Grumpy men

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Recently, I couldn’t help but notice a glut of grumpy middle aged men come across my path.

They are grumpy, but it would be misleading to say that is all they are.

Once they get talking, several themes begin to emerge, themes that are common to all of them. At work these men endure a low level of unrelenting anxiety. They aren’t as driven as they used to be. They know it, and their boss knows it too. They see younger people coming through full of passion and excitement about changes in the industry. Changes that they can barely keep up with. Changes that they aren’t that willing to keep up with.

They aren’t as fit as they used to be. They carry more weight. They feel tired. They don’t make time to exercise, because they don’t have time at their disposal.

They remember what it was like to have adventures. With their partners, with their friends. They used to do things to be connected. For now they’ll just have to let their connection be incidental to the responsibilities they have to undertake: at work and at working bees.

A feeling of disenchantment saturates their daily routine.

It is a sad state of affairs, but sadness is not how it comes out. It comes out as being touchy, resentful, grumpy or at times angry. This seems to be the language of men.

There are several diagnostic categories that are characterised by anger: Oppositional Defiance, Conduct Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). Men are almost one and a half times more likely to have Oppositional Defiance (1),  twice as likely to have Conduct Disorder (2), and three times more likely to have ASPD (3). We struggle in drug and alcohol domains and even when we are depressed we are much more likely to come across as angry rather than sad. Unfortunately, men “do” anger better than women. This is a generalisation I concede, but it is generally true all the same.

So what can we do? Rather than fighting, faking or fleeing, we need to ‘sit behind the steering wheel’ and face what is going on.

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Connect with yourself. Anger, just like depression and anxiety is an expression of Heart level distress.  When did the anger begin? Was it last year? The year before? What happened that led to the anger?
  2. Consider what might be reasonable about your anger. On many occasions we get angry, and it is right that we should. Anger has its place just like anxiety and sadness do. Listen to it.
  3. Knock the sharp edges off it. For many of us, the anger is extravagant. It goes beyond what is reasonable. It becomes too intense and goes on for too long. Sketch out what “reasonable” looks like by considering how a respected friend might feel in your situation. If they feel angry, then maybe it is okay to feel angry too.
  4. Connect horizontally, connect vertically. Tell trusted friends about your anger. Describe it for them, the history of it, the thoughts you get when you feel it, what you say and do when it is pushing you around.
  5. Finally, tell the story of your Heart. Ask yourself and tell the story of how your anger might be connected to other feelings (sadness and fear) as well as the Heart related injuries: Shame, betrayal, low self esteem, poor identity, lack of belonging.

This last step is crucial. We must take ourselves and a friend or partner beneath the anger and see what else is there. For many men there is something much more substantial. One man felt I nailed it when I asked him if he felt like he was reduced to being “the family ATM”. He felt used. Another man grieved a time and place when and where things were better in his life. He was missing out. Another broke down when he confessed that he thinks he hates himself. Two of them are on the edge of unemployment and feel anxious. All of them need more sleep. Most of them miss having fun with their partners and friends.

They all feel irrelevant, overlooked, disconnected, disliked.

Anger is the ‘acting out’ of a Heart level injury. We stomp, we have a short fuse, we raise our voices all because on the inside we sense, among other things, that we are irrelevant, overlooked, disconnected, disliked. These are the deep Heart related issues that must be spoken out. The last thing these men should be doing is getting a slap on the wrist and told to stop it. All grumpy people must keep their Heart in their Minds. Only then will the grumpiness disappear.

  1. DSM-Vp 464
  2. Cohen, P., Cohen, J., Kasen, S., Velez, C.N., Hartmark, C., Johnson, J., Rojas, M., Brook, J., & Streuning, E.L. (1993). An Epidemiological Study of Disorders in Late Childhood and Adolescence – Age and gender specific prevalence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 34(6), 851-867.
  3. Alegria, A.A., Blanco, C., Petry, N.M., Skodol, A.E, Liu, S.M., Grant, B., Hasin, D. ((2013). Sex Differences in Antisocial Personality Disorder: Results from the National Epidemological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Personality Disorders, 4(3), 214-222.