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Seeing red - tackling anger in men

A new survey claims that lost tempers cost the UK economy an estimated 16 billion a year. Anger in men is nothing new, but can it get out of hand, and how should we tackle the problem?

Serious anger problems aren't healthy, say experts. They not only affect those on the receiving end, but the emotion is also a known factor in high blood pressure and heart disease. Out of 50,000 heart attacks in the US recently, 5,000 were estimated to have been as a direct result of anger.

But anger in itself is not a destructive emotion, nor is it the preserve of men - women are just as likely to get angry. Except that rather than explode, like men do, they tend to find more subtle ways of venting it.

Express yourself

"Anger is a very legitimate way of expressing yourself," says consultant clinical psychologist Dr Gareth Hughes, from Neasden, who often runs anger management courses.

It's a question, he explains, of what you do with your anger. "It can eat away at you and make you bitter and that is not a very healthy way of expressing it. It's all about striking the balance - doing something useful with it."

Mike Fisher, founder of the British Association of Anger Management, agrees. "Anger is a feeling. You can't get rid of it but what's most important is how you express it," he says. "You have to teach people how to express it in an appropriate way." And that means telling people you are angry rather than lashing out with your fists.

Kicking back, lashing out

Society as a whole has become less tolerant of outward signs of anger, particularly aggression, although as the director of the Men's Health Forum, Peter Baker, points out, this is what men do.

"Men are more comfortable with anger, and aggression is more in line with how they are supposed to behave," he says. This less tolerant attitude may even make the problem worse.

Angry men are also increasingly likely to smoke and drink more, and not sleep well, says Peter. All of which point to an increasingly unhealthy existence.

But why do some people have problems controlling their anger? How much of it is genetic and how much is down to their environment?

Born angry

A recent US study demonstrated that women have a relatively larger orbital front region in their brains. Since this is the area linked with censoring aggressive and angry responses, the report concluded that women were biologically less likely to suffer from anger.

While the same has yet to be proved with different types of men, Mike Fisher also contends there is a biological aspect. "Some people are just born angry, they have a traumatic birth. People often say to me, 'I've always been angry, ever since I was born'."

Environment, of course, strongly affects people. Many of those who attend anger management courses have often grown up in abusive environments. In other people, it is simply their personality. Mike says the majority of people he sees are self-obsessed, focused entirely on themselves and have little or no empathy for other people.

Seeing the wider picture

And this is the secret behind tackling the problem - getting people to see beyond themselves and understand why someone has made them angry. "It is about convincing them that if they are angry, there is a problem," says Dr Hughes. "Hitting out or drinking won't tackle that problem and will probably create more.

"So you teach people to stay calm, be aware of what is going on. People tend to have specific patterns when they get angry - an itch on their neck or a noise in their head - so we get them to recognise this first indication and deal with it."

Everyone agrees without exception that anger management is extremely difficult because it means persuading someone to change themselves.

Mike Fisher says he is at an advantage because people who come to see him want help. "They are desperate. Their lives are ruined, their partners are leaving or have left, the courts are deciding access to their kids, their employers have had enough - they are desperate to change."

But if you think anger management is only for people at the extremes, you couldn't be more wrong. "Not dealing with anger is a problem everyone has, including psychologists," says Dr Hughes. "My wife often says, 'God, you were lovely when you were doing those anger management courses. When's the next one?'"

Further information:

British Association of Anger Management
Men's Health Forum

Link to this story on Discovery Health

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