Men Need Safe Places To Feel (Angry)

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This past weekend in the fire-scarred mountain forest north of Los Angeles, I sat on dank earth encrusted by fallen pine-needles and listened to a small group of courageous men spread throughout the woods around me roar out a long-repressed rage that shook the trees … and I smiled.

For on this men’s weekend retreat, I was showing these men a new way to be with their emotions, and thus a new way to resolve conflict.

Before we started this practice – which I call “Anger Yoga” – I told them that if we did this right and some hiker on the trail heard us, they’d be terrified, and they’d run till they found reception and could dial up the police.

So I figured we had a 50/50 chance of being arrested on this lovely Saturday afternoon in the woods.

I actually hadn’t intended to teach “anger yoga” on this retreat.

But when conflict arose in the group that morning – as it inevitably does when men first get real with each other, and with themselves – I didn’t want them to merely try talking it out.

Although “talking it out” is generally considered the “mature” way to resolve conflict, I know from years of coaching men (and women and couples, too) that merely talking things out when anger is present often just bypasses the emotion and rarely gets to the root cause of the conflict, which is (mostly) never about what’s actually happening in the moment, anyway.

No.

We men are Angry. Furious. Enraged.

Our rage has nothing to do with those Republicans, or Democrats.

It has nothing to do with the (often) unfair accusations our intimate partner makes in her (his) own moments of upset.

We’re not angry because of traffic on the 405, or the boss/spouse who doesn’t respect us, or the lack of money in our account, or our sports team sucks this year, or or or.

No.

We’re furious because our fathers long ago left us alone to find our own way (even if they were physically present).

We’re frustrated because no one taught us how to truly, fully love a woman, or another man … or ourselves.

We’re sad because we feel deeply unseen in our efforts, our always good intentions. We’ve always felt unseen, misunderstood, unacknowledged, for despite all the good we attempt, it’s never considered enough. Not by others, and not by ourselves.

Without elders/fathers telling us we’re enough, that we’re already a success, how can we ever know?

We’re confused because we’ve been taught money, comfort, success should make us happy … yet it never does.

We’re also scared, because despite our armor we don’t feel safe in the world.

We don’t feel emotionally safe.

To feel what we feel.

Especially anger.

We’ve only ever seen anger used to hurt people.

In our deepest hearts, we men don’t want to hurt anyone. So, at least initially, we’ll hurt ourselves instead by swallowing our anger, pretending we’re ok when we’re not.

As it festers inside, it leaks out sideways in the form of meaningless work, shallow relationships, emotional vacancy, and addiction.

For those of us who can’t suppress it long – like myself – like trying to hold a giant beach ball under water, when our anger finally explodes outward it launches haphazardly misdirected towards an unsuspecting loved one, the driver who just cut us off, our brother who supports republicans/democrats, or the supermarket cashier who can’t push the buttons fast enough.

We men desperately need safe places to feel our emotions.

Places where we can be witnessed in those emotions without being judged for them.

For even in our intimate relationships, where we’re often asked to share our emotions, when we do, it doesn’t often go well – after all, our partners tend to mirror our lack of awareness and skill in this domain.

At the retreat, after these men had spent about 30 minutes rumbling the woods* with their anger, howling out like wolves scattered across the land (a beautiful metaphor one of the men used to describe this primal experience), we came back together and circled up.

I invited any man who wanted to be witnessed in whatever emotions remained, to step into the circle. As they did, one by one, each man allowing himself to be witnessed by the men encircling him, and by the towering regal redwoods encircling us all, while residues of anger lingered, what had become more evident now … was sadness.

One by one, inside the circle, tightly controlled man-faces trembled as the last vestiges of inner resistance finally gave way to anguished torrents of tears and snot.

We took turns holding each other as we cried out lifetimes of sadness together.

It was wildly beautiful.

I almost wish we had been arrested, for then I’d get to explain in court, on record, that all we men were doing was expressing emotions, doing no damage to anyone or anything*, and that we came to the woods because we have few places, if any, where we can safely express out our rage in ways we won’t be judged (or arrested) for.

But we didn’t get arrested.

We continued on with our retreat, our wild masculine hearts now splayed wide open, that morning’s conflict eliminated not by men struggling to get agreement over the facts of who did what to whom, but by the heartfelt apologies that floated effortlessly out of men who had just been witnessed in – and witness to – the massive pain, and the massive courage, that lives inside every man’s heart.

After all, it’s impossible to fight someone else once you discover you’re only ever fighting against your own internal resistance to fully feeling what you feel.

Imagine a world in which men – women, too – have safe places to feel our anger.

What an invigorated, open-hearted, deeply connected world we would surely be.

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*Anger Yoga (also, Emotion Yoga) has 3 main rules: (1) Don’t damage others. (2) Don’t damage yourself (including pushing yourself emotionally too far). (3) Don’t damage your environment. Otherwise, let your emotions have you. Setting a timer can help, too.

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  • “I almost wish we had been arrested, for then I’d get to explain in court, on record, that all we men were doing was expressing emotions, doing no damage to anyone or anything*, and that we came to the woods because we have few places, if any, where we can safely express out our rage in ways we won’t be judged (or arrested) for.” Only a white-hetero male who holds systemic white privilege could have crafted such a done-deaf statement. This reeks of white fragility. Bryan, people of color have been expressing their sacred anger their entire lifetimes, yet we’ve been told it’s “too much,” “too rage-y”, too this, too that. Your blog post is a sign of the times.

    • I am indeed white, and I do know that comes with a privilege that can cause me to be tone deaf. I’m not clear how my insisting men need safe places to fully feel AND express anger where we won’t be arrested for it, however, is tone deaf. … Well, actually, when I think about the Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings, for example, I can see a white man’s advantage in the room he’s given to be angry. Your feedback lands. Thank you.

      • because black men in this country are arrested & killed for doing exactly what you describe…speaking to their sacred and rightful anger around the systemic racism perpetuated onto them every damn day they walk out their door. That’s what’s tone deaf. This system does not create “safe spaces” for men of color to express their anger, without the undercurrent of threat and suspicion. See how that works? Hope this helps deepen the self-inquiry.

        • I fully hear you. I can see how that part of this blog comes off as ignorant to what black men in particular face on the regular. Truth is I was genuinely concerned the police might be called on us had we been overheard, and you’re right in that in my mind’s eye, I saw it only possibly turning out well in the end because I have never lived in mortal fear of the police.

        • With nothing but respect, Sona – your above comment seems targeted and suggests a negative aire.

          I’m a white hetro guy. I’ll give you ANYTHING (yes, literally give) if you can show me how I knowingly or unknowingly benefited from my supposed white privilege. I grew up lower middle class, sure didn’t have things handed to me, and sure wasn’t given/enjoyed/handed any systematic privilege along the way.

          Do racist people still exist? Absolutely. Are there cases where socioeconomic classes cater to their like? Yep, that too. I will not pretend it doesn’t happen in certain cases – you bet it does! But to blanket a whole demographic on both sides is narrow minded at a minimum, or broder line racist at best. I don’t think either of the above were your intend.

          I want to take Byran’s session as an overarching positive for all men. I live in Atlanta and would love to fly across the country and be part of his next group. But that’s a choice I’m making, not something someone has forced on me or recommended. Probably will not happen but I can hope, and dream, and pray it to fruition.

          I guess my point is my life hasn’t been perfect for me or my family and I don’t expect it to be no matter what I do going forward. I hope everyone keeps pushing hard each day to create a better tomorrow for all involved.

  • This so fit’s my husband……needs a place to release his anger & whatever without using me as the sounding board. His sperm donor abandoned him at birth & while he says it doesn’t bother him, I know better. And while his step dad was there for all his firsts, he was raised not to show emotion, just be the man & support his family.
    for 22 1/2 yrs of marriage & dating….it has not gone well, because he can’t/won’t deal with emotions, but it made me laugh when you mentioned feeling ‘unseen’….because I know that’s how he has felt over the years. You can’t give someone enough kudo’s to fill the gap that they have that another has caused….at least I can’t.
    but the same goes for me. Until I learned how…still in practice :o)
    This is a great message & wish he could attend….it might be helpful.
    It’s too bad “white” father’s didn’t teach their boys how to deal with their emotions instead of burying them.

    • I’m sorry to hear this, and yes, I can only imagine the deep anger your husband doesn’t even know is there to be expressed. And of course, you certainly can’t convince him of it … though I bet trying to do so stirs it up!!

  • This is absolutely amazing, Bryan – way to go. Kudos to all those men for having the courage to do this. Years ago when I lived in Pasadena and owned a house with a brick fence I had a practice every week of putting down plastic next to the fence and taking all the bottles out of the recycle bin and throwing them at the fence. When I was finished I picked up the plastic and dumped all the broken glass into the recycle bin – along with all my anger and frustration from the week.

    • I like that practice! I will sometimes smash citrus fruit into the ground. For some reason, our anger LOVES smashing and crashing sounds and sensations … trick is to do that without actually doing any damage to anyone (including self) or the environment.

  • This was a beautiful reflection– much needed to be taught. I’ve seen men and women not know they had emotion or were taught to bury and hide it. Men and women need a safe place– redwoods sounds pretty nice as well. I would probably like your anger yoga retreat.

  • So enlightening for me, a woman who has been fortunate to deeply live four men. This helped me understand the two who suffered with their wo handled it well. deeply hidden anger. The other two handled it well. Fortunately I married the last one. I was widowed six years ago. Dating again has been challenging. I’ve met some of thise men you speak about. Thank you for all your insights. I will forward this to them.
    You and Sylvie should keep up your excellent work.
    Thank you.

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