My name is Dr. Chris Ward. I would like to start out by acknowledging a very important aspect related to my post today. I am an addict in recovery. I do not have a history of addiction to alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, or illicit drugs; however, I am in recovery from the cocktail of neurotransmitters that contribute to feelings of anger.
For many years in my life, I was held hostage by my “drug dealer,“ a.k.a. my amygdala. I share this with you in an effort to normalize the difficulty and distress. In my practice as a psychologist, I meet with many men who express difficulty managing higher levels of testosterone and a variety of other chemicals, coursing through our veins in healthy and productive ways. Left unchecked, these chemicals can run rampant, resulting in great devastation and destruction in our lives and in the lives of those we care about. The purpose of today’s blog post is to discuss anger and some of its complexities as it relates to men.
As a clinical psychologist, I have spent many years of my life studying the human mind with great emphasis on emotions. With this training and insight, you would think “Dr. Ward’s got it figured out.” I will be the first to tell you that I am still a work in progress, as are all of us. From a therapeutic perspective, anger can be viewed as a habit. I often tell my clients, and some of them might get tired of hearing it, that the only three things within our control in this life are our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Therefore, changing habits becomes a matter of personal effort and adjustment.
A useful tool I often encourage, and utilize myself, is called visualization. This is the process of imagining an alternative behavior or outcome either before or after a situation in which we are trying to initiate a change. An example of this would be to take five minutes to visualize a situation that typically elicits feelings of anger or frustration involving our partner, child, friend, coworker, or boss. Imagine in as much detail as possible, the events leading up to the situation and then how you would like to respond, with emphasis on remaining calm, cool and collected and communicating in a clear and concise way.
Studies show that simply visualizing such scenarios can begin to initiate subtle changes in our neurochemistry that aid us in responding differently the next time we are in a situation similar to the one we visualized. Now don’t get me wrong, this is like many things in life. It sounds much easier to implement than it actually is. However, like any skill in this life, it gets easier the more we practice it. Taking five minutes each day to visualize how we want to respond to anger provoking situations will increase the probability of success.
Anger is often expressed as a secondary emotion, meaning it is often covering up a more primary emotion such as fear, sadness, worry, etc. If we consider anger from this perspective, we can also begin to examine our primary emotions to gain insight and understanding.
When it comes to being a father, it is reasonable to expect feelings of inadequacy, regret or fear as the primary emotion fueling the anger. Examining our thoughts and feelings on a regular basis is not often something men think about without considerable encouragement from a partner, therapist or trusted friend.
I remember teaching a group anger management class as a practicum student. I was consistently surprised by the level of insight, concern and care expressed by the men in these groups. Many of them acknowledged they had issues with anger and had considerable worry about the impacts their expressions of anger had on those around them. My heart went out to these men as they worked intently and with purpose to save relationships and initiate positive changes in their lives. As we worked to understand the genesis and evolution of anger, factors of stress, anxiety, and depression consistently came up.
This trend has persisted into my professional practice as well. Two of the most common depression symptoms I look for in male clients are anger and irritability. One reasonable and effective way to address these symptoms is self-care among men. Working 40+ hours a week, managing fix-it projects and maintenance around the house, and trying to be an engaged and present father and partner is an extremely difficult balancing act. Self-care is a crucial part of general health and wellness, but it also contributes to our ability to successfully manage situations and circumstances that elicit feelings of anger and frustration.
In my recent conversation with Dr. Jennifer Baker and J Fotsch on the Good Dads podcast, we discussed some crucial strategies to help men better manage anger. Some of these strategies involve understanding the origin of our anger, learning healthy ways to express emotion, and knowing how to act and react to children when our anger surges. While children and relationships don’t come with an owner’s manuals, we explored how effective communication skills benefit all involved as well as learning to establish and maintain appropriate expectations and boundaries for ourselves and our children. Make building a meaningful and trusting relationship with your kiddos a priority in your life.
This is one of the primary goals of Good Dads. Through training, seminars, and relationship building activities, we can improve our community one dad and child at a time. It is my hope, that if you are reading this blog post, you are interested in developing more skills and aptitude in your crucial role as a parent. Let this desire grow by motivating you to seek out one of our training experiences or sharing this blog or a podcast with someone you think could help you in this journey. I truly believe we need to play a more meaningful role in the lives of those we interact with, both as parents, but also as partners, friends, family members, coworkers, or neighbors. Let’s be more intentional in our lives and work to advance our skillsets in these areas.
Dr. Christopher M. Ward is a licensed psychologist in the state of Missouri and specializes in providing individual, couple, and family therapy. He has worked in a variety of settings including private practice, psychiatric outpatient clinics, university counseling centers, and currently works at Ozarks Community Hospital Evergreen Clinic as an outpatient therapist. I have lived in Nixa, MO with my family since 2008 with two of those years spent outside the state for internship (University of Idaho) and residency (Arizona State University). He enjoys spending time with his family, enjoying the outdoors, and pursuing a variety of hobbies and interest.