Angry, aggressive, toxic, irritated, hateful. These are all words used to describe many of the men with whom I communicate on a daily basis. They are accused and judged as bitter and resentful, often being described as misogynistic and promoting violence against women, even though there is no basis for these accusations.
Women hating, violent and aggressive men – if I were the judgemental type, there would be a lot to fear about them, but I’m not.
I’m not naïve, ignorant, blind or uneducated. I am a coach, and my primary skill set is to ask poignant questions as a vehicle to hear the experiences and stories of men. I don’t ask questions so that I can give an opinion or to fix men’s problems. I ask questions so that they can find their voice to speak about their pain.
And then I listen.
You silently scream at everyone you know for help. “Tell me I’m not alone; tell me that life will one day be better, tell me that I matter and that I make a difference. Tell me that I’m loved, that someone, anyone please tell me you care about what I am going through.”
When you are in that place you hurt, you hurt so badly there really aren’t words to describe it. Your soul has been cut and it’s haemorrhaging. You don’t know how to stop it; you don’t know how to patch it up. Your entire existence, every single moment of every part of the day revolves around that hurt.
When I first started speaking to men in my groups about anger it was something that I thought they shouldn’t have. I still believe to this day that we need to move on from anger to heal; however, what they need for the future is irrelevant until such time as they are heard in the present.
I don’t walk their walk and I haven’t suffered what they have. I haven’t been falsely accused of violence, lost my house in a divorce settlement and I haven’t lost access to my children and nor have I had to fight to be heard, believed or accepted for who I am.
Listening to the stories of these men, I get a deep sense of the pain they have felt and the suffering they have experienced.
The stories men share with me are raw, unscripted and honest accounts of their experiences.
The quickest way to get rid of me was get an AVO. We’d been in an relationship for 15 years and worked together in hospitality for 12. I was thrown out with just my clothes. She’d even ripped off my bank account. I lost my job and my home. I used to support ‘White Ribbon’. Not any more.
I have tried to get help from various organisations to no avail. The system stinks. I’ve been out of work and on the dole for 22 months. She hasn’t lost 10 cents.
I’m going through this Parental Alienation nightmare. I see my kid now but the scars will take many years to heal. And the Child Support Agency won’t let me get on with my life. I’m also a single Dad to two teenage children, but because I’m male the CSA don’t care about my kids.
I haven’t seen my son since he was born. He was born addicted to methadone from his mother and had to be put on a drip to sedate him. He is 8 months old and I’ve never held him.
My ex said that I abused her which was completely untrue. She was a drug addict and the court believed her over me. I pay child support and I have no access to my son. He might never know his grandparents before they pass away.
When our daughter was eight months old we split up and she said “you have the have baby.” Nine years later she rang and said; “‘I’ve just realized that I have another child. Can I have her back?” So I invited her down to share custody. When she saw my new partner she punched me in the face. I went to the school to tell the older girls to catch the bus home to my place and she went crazy and sent the police to the school.
She ended up taking out an AVO on me. I swear on my life I never touched her. A policeman who knew the whole story said “I can’t help you but keep a diary.”
I often hear the comment that angry men are weak and this to me completely defies any sensibility for their path. These men are strong, resilient and probably some of the most vulnerable. They are courageous beyond measure because they turn up day in and day out saying “enough is enough, I have to fight back.”
Anger is an outcome of a series of emotions, just like crying, or even laughter. It’s an expression of what is going on at a deeper level and that level is where I believe we need to be looking with compassion. No one needs to hear “why are you angry?” they need to know that you you are listening. No one wakes up one day and decides this is a good day to be angry.
When I hear men’s anger, compassion tells me that there is a story behind the emotion. My mind doesn’t stop at what it’s hearing, it questions what led them to this place. It’s often confronting to me to ask a man his story and not because I can’t handle what I hear, but because it’s a reminder of the stark realities of the world many men live in daily.
What I have for men is empathy and the ability to understand and share their pain. I see empathy as a gift because the nature of it protects me from the judgemental opinions that clouds clear thinking in a large part of our society.
A client once said to me about the Mental Health System.
If you want to help men not suicide, they don’t need programs or assistance or money. Maybe later when they are actually better, but what they need is some fucking empathy. Just a simple voice in the middle of the night to say you’re not fucking alone.
And any councillors or mental health workers reading this when you talk about trying to minimise transference, you’re talking about minimising empathy, and we can bloody well tell. Trust without empathy is pointless, it’s like throwing a bag of gold as a life raft to a drowning man.
And he is right.
Empathy drives connection in people as it allows us to take on another’s perspective and to recognize their emotions. Judgement has no place in these conversations because the last thing the person in pain needs, is more judgement. They are already suffering and feeling alienated.
The ability to remove judgement from conversations is pivotal in listening to another point of view. When you take away your prejudice and bias and you open your mind to hearing what they need you to hear, not what you already believe to be true. This does not make everything you hear true, but it does give everything the possibility to be true, and that is all these men ask.
What angry men need is their fundamental need for connection to be realised. They need empathy and compassion for their suffering. They need to be listened to, empathised with and the only words we immediately need to say are “I hear you and you’re not alone.”
I don’t fear anger, what I fear is a world where people live in judgement before they consider listening empathetically to the voice of others.