Category Archive: Uncategorized

  1. Are Men Angrier than Women?

    Leave a Comment

    What would your first answer to this article’s title question have been? If you’re like most people who have been surveyed on the topic, you probably believe men get angry more often than women, that Mars is populated by agro, short-tempered, males, while Venus is graced by tolerant, peace-loving females.

    There is certainly a stereotype of anger being a ‘masculine’ emotion, or at least being somehow more acceptable in men. You might think this is a slightly dated view, but it remains the majority view at present. Feminist and sociological writers often point out that anger displays in women are apt to be labeled ‘unladylike’ (or worse), while anger displays in men are rationalised as ‘powerful’ or ‘dominant’. Big boys don’t cry is a song; Boys Don’t Cry is a film; and don’t cry like a little girl is something parents commonly say when they wish to invalidate and shame their boys into being emotionally repressed jarheads. By contrast: Big boys don’t holler, boys don’t cuss, and don’t bash your brother like a little girl, are all phrases I made up.

    I’ve written this piece to set the record straight on the issue of anger across the genders. There’s enough to differentiate men and women without needing to add spurious claims about our having a different inner world—emotionally or otherwise. It’s worth knowing that the overwhelming majority of surveys and studies conducted to date have in fact found that men and women get angry just as frequently and just as intensely, and seek counseling for anger management in roughly equal numbers.

    Those few studies that have found anygender differences in anger have actually found women to be angrier, not men—though these studies need to be carefully examined and qualified. A 2005 telephone survey, which included about 1800 participants from across the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 94, found that women reported significantly higher frequencies of anger, annoyance, yelling, and losing their temper than men. ‘Reported’, mind you. No one actually observed this first hand. In the same survey, men subscribed to the statement ‘I keep my emotions to myself’ about 15% more than women did; so part of this apparent difference could have been in this case that women were more open about their anger rather than really and truly angrier.

    Another American national survey, conducted in 1996, found no gender differences in the frequency of feeling angry, but did find that women dwelled on their anger for longer, discussed their anger more, and reported more intense anger episodes. The greater intensity would explain the longer duration, because as a rule we dwell for longer on things that make us angrier. The finding that women discuss their anger more may relate to women’s greater emotional openness, as mentioned earlier. But the intensity part of the equation needs some explaining.

    If we zoom in on some of the finer details of this survey, we get some clues as to where women were reporting more intense anger. When participants were asked about a specific anger incident from the past month, women were twice as likely as men to report a family incident, such as yelling at the kids, or arguing with their partner—almost three times as likely if they had been unemployed.

    Women are angrier at home no doubt in part because their social role of ‘caretaker’ demands that they preoccupy themselves with family and relationship concerns more than men. They care more, and so they get angrier (all other things being equal). Some have suggested that women are angrier at home because they have more to be angry about, especially today when they still bear most of the brunt of home and child-rearing duties but now hold career ambitions on a par with men. In the 1996 survey, working women with children were more likely to feel ‘rushed for time’ than working men with children, which might contribute (indirectly) to anger proneness. In any case, if women are angrier at home, perhaps understandably, and surveys are often conducted at home and about homely incidents, women could occasionally come accross as angrier than men when they aren’t really overall, or at least not intrinsically.

    That’s why the differences from these two studies may be interesting, but should not be overstated. If you look at overall differences across all surveys, and across all contexts (home, work, etc), and you average out scores on all the various measures, gender differences in anger tend to level out.

    Where marked and unequivocal differences emerge between the genders is not in terms of anger (the feeling) but in terms of aggression (the behavior). Men are more likely than women to use physical violence when angry (and when not angry)—a difference that has remained relatively consistent across diverse cultures and times in history around the globe. Stephen Pinker, in his wonderful tome on the history of violence[1], wrote that “the one great universal in the study of violence is that most of it is committed by fifteen-to-thirty-year-old men. Not only are males the more competitive sex in most mammalian species, but with Homo sapiens a man’s position in the pecking order is secured by reputation, an investment with a lifelong payout that must be started early in adulthood”. This is where the stereotype holds true. Men may not be angrier than women (in fact, in the modern family context, they could be less angry), but they certainly are more aggressive.

    On the other hand, women are more likely than men to employ indirect and affectivemodes of anger expression—recruiting allies, withdrawing affection, gossiping, and

    crying. One might think this is just women being reasonable: They are outsized by men, and so play the hand they’re delt. However, these modes of anger expresseion occur just as often (if not more) in women’s behaviour towards other women (whom they don’t outsize); moreover these strategic differences are already apparent in childhood and adolescence.

    It would seem, then, that there may be some grain of truth to the boys don’t cry phrase after all, though we really should replace it with, boys don’t cry as much as girls when angry, nor are they as prone to using social means of retaliation, though they hit more, which is just as bad, and are on the whole just as angry, just as often, except perhaps at home. The restatement, while more accurate, is less catchy.

    In any case, the take home message is this: anger is not a male or female emotion so much as a human emotion, and red is a gender-neutral color.

    [1] Pinker, S. (2011). The Better Angels of our Nature. New York: Viking; p.104.

  2. 10 Eternal Truths About Anger, and How to Overcome It


    I’ve accrued these 10 pearls of wisdom on the subject of anger from great or inspired minds during a decade of clinical work, writing, and lecturing on the topic, and offer them here for your considered perusal.

    Think of them as “furnishings of the mind.” Those that resonate, I’d advise you to commit to memory, stick them on the fridge, sing them in the shower, teach them to your kids, or sanctimoniously quote them at the water cooler. Those that don’t, I’d advise you read again, more closely.

    1. “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry, for anger dwells in the bosom of fools.” — Ecclesiastes 7:9

    This is sometimes attributed to Einstein, but was in fact authored more than 2000 years before his time by no less than Solomon the Wise, who, if you believe, was inspired by God. In any case, the quote is bold and true: Angry judgments are foolish, aggression is foolhardy, revenge is folly, and an angry errand is a fool’s errand. But hang on, iseveryone in whose bosom anger dwells a fool? Wouldn’t that make us all fools? Benjamin Franklin clarifies this somewhat:

    2. “He is a fool who cannot be angry; but he is a wise man who will not.” — Benjamin Franklin

    Ignorance is an empty cure for anger: You cannot be angry if you don’t understand the insult, never discover the betrayal, or simply aren’t aware of the social norm a person breached, but only because you are a fool. On the other hand, if you are well aware of a transgression, yet instead of becoming angry simply accept or fix it, forgive it, work around it, or merely find it amusing, surely you have the better part of wisdom. A mother who doesn’t notice her son stealing the extra cookie has been duped; if she sees nothing wrong with it, she is soft. The wise mother calmly turns the page of her newspaper, rolls her eyes, and says, “Put it back.”

    3. “There are two things a person should never get angry at, what they can help and what they cannot.” — Plato

    Perhaps Plato might have saved words if he had just said, “don’t get angry at anything,” but his serenity creed suggests a neat little decision tree: If what you’re angry about can be fixed, then fix it; if it cannot, then don’t waste energy on it. Ever the idealist, Plato exorcises the morality from anger, and reframes it as ineffectual problem-solving. This misses the point somewhat, from the angry person’s perspective: The angry truck driver knows that the existence of bad driving cannot be helped; he knows that the particular instance of bad driving he had to swerve around cannot be helped; but he will honk his horn just the same. He is protesting, not problem-solving. Plato’s aphorism shows this for what it is.

    4. “How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.”— Marcus Aurelius

    How many times do I hear the same thing from couples? “It started over the silliest thing.”The consequences of anger often so far outgrow their relatively humble origins that the original disagreement becomes almost a moot point. How many duels have been fought for the roll of an eye, how many wars for an insult? “An eye for an eye,” believe it or not, was actually a humanitarian reform at the time, because the human universal is to return injury with interest (and then some). Anger is a biological doomsday machine and its consequences are designed to be more grievous than its causes. But so are the other guy’s. And therein lies the problem.

    5. “It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.” — Ancient Chinese Proverb

    A beautiful image. Doing some small thing, anything, is better than simply whining and complaining, and this idea is neatly conveyed. But the image also hints at the ignorance of the angry (who are “in the dark”); the futility of getting angry (cursing does not “illuminate” the situation); and the irrationality of anger (it makes no sense to reprimand the darkness). The candle image is a happy contrast, and brings to mind the old Buddhist saying, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle without diminishing its life:Happiness is not diminished by being shared.”

    6. “Keep cool; anger is not an argument.” — Daniel Webster

    Au contraire. The “appeal to spite” is a logical fallacy with its own Wikipedia entry. Leonardo da Vinci remarked that “where there is shouting, there is no true knowledge.” The same applies today to the use of capitals and exclamation marks in text messages. Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish philosopher, astutely observed that, “in any controversy, the instant we feel angry, we have already ceased striving for Truth, and begun striving for Ourselves.” The bottom line, according to Desmond Tutu: “Don’t raise your voice; improve your argument.”

    7. “He who angers you conquers you.” — Elizabeth Kenny

    This is nowhere better encapsulated than in Mohammad Ali’s famous rope-a-dope against George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” title fight. It is well known that he tired out his heavier opponent; it is less well known that he deliberately taunted him: “Is that all ya got? You have no punch. You can’t hit. You’re swinging like a sissy. You’re missing. Let me see ya box!” He was baiting the bear. Foreman, infuriated, continued to swing big taxing punches to the point of exhaustion and eventually became little more than a punching bag for the ever-ready Ali.

    In my own life, at a smaller scale, I recall an incident in the 8th grade when we were shown a documentary on the planets during class. Breaking the monotonous narrative, a voice cried out, “Sir, is that Uranus?” I’m convinced that had the teacher merely rolled his eyes and said, “Very original…” or something of the sort, the boy would have felt embarrassed and piped down. But instead, the teacher fell into a rage, turning tomato red and dragging the boy out of the room by his collar. The teacher had been baited. Whatever punishment that kid received for his irreverence, it was surely worth it, for that teacher had revealed a weakness in our eyes that he would never quite live down.

    8. “Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence.”Hanlon’s Razor

    Is the towel my husband left on the bathroom floor a sign of disrespect or merely of sloppiness? Did my friend from high school deliberately snub me, or just fail to recognize me? Was I short-changed because the sales clerk tried to swindle me, or because he’s bad at math? Did my tennis partner intentionally cheat on the line call or genuinely get it wrong? Malice assumes a more troubling motive; when in doubt, assume incompetence. But keep notes.

    9. “Just remember: there’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything, and the wrong way is to keep trying to make everyone else do it the right way.” — Colonel Potter, M*A*S*H

    Micromanagers, control freaks, perfectionists, and dictators, take note! The colonel evades the question of how one arbitrates on right and wrong in the first place. But George Carlin asks a humorous but poignant question in this regard:

    10. “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” — George Carlin

    Of course the idiot in question thinks you’re the maniac, and the maniac thinks you’re the idiot. Man (or woman) is the measure of all things. Anger is self-righteous. Angry individuals think they know the right way to do everything and drive everyone else mad in the process. The cure for self-righteousness? A good dose of philosophy, anthropology, and travel. (Oh, and read The Anger Fallacy(link is external).)

  3. 10 Tips for Reducing Anger

    Leave a Comment

    The following is a partial distillation of ideas my colleague and I have more fully exposed in The Anger Fallacy. They’re in no special order, except perhaps in as much as the first should probably come first. Some, admittedly, only touched on here, may require some unpacking (in particular 6, 7 and 8); but for those of you who cannot access the book, I’m happy to answer questions and to respond to comments!
    The man in the mirror.

    1. Understand that anger is a problem

    If you’re not convinced of this, then anger management tips will go right over your head, like sex tips aimed at Tibetan monks. How is anger a problem, you ask? Surely it’s healthy, and useful to some degree…?

    Anger is unhelpful in a number of ways, but there are a lot of commonly used arguments that I won’t bother with: ‘Chronic anger will give you a heart attack.’ Yeah, OK, whatever. So will smoking, and stress, but it’s years down the track. ‘Anger’s not nice; people don’t like it’. ‘Um… that’s the whole point’, you might respond! You may not want to be a ‘nice’ person; and you definitely don’t want people to like it. ‘Anger doesn’t feel good, it makes you unhappy’—sure, but presumably you already know how it feels, and it hasn’t stopped you yet. No. Anger is a problem first and foremost because it is an ineffective way of operating in the (social) world, can occasionaly backfire, and ultimately ruins relationships. At its core, anger is an evolved intimidation strategy. The most publicised instances of anger occur in war zones, in traffic, and in hotel lobbies. But surveys tell us that approximately 80% of day-to-day anger actually occurs with family and loved ones whom you care about (by definition). These aren’t necessarily people you wish to bullyand intimidate. Actually, anger is much less effective in getting people around you to behave ‘correctly’ than, say, heart-to-hearts, cajoling, incentives, or calmly statedassertiveness. And even when anger does have the odd pay-off—your husband remembers to lift the toilet seat or your housemate turns the music down—it comes at the cost of warmth and intimacy, and tends to come back to bite you (in the form of defensiveness or escalation mostly). Just about every bit of research out there suggests that having warm (non-angry) relationships is the key to human happiness and emotional wellbeing. So this is no small cost.

    2. Monitor your anger

    I strongly recommend keeping an anger log over at least two or three weeks. You may be surprised at what it reveals. As well as raising insight, it can help you to take a detached ‘observer stance’ with regard to your anger. Monitor any and every episode of anger, from fleeting moments of frustration or impatience, to extreme rage. For each one, note down the facts of what went down (neighbour’s dog still barking despite our asking them to deal with it); the intensity of your anger 0-10, where 0 = no anger, and 10 = maximum rage; any thoughts or images you were aware of during the scene (wringing the dog’s neck, keying the neighbour’s car, memories of the conversation you’d had with him the week before, etc.); any other feelings you may have experienced in the scene (e.g. anxiety, dread); and what you actually did (ranted to wife). This habit of systematically describing your angry outbursts is often all someone needs in order to gain a little perspective. Give it a whirl.

    3. Feel the anger and DON’T do it anyway

    Anger interferes with problem-solving and good judgment, and makes you rash and rigid in your thinking. This is why even the most articulate person you know can be reduced to repetitious expletives when enraged. Ambrose Bierce, the American satirist, wisely remarked, “speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” While fear drives us to flee, anger drives us to aggress and confront. Anger motivates revenge and retaliation. Unfortunately, the best revenge is not, as a rule, to live well. Anger is a poor guide to happiness. Hence my counterintuitive advice to ‘Feel the anger and not do it anyway’—the flipside to the pop-psychology slogan. I would recommend you: go to bed angry (despite your grandmother’s advice); sit on the angry email for a day or two before sending it; walk away from a fight where possible; and seek advice from a (non-angry) third party before taking any hostile action. If you still wish to carry out these actions when you’re calmer, then go ahead. They may coincide with self-interest. But, chances are you won’t want to. In the heat of anger you’re likely to make decisions you’ll regret.

    4. Watch yourself angry: the Federer cure

    The angry are often proud of their anger. Even if they leave a scene having achieved nothing (such as giving the finger to a car that pulls in front of them), they often experience a warm inner glow of self-satisfaction as a result of their actions. They appear to believe they’ve just accomplished something tough, powerful and righteous. This is not, of course, how they are perceived by their victims, spouses,

    or onlookers… And more interestingly, it’s not necessarily what they themselves might think if they could watch themselves from the outside while not angry. It’s worth seeing or hearing yourself genuinely angry at least once in your life. If it’s difficult to catch yourself in a spontaneous fit of rage, it’s worth replaying an angry scene in front of the mirror. According to tennis great Roger Federer, who was a racket-smashing brat in his junior years, it was watching himself throwing tantrums on TV that put him off it for life.

    5. Look after yourself

    All other things being equal, the state you’re in as you enter an anger-provoking scene will influence the severity of an anger episode. If you are stressed, tired, sick, hungover, agitated, or in any kind of emotionally compromised state when you encounter an annoyance or provocation, then your response will be magnified well out of proportion. So it’s worth being on the lookout for such factors. I’ll unpack a few of the most common culprits:

    Alcohol abuse is the most common co-morbid condition of patients presenting with anger problems. The recent king-hit murders attest to how vicious a combination alcohol and aggression can be.

    Fatigue and stress would have to come next: 96% of Aussies wake up tired, according to a recent sleep survey conducted in my hometown. Fatigue shortens the fuse. Get some rest!

    Other known anger exacerbators include unmet needs or drives (hunger, thirst, lust, etc.);sickness; pain; and, no surprises here, PMS.

    Reducing background variables is a good, easy start in the fight against anger. Get some sleep; take some time off; streamline your week; delegate; relax; improve your diet and so on. In short, look after yourself. When these things are unavoidable, then I believeawareness that you’re in a compromised state can be half the battle. Being stressed and tired might make you more irritable when the kids are fighting in the back seat; but insightthat your state is a factor might help you realize they’re not entirely to blame. It might also be a reason to put off that phone call to your father until after you’ve had a nap and some alone time…

    6. Understand the ultimate source of your anger: SHOULDING

    Most people believe that it’s other people’s behaviour that makes them angry. Your son is texting at the dinner table; that just is irritating; and anger ensues. End of story. The problem with this oversimplified model is that it doesn’t explain why the other people at the dinner table aren’t irritated by your son’s behaviour (your son first and foremost of course). It doesn’t explain why something can annoy you one day, and not another. I can remember in my twenties being genuinely irritated by people who used the word ‘disinterested’ when they meant ‘uninterested’; I now think this is a ridiculous and snobbish reaction. There’s no single event that reliably angers everyone all the time. And there’s no single event that never angers anyone any of the time. Insisting on paying the bill might insult a date; but letting them pay might be an even graver offence. Then again, depending on the person, they could just be chilled either way. A cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad may infuriate some individuals, and amuse others, depending on their position on the matter. I was sharply upbraided by an old man the other day for eating a mandarin near him on the bus. I remember thinking, ‘now there’s a first’. But it shouldn’t have surprised me. You don’t get angry because of external events alone, but because of how you appraise those events. Anger always involves framing behaviour as ‘wrong’—not-as-it-should-be. The man on the bus thought my eating a mandarin was inappropriate—disrespectful perhaps; of course most wouldn’t have this appraisal, but he did. If your son’s phone use at the table annoys you, it’s because you hold that family members ‘should’ engage socially at the dinner table. Your spouse mightn’t necessarily have that expectation, and nor might the boy’s siblings, quietly watching TV out of the corner of their eye. Anger is shoulding.

    7. Become less judgmental

    If anger is driven by internal rules of how others ought to behave, this makes it a very ‘self-righteous’ emotion. But if you can see some of your rules for what they are —‘just the way I was brought up’ or ‘my way of doing things’—then it will naturally seem silly to judge others for not following them. It helps to remind yourself of the many different ways in which humans around the world operate. In many parts of Asia, it is considered rude to enter a restaurant with your shoes on; in most Western restaurants it is considered rude to take them off. Who’s right and who’s wrong here? We’d say there’s no answer to this question: they’re just two different sets of rules. You may believe it is wrong to smoke marijuana; many Jamaicans would disagree. You may object to homosexuality or women inpolitics or lovers kissing on public benches. There’ll almost always be someone who agrees with you, and others who staunchly oppose you. That’s because these things are matters of opinion, not fact. Must people work hard and strive to reach their fullest potential, or is a breezier, more spiritual life acceptable too? You probably have opinions on these things, which is fine. But if you walk around convinced your opinions on how people must behave are right and universal, you’ll live a restricted life, as well as an angry one.

    8. Think like a scientist, not a lawyer

    The angry speak a lot about the bad ‘choices’ people make, and what people ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t have’ done. Logically speaking, if you believe someone should have acted differently, you must believe they could have acted differently at the moment of performing the (mis)deed. But being the person they were and seeing things as they did, there’s only one thing they ever could or would have done. To do something else they would have had to have a different brain and held different beliefs. If you can get your head around this, and make a habit of explaining people’s behaviour rather than simply condemning it, then you will be a good deal wiser, as well as calmer. We strongly suggest replacing ideas of ‘responsibility’ and ‘blame’ with those of causes and solutions. This is essentially what scientists do—they try to work out the causes behind events. You may shake your head rather unsympathetically at your uncle’s gambling problem. But a scientist asks, ‘Whatcauses this person to gamble?’ The answer to this question will be complex, and will potentially involve factors from his personality, beliefs, knowledge base, mood states, physiology, as well as from his upbringing, environment and culture. This is very different, mind you, from saying it’s right or good to gamble, or from resigning yourself to someone’s behaviour. Taking a scientific explaining approach rather than a moralistic blaming one makes people’s behaviour more understandable and as a consequence easier to influence. And of course once you understand the causes of a behaviour, there’s nothing left to get angry about. You see its inevitability. And all that remains is a problem to solve.

    9. Empathise

    Empathy overlaps somewhat with ‘thinking scientifically’, except that it’s more intuitive. Empathising means living in the skin of someone else. It is an antidote to anger, because it’s hard to condemn someone if you really understand where they’re coming from.

    Anger almost always involves an inability to get the person you’re angry at. It stems from a failure to understand them. This is why so much anger is expressed verbally in statements of apparent astonishment or perplexity:

    • Why the hell would you do something like that?
    • What’s gotten into you?
    • How could you … ?
    • I can’t believe this!
    • What was she thinking?

    These, incidentally, are actually very good questions to ask yourself in earnest when you’re angry, but people only ever intend them rhetorically (and pejoratively). Often, interestingly, the people we profess to find the most perplexing are those closest to us, whom we’d be best placed to empathise with. A couple I saw recently was fighting over domestic chores. As it turned out, the husband liked things to be clean and hygienic, but was relatively oblivious to tidiness; the wife needed things to look neat and orderly, but didn’t worry that much about dust or germs. Each thought that their own standpoint was sensible, and that the other person’s was entirely neurotic. The truth is: neither of these viewpoints is silly or hard to relate to. They simply reflect different concerns or priorities. Most of the time it’s not so much that individuals can’t relate to one another, it’s that they just don’t: they’re blinkered by their own point of view and place more importance on making their own points than on understanding others’.

    Some of you may have seen the televised argument between Ben Affleck and Sam Harris on the heated topic of the dangers of Islam. Affleck blatently misconstrues his opponent’s point of view. Harris attempts to explain himself, but Affleck feels he’s heard enough. He’s too angry to listen. Interestingly, Harris, in a blog after the event, rather than retaliate, writes that he gets where Affleck was coming from: “If I were seated across the table from someone I “knew” to be a racist and a warmonger, how would I behave?” This is another case where making the effort to understand the other person’s viewpoint can diffuse anger.

    10. Get your facts straight

    Angry people often display a bias toward interpreting others’ behaviour as hostile, deliberate, or nasty, even when they lack the information to really be sure. They’re occasionally right, of course, but very frequently they’ve gotten something wrong, or taken it the wrong way. The simplest first step in reducing your anger is to take a moment and make sure you’ve got all your facts straight. Are you sure the acquaintance who passed you by really snubbed you and didn’t just not see you? Can you be certain that your wife’s forgetting to pick up the milk was really a personal sign of disrespect, and not just an oversight? Are you positive your neighbour is playing that music just to spite you? Is it really fair to say that so and so is always late, or that such and such never does anything nice for you? Are you sure you’ve understood your opponent’s position? If you aren’t positive beyond a reasonable doubt, why not suspend your judgment, pending further evidence. Innocent until proven guilty. This little habit alone can save you a lot of unnecessary grief, or should I say grievance.