to be successful and live happy, exciting, fulfilling lives with plenty of sex can add to a sense of frustration or failure.
Kershaw believes that a great deal of pent up anger comes from a feeling of being wronged, outwitted, victims or not having the same opportunities as others. "I often see cases where male clients transfer their personal feelings of failure be it career-based or to do with relationships out into a more public arena. So being increasingly irritated by small, petty every day things is symptomatic of someone's psyche needing to get things into perspective.
"Rage comes from a gradual build up of feelings revolving around issues such as believing you've been hard done by, exploited, humiliated or criticised to the extent that self-esteem is damaged. The end result can be unexpected explosions of anger. That's not good for a guy's health, his reputation or his career. It could even mean the law becoming involved. So if a guy recognises these feelings, he should talk to his GP about counselling or even looking at areas such as home and work life that may be exacerbating these emotions."
Ditch the ego
Cognitive behaviour therapy looks at issues where a client can develop anger due to feelings that they have been wronged or violated. Some of these issues may be rooted in scenarios where the client experienced rejection or humiliation.
Kershaw also believes that some men get angry because they expect others to think and behave like them. "You can't expect others to be like you, to appreciate the things you do or to have the same values. You're on a losing streak if you do, which will inevitably lead to disappointment and frustration. It's one reason relationships break up. So ditch the 'I know better' attitude and learn to accept that people are different and will behave differently because of a range of reasons."
Challenging stances and physical movements with the body, either consciously or unconsciously expressed, can appear threatening and lead to greater confrontation. "Remember those comedy skits where someone poking another with a finger leads to a barmy fight scene?" asks Kershaw. "It might seem funny but such actions, including getting too close to someone can turn a verbal confrontation into a physical one. Be aware of your body language. If in an argument, stand back, lower your voice and refrain from pointing, which is equally provocative to the onlooker.
The old 'sticks and stones' saying asserts that words can't hurt us but they sure can annoy and anger. One rule of thumb to take note of is, according to Kershaw, that when you start 'cussing' in a heated debate or altercation, then you've lost the argument.
"Swearing is an indication that you've lost control. Once the f-word is out and used like ammunition then the reactions from others will be equally more extreme. An unfortunate progression from swearing may then be a physical one. So mind your language. Be aware the power of words and how you can lose respect and the voice of reason."
Counselling & lifestyle changes
GPs can recommend suitable counsellors dealing with anger management issues who may be available on the NHS. Not all private counselling is prohibitively expensive so potential clients should not dismiss it.
Kershaw also believes that simply taking stock of your lifestyle, noting whether or not you get enough quality relaxation and recreational time, doing exercise, meditation or dissipating energy through sports or hobbies, can all help reduce tension and anxiety. He points out how one 'angry' client made a difference to his negative attitude and easily riled nature by taking up cycling and having more sex with his girlfriend.
But for more deep-rooted problems reflecting either childhood issues or emotional 'bombshells' such as divorce, relationship breakdown or bereavement, Kershaw believes that professional help may be required.
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