Friday, March 12, 2010

Revolutionary Man - Men And Rage

Jayson offers an interesting post of the topic of rage. He makes some good points. However, I have a slightly different take, which I'll discuss below.

Men And Rage

Mon, Mar 8, 2010

Photo by F. Montino (creative commons)

Photo by F. Montino (creative commons)

When you think of you and rage, what comes to mind? Do you picture yourself smashing cars with a baseball bat like I do? Or do you immediately think “I don’t get angry or enraged, that’s just not me.”

Have you personally ever felt rage? Homicidal rage? Rage at a lover? The world? The “system?” or whatever?

And, when you add the two elements of rage + men, what comes to mind? It is common to think the worst. Criminals, rapists, murderers, war, and extreme forms of violence. Rage often kills, destroys, and damages people and things.

I think that we can agree that most forms of rage are hurtful and beyond hurtful.

However, I want to introduce another slant on rage. This is the rage-reframe that you and the world needs. I need and want your rage.

What is Rage?

First, what is rage exactly and where does it come from?

Without jumping into a thesis on rage and the human brain, here are a few basic aspects of rage. Think of rage as a geyser. Let’s say anger is near the surface, maybe it’s the steam, the boiling water, the heat. Rage on the other hand, comes from deep down within the geyser. Rage is “superheated” and can cause a great deal of damage.

Rage is commonly brought on by fear–a threat to some part of yourself. When you are threatened, your brain instantly reacts with a fight, flight, or freeze response. Rage can also be a reaction to protect deep, deep shame. (Read more about the biochemistry of rage here).

Why is my rage wanted/needed?

As I said before, I need and want your rage. You might be thinking WTF? Rage equals violence, no way. Rage only hurts.

While it is true that rage has caused much of the devastation around the globe since the invention of agriculture, and we can safely assume, largely at the hands of men, a new kind of rage is needed. Call it “conscious rage” or as my friend Christiane Pelmas calls it “rage-in-service-of-life.”

Christiane writes in her ReWilding blog:

Men are responsible for egregious violence against life. It has been this way for at least four millennia. Yet in order for something different to arise men must cultivate a functional relationship with the very emotion responsible for so much of the violence. They must be reacquainted with their rage, allowing it to come out of the shadows and take its place alongside the (only slightly) more accepted emotions of love and grief.

A man’s rage is a powerful portal back to the deepest heart connection he has with the world and with himself. We need masculine rage-in-service-of-life as desperately as we need rain forests, clean oceans, mountaintops, and wild-flowing unobstructed rivers.

I could not agree more. We men must own our rage and use it for the greater good. Otherwise, your stuffed rage, or your buddy’s sloppy rage will cause harm, period. Moreover, if you have not dealt with your own rage, chances are you won’t be that helpful with anyone else’s.

From my experience as a former wilderness therapy counselor and psychotherapist with very enraged teenagers and men, and struggling with my own rage, I learned a few things about this volatile emotion.

The current approach to rage

Because men have little to no training in regards to expression of anger and rage, and because most men are scared of their emotional world, they typically respond to rage in one of two ways:

1. The Nice Guy—This is usually the first tactic men use. Don’t go there. Just bottle it up. You might hurt someone or get hurt. Fake a smile and act like everything’s fine.

2. The Spaz—Once a man realizes he’s tired of being nice, or he can no longer contain such a strong emotion, it bleeds out. Scream, yell, fight, attack, and defend. Largely, because these men have no training, they act like a hurt infant and throw a tantrum.

Both of these approaches have one thing in common–FEAR. Fear is the foundation of unconscious, dissociated rage. So long as fear is on board, you will likely cause harm. See diagram below.

Rage in Men

Likewise, the culture responds in one of two ways: 1) by egging rage on, (screaming fans at a fight) or 2) shutting it down with anger management. Conventional anger management essentially means you receive tools to help you further suppress your rage and anger.

To feel rage is to be human. All of us have felt rage at some point from infancy onward. It is human to feel shame, to feel threatened, and to want to defend yourself. The animal part of our brain acts like an animal for a reason–so we can survive. But the neocortex, or front part of our brain, comes in with some form of social conditioning such as “it’s not okay to express rage.” Thus rage becomes compounded and pressurized.

We all know that if feeling rage means you are human, it does not give you the right to uncork it and explode on a stranger, a co-worker, or a lover.

Remember, when you stuff your anger and rage over and over and you then add the stress of a failing marriage, a long day at the office, money issues, and you lack the tools to deal, a mundane event such as a person cutting you off on the highway or driving too slow in “your” lane, can trigger a massive outburst which can lead to real harm.

I personally stuffed my anger and rage for so long that when I would drink too much in college and someone rubbed me the wrong way, I would blow a gasket and go ape shit. My stuffed rage would explode out of me resulting in fights, verbal assaults, and other behavior that had me feeling a great deal of shame the following days and weeks.

But isn’t anger okay for men to express?

On the other hand, men in this culture seem to be “somewhat allowed” to express anger, and even rage. Especially if it’s finger pointing, blame, and fighting. Watch sports, TV reality shows, far-right or far-left politics. Men are often encouraged to “fight it out.” And if you don’t fight, you can be seen as too feminine, or gay.

And if no one ever taught you how to work with your anger/rage, you will likely respond as you did as a young infant boy; kick, scream, throw a tantrum, or shut down. (Sadly, if a woman gets enraged and shows it consciously or unconsciously, she’s labeled a psycho bitch).

Bottom line for men? You are left with a contradictory message. Stuff it and play nice or intimidate and bully by throwing a tantrum. So even while men have more “permission” to show anger/rage, the contradictory message promotes suppression, confusion, and perhaps eventually violence.

What is the alternative?

Since these two choices suck, I suggest a third.

When you step back from most unconscious rage experiences and think with your heart, from a place of compassion, there is another way.

Conscious Rage–The revolutionary approach to rage

Men and Rage

Rage sitting on top of love will simply have a different impact.

As Christiane invites, what if your rage was a powerful portal back to your heart connection with yourself and the world? What if you could use your rage as a lightning rod for transformation, peace, justice, and “right-action?” What if you felt safe enough to really go there and express your rage in a conscious way?

I am suggesting we acknowledge that we have anger and/or rage and that we can use that energy for the greater good. In other words, begin to form a conscious relationship to your rage. While you are at it, do this with all of your emotions.

Try it on that it is actually possible to feel your rage fully and not cause any harm to yourself or anyone else. How? By loving.

So, hopefully your brain is confused by now and you are open to doing rage and anger differently.

And, if you are one of those guys who claims, “I just don’t get angry.” Try it on that you are not connected to your own anger or rage and in turn, you are lacking life force. Anger and rage can be a gateway back to your personal power, passion, and the life force that can inspire you and others to make a difference.
Go read the rest of this post at the Revolutionary Man blog to see Jayson's suggestions for how to deal with rage.

OK, my position is that rage is NOT a natural emotion - it is what happens when we spend years and years of our lives stuffing down anger and hurt rather allowing the feelings to move through us and dissipate as they will if we do not stuff them down.

But we have been socialized not to have feelings most of the time, and many of us have been taught not to get angry, even though anger IS a natural and healthy emotion - as long as it not expressed as physical or emotional violence.

When we also stuff down our hurt, it connects with anger over time (because we get angry at some level that we cannot express our hurt) and the result is rage.

Rage feels very different than anger. Anger knows boundaries, and can express itself in words. Rage, on the other hand, does not know boundaries and often is pre-verbal in its expression. Rage is anger + hurt, and it is often beyond our ability to control it when it comes up, which can result in violence.

Although my take is different than Jayson's, I do recommend that interested readers go back to his blog for some good suggestions for how to work with rage.

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