Men and Anger
Dominic Cadden Investigates How Males Can Express Their Rage In Positive Ways.
We’ve all enjoyed watching Tony Soprano shoot a rival gangster, but do TV show such as The Sopranos and Underbelly and violent console games send the message to men that a violent expression of rage is okay?
Dr Kara-Jane Lombard, author of a Curtin University study on new media and youth extremism, points out it is futile to deny that what we see and here in the media affects us, since the entire advertising industry is based on this premise.
Lombard’s research suggests that men with angry or violent dispositions are likely to seek out TV shows or games that strengthen these tendencies, while when women feel angry, they are more likely to choose entertainment that prevents aggression, such as comedies or feel good movies or TV shows.
“It’s widely recognised that the active nature of media such as games and the internet have many features that facilitate aggression or violence – active involvement, identification with violent characters and the reinforcement of violent acts,” Lombard says.
Fight or Flight
Of course, not every bloke who watches the odd bit of gangster drama is violent by nature. Men might not be incited to violence by the vicious ways anger is dealt with on screen, but it can affect how they deal with anger in other ways.
“Some men see these scenes and think, ‘I better not get angry in case I blow my top like that’,” psychologist Dr Elizabeth Celi says. “People make out that anger is such a negative thing, but it’s a normal emotion – it’s what we do with it that counts.”
The problem for men is that often they’ve never been shown how to express their feelings and emotions. David Nugent, who runs HEAVY METAL, a Victorian counselling service that helps men control anger, says: “Men get stuck in a habit of wither turning to fight or flight – one is very aggressive, the other is extremely passive. You have to find a middle ground.”
The Upside of Anger
In the absence of any positive examples of coping with anger, men can be more prone to the influence of what they see on TV – but usually, when a male character gets angry, something get broken of someone gets hurt. Between rage and a state of suppressed fury, there is a productive expression of anger that Dr Celi says can be a “gateway” to deeper feelings.
“Expressing anger opens a door to talking about frustration, hurt, sadness and disappointment, then processing these underlying emotions in a healthy way.”
Dr Celi says healthy anger requires you to be in control of yourself and emotionally aware so that you can express your needs without hurting others. When anger hits, men should stop, take five deep breaths and acknowledge that the anger is there, rather than trying to suppress it – going silent and bottling up your feelings usually doesn’t help in the long run.
“Ask yourself what the feeling is specifically related to so that you can develop a productive response. That could involve verbalising something in an assertive manner or walking away from a situation; it could mean discussing what got you upset or rectifying a wrong, such as a misjudgement or a misinterpretation of something that you said or did.”
Action vs Words
Frustrations can surface between a man and a woman when dealing with a challenging issue. Dr Celi points out that while men tend to want to express themselves physically, by doing something or fixing a problem, women often want to express themselves emotionally.
“But all that talking can make men feel like they’re caught in a verbal loop, which makes them even more agitated – often they’d be better off going for a walk until they feel better and then talking about the problem,” Dr Celi says.
Just as men prefer actions to words, your average guy doesn’t want to watch drug lords and crooked cops calmly talking through their differences. But will watching violent shows or playing violent games make men more violent?
Dr Lombard says innate aggression or a history of family violence are more likely to produce a man who is violent when angry than exposure to violent TV shows, films and console games, but her concern is that such media portrays and encourage a behaviour where violence through anger is seen as the norm.
The key, Dr Celi says, is that men need to acknowledge that the world of organised crime and controller-operated carjackers doesn’t show the full range of ways to deal with anger.
“Everything’s shown as black or white – you’re either not angry or you’re aggressive and violent, but there’s a whole spectrum in the middle where men can express anger in a way that contributes to reducing mental health problems.”
By Dominic Cadden