Although this may at first sound stereotypical and even sexist, if we take a look at our own lives it is apparent that there are several differences between men and women. Some of these differences can be seen in the ways that the respective sexes view the world, relate to others, and especially in the way that men and women tend to express their feelings. While broad sex generalizations cannot be made and individual differences are always a factor, my experience has taught me that often men tend to act out their feelings, while many women seem to be more comfortable in verbally expressing their emotions. A great current example of this that I have seen in my own practice as of late is related to the economic crisis that we as a nation have experiencing for some time now. Unemployment has been a problem, with many people who have years of experience, fantastic track records and stellar references having trouble finding work that is consistent with their qualifications and expectations. This is difficult financially and emotionally, especially for men who often tie up so much of their personal identity, self-efficacy and self-confidence with being “breadwinners”. To further complicate this situation, men are often taught to suppress their feelings, particularly those associated with weakness (i.e., fear, doubt, sadness). Because of this, men often act out their feelings instead of verbally expressing them.
Whether they are male or female, individuals who engage in this acting-out process to convey feelings generally use emotions that they are more comfortable expressing, or that are more socially accepted and encouraged-thus anger is frequently used in this capacity. This anger is usually directed at the person who the individual is closest to, or the significant other. In the case of men, many times this person may be a female, and it is here that the sex differences come into play to complicate the situation. A woman may have a hard time understanding why her partner is angry, where this anger is coming from, and why it is being directed at her since it may be difficult to see exactly what has elicited this anger.
Whether the target of the anger-or the angry person-is a man or a woman, the bottom line is that this seems unfair and elicits more anger in return. This can set the stage for a downward spiral that can look something like this: increased fighting, fewer feelings of closeness, fewer attempts at understanding the real problem, and increased anger and frustration on the part of the angry person because his/her original feelings of fear and frustration related to unemployment (or whatever the stressor may be) are not being addressed. This is a vicious cycle that leads nowhere productive or happy for anyone involved. Deeply entrenched and learned patterns of relating to others are hard to overcome-so the person who has learned that it is adaptive to act out feelings of anger instead of verbally expressing more vulnerable feelings of sadness or fear likely does not even realize what they are doing. If you are an individual who is experiencing unemployment/job-related concerns or any other type of stressful issue and you have seen such arguments occurring in your relationship with your significant other, or you are the recipient of what seems like unprovoked anger from your significant other who happens to be having some type of chronic stress in their life, think about what has been said here. Try removing yourself from the cycle of anger and frustration and ask yourself if this may really apply to your situation based on your past experiences with your loved one and how they seem to handle stress. If you think that this may at all be applicable to your situation, try talking to your loved one-ask them how they are doing with all that is going on, and state that you do understand how hard this must be for them. Also, you can try to increase their self-esteem by giving them true and genuine compliments and positive feedback regarding your confidence in their professional abilities or any other area that you think they may need a “boost of confidence” in. If you are the originator of the anger and you think that this may apply to you, start with being honest with your loved one if you can. Let them know that you have been having a hard time and have been frustrated with the stress that is occurring in your life-in any way that feels comfortable to you. Also, you can say that you did not mean to take anything out on them, and that you are sorry if this is what it seems has been happening. Simply removing yourself from the heated feelings and thinking logically about the situation may really help in breaking out of this cycle, bringing you and your loved one close again, and getting the support that you need to get through this time-which is what you really wanted in the first place.