What year truck did your father drive?
An interesting thing happened to me when I was trying to leave the office the other day; my truck wouldn’t start. Technically, this is my dad’s old 1973 Chevy truck, but by pure virtue, it has found its way back to me two years post his death. For some reason, I thought this would be a way to honor him or even be fun to drive around in. Of course, this was on a day when I had a break in patients, so I was going to head to the house and walk the dogs. My wife was at work and unable to leave. An Emergency Room nurse never gets a break. Sitting on the road next to the truck that wouldn’t start, I was left to reflect on not being able to get home to free the dogs from their kennel, nor could I simply Uber home. Furthermore, I felt anger quickly rising.
I have come to understand the relationship I have with anger, though it has been a long journey. Anger can be seen as an inability to regulate emotions. It has also been said that anger is explosive, protective, and uncontrollable. For example, when we as men argue with our partners, tension begins to escalate and a safe means of escape becomes the use of anger. As I sit here and reflect on anger, sometimes it seems as if society discourages emotions from men, especially anger. Possibly due to the fact that neither society nor men in general know how to handle emotions, especially anger . I digress. Anger thus becomes an internal protection measure as well. Perhaps in the moment what is felt is embarrassment or shame or fear, yet the outcome is to rely on the soothing familiarity of anger.
Anger and men usually have one thing in common.
The only consistent variable in your anger is you. You have the ability to control your anger as well as the ability to choose to not control your anger. When the emotions surface for men, the outcome usually is anger. Anger is a mask that affords safety for hiding. The men I see in my practice relate this as “If I show anger, then people cannot see me.” This is where men feel most comfortable, but again, I want to argue the comfort. Is it more comfortable to feel anger or allow anger to be in control because we as men have so deeply lost control?
What if we do not have to live by our father’s anger?
To be fair, what examples did we have growing up? Did you feel safe and secure growing up? Did you learn how to express your emotions? Was this expression supported? Did you feel accepted for who you were? So many variables determine our outcome, but let’s face it, the continuous variables are anger and us. Once men begin to strip away the anger what is left are true emotions. This usually appears as vulnerability and sadness or something even more foreign.
Back to the truck. It wasn’t necessarily anger that started to rise, though that is what is usually more comfortable for me. What was coming up was shame and guilt. According to Gary Yontef (1993):
“Shame is the feeling that accompanies the experience of being “not OK” and/or “not enough.”
Whereas not to be confused with guilt as Yontef describes as:
“the feeling that accompanies the experience of doing something bad, of hurting someone, of breaking some moral or legal code.”
You see, I couldn’t save the day. I couldn’t make my wife’s day easier nor could I rescue the dogs. My wife was at work and the dogs were fine, yet I was a mess. Shame rushes in to say, Jeremy – feel bad because you cannot get to the dogs. Then guilt rushes in with, Jeremy – you are bad because you cannot do everything! This was not anger, yet, anger wanted to rush in to and be the outlet!
How do you manage shame and guilt?
On a very small level, to begin to work with shame and guilt is to know that shame and guilt are present. If anger is your go to emotion (or as many women have expressed, tears are my anger), ask yourself, am I shaming myself or is this legitimate anger? Do I feel guilty for anything today? Maybe even back up one step and say, “I might be shaming myself.” Chances are this might resonate deep below in your gut. If it does, you’re on to something. Next step, simply state, “I’m shaming myself.” What comes up with this statement? Do you learn something new about yourself? Is there an image that comes up? Is there a memory that comes up?
In any case, shame and guilt come in when we are vulnerable. Shame and guilt can often be the catalyst to emotions or thoughts or feelings. To effectively work within shame and guilt, one should see a professional who specializes in understanding the dynamics closely associated to hiding and embarrassment. On an individual level, we are our worst critic, hence shame and guilt. Reach out and seek support.