Beyond Anger: A Guide for Men

How to Free Yourself from the Grip of Anger and Get More Out of Life


By Thomas J. Harbin

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A revised and updated edition of the popular self-help book for men that addresses contemporary issues and how they impact the way men deal with anger

Men tend to express their anger differently than women do. Research shows men are often more violent and less willing to confront and deal with their emotions than women. Written by a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of male rage, Beyond Anger shows the angry–and miserable–man how to change his life and relationships for the better.

This book helps men understand their anger by explaining what the specific symptoms of chronic anger are and by showing angry men how their actions negatively affect family, friends, and coworkers. It helps men control violent feelings by using simple exercises–developed especially for men–to identify when and why anger occurs and by helping them form new habits to prevent anger before it starts. Women, too, will learn essential strategies for understanding and helping the angry men in their lives.

Beyond Anger
is honest, tough, and real. In this revised edition, Harbin will update references throughout and discuss new topics such as the role of the internet and social media in fueling anger and how to protect yourself against these pitfalls, as well as a discussion on anger and aging, the political landscape and anger, PTSD, a brand-new section on preventing relapse into anger, and many other relevant, timely topics.



THIS IS A book I had to write. I had to write it for two reasons. First, I needed some materials to give to my patients, men who have a problem dealing with their anger. Writing this book also helped me organize my thoughts and feelings about the role of anger in my own life. Many years ago, others had told me that I had a problem with anger, but I didn’t take them seriously. In fact, I may never have been motivated to take this look at myself if I had not come close to ruining the most important thing in my life: my marriage.

On our tenth wedding anniversary, my wife told me, “If the next ten years are going to be like the last ten years, I’m outta here.” Her words were not spoken in anger, but there was no doubt that she meant what she had said. What I had seen as a very good marriage with occasional arguments, she had seen as a constant, heavy burden. She felt as though she was always walking on eggshells so as not to “set me off.” When we had a disagreement, I brooded about it for days. Any time she disagreed with me, I immediately went on the attack and tried to defeat her and her point of view by almost any means. When she told me that she had taken all she could stand, I took her seriously and decided that I had to do some frank soul searching to keep from losing the most important person I had ever known.

It was not until I was in my early thirties—a time when a lot of men become introspective and really begin to take stock of themselves and their lives—that I began to take this critical look at myself. As part of that process, I began to compare myself and my reactions to those of other people. Most people seemed to have more fun than I did. Things didn’t seem to bother them as much. They seemed to have more friends, and closer friends. I began to realize that what I felt was not what most people felt. Unlike me, most people woke up and started their days looking forward to what life would bring—or at least not actively dreading it. I, on the other hand, approached most days from the perspective of surviving. I was rarely optimistic. I could not enjoy the successes I did have because I constantly worried about what bad things might happen. I always assumed that things would go wrong, and if things were going to go wrong, it was better to fall from a low height (unhappiness) than from a greater height (happiness or satisfaction).

I had no idea that what I felt was different from what others felt. I assumed that anyone who was optimistic was either ignorant about the “realities” of the world or was a hypocrite. I noticed that other families hugged and kissed each other frequently and casually, while I was never very comfortable with this kind of outward display of affection; I was shocked to realize these people were not being phony. It hit me like a ton of bricks to realize they truly loved each other, were comfortable showing their love to each other, and that I had been missing out on a huge chunk of life. It’s only looking back now that I can see I was afraid to put my emotions out there because I was afraid of humiliation and rejection.

My anger got in the way of almost all forms of enjoyment. I couldn’t spend money on myself and resented it when my wife spent reasonable amounts on the things she needed and wanted. I could not handle even mild criticism without getting angry. I turned minor disagreements into major arguments by taking everything too seriously. Though I did have some fun and was able to act relaxed and confident when circumstances demanded it, I was always angry.

As I look back, many of my habitual ways of dealing with the world were driven by anger. I was an aggressive driver, using my horn and my “freeway finger” whenever people weren’t driving the way I thought they should. If a mechanic told me something needed to be fixed on my car, I was sure he was exaggerating for his own financial gain. I thought I had an unusual ability to see through a hypocrite—and since I thought most people were hypocrites, I got a lot of practice seeing through them!

All these tendencies were not helped by my first career as a researcher and teacher. In order to be hired as a researcher at a university, you must distinguish yourself from all the other bright and extremely competitive professionals. This usually involves an almost constant process of putting your ideas out there and having your colleagues try to shoot them down. Almost anyone would find constant criticism upsetting, but to an angry man it means constant humiliation.

My second career as a practicing psychologist and therapist developed at about the same time that I began working on my own anger. I decided to develop a specialty in treating angry men, and I soon realized I needed a book for them to read. I admired Dr. Harriet Lerner’s book for women, The Dance of Anger (Harper-Perennial, 1997), and thought it was the best self-help book ever written. But there was no book for angry men that I found to be as useful. This became my second reason for writing this book. I wrote two or three chapters and began giving them to my angry male patients. I gradually added one chapter at a time, and the results of my labor are what you see here.

Now, a decade later, I can honestly say that I am no longer the man I used to be. I am much more able to enjoy myself. I am not nearly as reluctant to let down my guard and let people see the inside of me. And I am much less of a pain in the ass! Most important, when my wife and I recently celebrated our twentieth anniversary, she told me the second ten years were indeed much better than the first.


THE FIRST EDITION of Beyond Anger was published in 2000 and was in the works for many years before that. A lot has happened in the past twenty-five years. Eighteen years of armed conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan has resulted in the first generation of Americans to come of age in a country that has been at war for their entire lives. Many soldiers came home with anger fueled by military and combat experiences. More and more working-class jobs disappeared as increasing automation made workers obsolete. Export of industry to countries with lower wages also resulted in workers losing their jobs. The crash of technology companies in 2000 and 2001 (the bursting of the dot-com bubble) caused many to lose money that was invested in stocks, including workers’ retirement funds. The worst recession in the United States since the Depression also hit middle-income people very hard from 2008 to 2012. Michael Kimmel’s excellent book Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era has documented these and other culture-wide experiences. Dr. Kimmel believes that much male anger stems from the belief that others have taken jobs, social status, and other benefits they feel entitled to, a process Dr. Kimmel refers to as “aggrieved entitlement.”

Social Media Spreads the Anger Online

For all of its benefits, the online world allows angry men to be in touch with other angry men as never before. The rhetoric on many websites encourages angry and violent diatribes and provides an accepting environment for anger with little or no moderating influence. We have advanced from limited bulletin board services, to email, to file sharing, and to the ability to stream tremendous volumes of information in real time. Social media now dominates a huge percentage of the resources available on the Internet. This takes the form of direct interchanges between individuals or messages that get sent to thousands or millions of people. As is often the case with new technologies, our rules and restraints for this communication have not kept up with the technology. We are still determining what is allowable and what is not. It is a frontier. The fact that complete anonymity is possible makes it hard to hold people accountable for misbehavior. Historically in many communities fear of public shaming, and especially shunning, kept people in line. Neighbors and teachers were allowed to discipline children, and their parents accepted this. We don’t have those pressures when using social media. People can say whatever they want with little in the way of consequences. Sure, many recipients of the posts will react negatively, but so what? They don’t know who I am. And I don’t care who they are.

For angry men, this is perversely liberating. They don’t have to deal with the consequences of angry diatribes and don’t have to fear retribution. They can say whatever they want to whomever they want and get away with it. They can rant and rave, call people names, make false statements about people, start or contribute to rumors, and sometimes ruin lives—and forget all about it when they walk away from the screen. Much of what is written could lead to criminal charges if it were said to the target’s face. It is cowardly for angry men to treat people this way.

Angry men also tend to find other angry men online. They find others who agree with them and go back and forth, stoking each other’s anger. As they get more and more worked up, they become nastier and nastier toward the targets of their anger. Online groups and websites dedicated to racist or bigoted themes are ever more common. It used to take a lot more effort to get an audience. You had to organize a group, produce literature, and hold meetings. Now all you have to do is sit in your living room and fill the Twitterverse with venom. An example of this is the vitriol directed at Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014. After she won the crown, she experienced a xenophobic and racist onslaught of vulgar, intimidating, and threatening comments from those who were angry that an Indian American had won.

In addition to the huge impact of social media expressions of anger, people lose communication skills when a majority of their social interaction is online. Every hour that people spend “communicating” with each other via social media is an hour in which social skills and confidence do not develop. Words only convey a portion of what is communicated when talking to another person. Body language, inflection, eye contact, volume, and posture all convey important information. “I love you,” “I hate you,” or even “Nice shirt” can take completely different meanings depended upon how they are said. Dealing with people in the moment demands empathy, flexibility, restraint, and patience. Looking a person in the face when communicating requires confidence, the ability to interpret what is really meant (as opposed to what is said), and a nuanced response. Without the social restraints of in-person discussion, it is no wonder that angry men explode online into insult, diatribe, and filth with very little provocation. More and more, belligerence is seen as a virtue. A colleague once complained that he hated to discuss difficult issues arising in the office face-to-face, and asked if future discussions could be handled via email.

A rule of thumb for angry men is that if you wouldn’t say it to a person’s face, you probably shouldn’t put it into a post. Even if you would say it to a person’s face, that doesn’t automatically mean you should.

There Is Hope

On the positive side, the Red Sox finally won the World Series, overcoming the Curse of the Bambino. There has been a steady decrease in the rate of violent crime, but by far the major change that has occurred since the first edition was published is the explosion of information available via the Internet. Virtually everything ever published can now be viewed with handheld devices. Instant worldwide communication has erased many political and cultural barriers, and interacting with people across continents is now easier than calling across area codes used to be.

I would like to say that I think male anger has subsided somewhat in the last few decades, but I don’t think it has. Not only are men and boys continuing to damage themselves and others with their anger, but it is now being fueled by the “echo chambers” available online, by politicians, and by a culture that has come to accept extreme reactions to minor provocation, such as assaulting demonstrators at political rallies. Disrespect and vilification of those with different political beliefs is encouraged. Rallies are characterized by hate speech and threats to the opposing candidate. It’s worth repeating: the way the Internet connects angry men to other angry men is unprecedented. It provides an environment that accepts, and even encourages, angry and violent comments that are often unmoderated and anonymous.

My own perspective has also changed over the years. I wrote the first edition as I was dealing with my own anger and as I was beginning my career as a psychologist. My personal and professional experiences have confirmed that it is possible for angry men to learn to relax, to be more confident in themselves, and to develop a happier life. I have discovered that many angry guys start to come to grips with their anger somewhere in their early to midthirties, as I did. Maybe it takes some maturity to develop the insight that they are not as happy as others seem to be. Or maybe it takes a while to develop the courage to face one’s demons. For whatever reason, this time of life seems to be an important one for angry men. I look at young angry men now from the perspective of an older guy and hope that they will be able to ease up and have the confidence to handle disagreement, laugh at jokes, and relax their attempts to control everything and everyone around them. Many of my patients have overcome their anger, and many have not.

As I revealed in the preface to the first edition, one of the near casualties of my past anger was my marriage. I almost lost it after ten years and was doing better after twenty. My wife and I have just celebrated our fortieth anniversary and are enjoying each other as never before. There is hope for angry men. Things can get better. You can be happier.


Are You Angry?



Anger’s Heavy Toll on Men and Society

WHY A BOOK on male anger? Anger is anger, right? Yes, it is. But men tend to express their anger differently than women. Men are more likely to express it physically by hitting people or damaging property. Men also tend to be more violent than women when they do get physical. Men are generally less willing than women to confront and deal with their emotions. As long as men still hold much of the social and economic power in American society—which, right or wrong, they still seem to do—it’s the men with anger problems who cause trouble for everyone else.

As a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of angry men, I’ve seen many of my patients lose jobs, wives, and opportunities because they simply could not handle the normal frustrations and disappointments in life. They argue, they insult, and they sulk. They come to think of themselves as ineffective, unlucky, or just plain losers. They don’t admit this to anyone, but deep inside, they feel inferior. Others don’t like them and they don’t like themselves. Their anger gets in the way of their ability to be good bosses, good workers, and good family men.

I have also spent a great deal of time evaluating men who have been charged with serious crimes, such as assault, rape, and murder. Many of these crimes were not premeditated. These men did not all start out with the intention of hurting others. They reacted impulsively—often out of anger. Someone insulted them and they struck back. Situations that they could have walked away from became major confrontations because they did not know any way to handle themselves other than aggressively. They tell me their behavior was stupid and they don’t know why they did what they did. Their tools for handling anger are sparse and immature. Any insult, any disagreement, any accidental bump in a bar, any disappointment leads to some type of confrontation when most of the time a simple apology or other discussion should be enough to resolve the issue.

When I visit clients in jail or talk to men whose families have been demolished by their uncontrolled rage, it confirms my belief that society can no longer afford the costs of male anger. Domestic violence programs are deluged. Our prisons are overcrowded. Our courts are swamped. Marriages are failing as never before and single-parent households are on the rise. Even our schools are no longer safe. Certainly not all of this social burden is due solely to male anger, but much of it is: the vast majority of violent crime is committed by men, and irresponsible, undisciplined men desert their families and children more frequently than women do.

But you have a choice. You don’t have to spend your life and your energy struggling in vain, hurting yourself or others with your anger and your inability to handle it. You don’t have to see the looks of fear on your wife’s and children’s faces when all you want is for them to love you. Instead of fighting against the world, you can redirect the struggle against your anger. No one can change the world enough to make all anger go away, but you can learn to deal with anger in different and more effective ways.

The struggle that angry men go through is often a lifelong process. There are periods of smooth sailing and times when nothing seems to go right. Sometimes you may think you have finally overcome your obstacles, and then a setback comes along and you may feel the despair that says things will never get better. But as with most journeys, getting there is more important than being there. As you will see, the transition from an angry man into a strong, confident, and loving man involves a tremendous shift in your outlook on life, its institutions, and its people.

You need to discover some new ways of looking at yourself. You need some new ideas for how to look at the world. You need to change some of your ways of dealing with the people in your life, and you need some suggestions about how to make all these changes. This book will give you those ideas and suggestions. Your situation is not hopeless—anyone can make changes in his life, and hope is the most important thing that will move you toward more peace and happiness.



When an Emotion Becomes a State of Mind

IT’S THE MIDDLE of the night and you’re sitting alone in the dark, just thinking. You’ve had another argument, you lost your temper, and this time you may have lost her for good. She’s had enough of your verbal (or physical) abuse. She’s had enough of your blaming and enough of your apologies. And you can’t convince yourself anymore that it’s all her fault. You said things that you didn’t mean to say, and even though this time you wanted to apologize, you weren’t able to make yourself do it. Even while you were yelling and calling her names, you wanted to stop. You wanted to admit that who was right or wrong wasn’t important and that all you wanted was her happiness. But you weren’t able to tell her. You weren’t able to back away from a pointless argument. Why?

Because you are angry.

It’s not that you get angry, it’s that you are angry. There is a difference. Everyone gets angry from time to time, but you seem to be angry all the time. This is probably not the first time this has occurred to you—maybe you’ve even been told this before—but something has finally convinced you that it might be true. You may have had a big fight over a trivial issue, broken some furniture in an explosion of rage, or even physically assaulted and injured someone. Despite the defiant stance you always take, you don’t really believe anymore that these arguments and explosions are always someone else’s fault. You have begun to look more closely at yourself. You have begun to wonder if you have a problem with anger.

What Is Anger?

Anger is an emotion. Just like any other emotion, anger is not bad. Anger isn’t good, either. Anger just is. Anger arises for specific and understandable reasons, just like any other emotion, such as happiness and sadness. Emotions are an essential part of being a human being, so if your goal is to completely eliminate anger from your life, forget it! First of all, this would be an impossible task. Second, you wouldn’t want to do that, even if you could, any more than you would want to eliminate love, joy, or fear. All emotions have their proper place in a man’s life; the experience of emotion is what makes life rich. And there are times when anger is an appropriate reaction to events and people.

Believe it or not, anger has its uses. It mobilizes people to action. It helps get things done. This is because anger is energy. There are physiological changes that happen in your body when you get angry. When you get angry, you sometimes feel a tremendous rush of adrenaline. You get energized. You are less likely to feel pain. Your strength seems to increase. This potent energy can be used constructively, or it can be used to destructive ends. When things make you angry, you can choose to destroy the sources of your anger (and anything else that accidentally gets in your way), or you can use that energy to change your situation in a positive way. Cognitive changes also happen during anger. Angry men tend to magnify the threat that they feel, seeing danger where others would not. When angry, men also tend to lose the ability to think rationally.

It’s easy to find examples of positive expressions of anger. Much of the progress in civil rights was made possible by the anger of the civil rights leaders and demonstrators. Much of the world’s great art, music, and literature are expressions of anger. My own anger had many benefits. I was a fairly good athlete, and my anger allowed me to play sports with an intensity that I don’t think I would have had otherwise. In addition, I do not believe that I would have ever flourished at a major university and gone on to obtain a doctorate in psychology without the drive that my anger gave me.

The energy of anger can be put to good use. So, when you take stock of your own anger, avoid labeling it as good or bad, right or wrong. For one thing, you are not an objective observer of your own behavior. What you see as a righteous expression of anger will probably not agree with most people’s observations of your anger. As will be discussed later, men also tend to deny their anger and find excuses for it. Instead, try to focus on the expression of anger and decide whether it is adaptive or maladaptive. Adaptive expressions of anger are constructive and help you to overcome the obstacles in your life. Adaptive expressions of anger do not harm people or property. Adaptive expressions of anger give people the energy and determination to accomplish their goals.

Maladaptive expressions of anger, in contrast, are out of control. This type of anger energy ends up hurting people—and usually does not accomplish much. Maladaptive ways of expressing anger do not correct frustrating situations and generally leave you worse off than you were before. When you express your anger in hurtful ways, you are not in control of your behavior; you are being controlled by the frustrating situation that caused you to get so angry. Instead of focusing on controlling the world around you, which will never be successful, you must learn to exercise control over what you do, think, and feel.

The Price of Anger

How much anger do you experience? While anger itself is neither good nor bad, having too much anger is bad. It’s bad because it causes you or other people pain and because it prevents you from becoming a successful and happy person. How much anger is too much? There is no cut-and-dried answer to that question. If others are telling you that you are angry, if your anger is causing you problems with people, or if you are aggressing against people or property, you have too much anger. If you feel that you have too much anger, you probably do.

Research indicates that high levels of hostility lead to ulcers, heart disease, and other physical illnesses. Lately, there is mounting evidence that anger shortens your lifespan. Too much anger drives others away and leaves you alone. Too much anger ruins marriages, keeps you from advancing at work, and acts like a ball and chain, dragging you down and hindering your progress in most areas of life.

As you drive others away from you with your anger, you will eventually be alone. Fewer and fewer people will want to put up with you. Your wife and children will leave. Your friends will desert you. You will have trouble making new friends. No one will want to eat lunch with you at work. Those nights in front of the TV can get awfully long after a while without anyone to talk to. You can only spend so much time by yourself or so much time at work before you will admit that you are lonely and want more people in your life. Are you there yet?

Rage Below the Surface

Many men find themselves unable to cope with even minor frustration. They get angry over trivial things, such as a stuck zipper or a spilled drink. Their anger erupts and gets out of control. A patient of mine recently put his fist through the wall because he missed the light switch when he tried to turn the light on. They feel as though they are constantly under attack, that everyone is out to get them, and that nobody understands or cares about them. They may even get superstitious and believe that fate has it in for them, or that God has turned against them. They feel that there is nothing they can do to make a situation, or their lives, better. This feeling of having no control leads to a state of continual frustration and anger.

This tendency to react with instant anger can be called rage. Rage is anger that never completely goes away. Unlike regular anger, it is not a response to a specific event; rather, it is a response set, or tendency. In other words, it is an automatic way of reacting to the world without much thought. When you react to more and more situations with anger, it becomes your habitual response. You may often find yourself furiously yelling or seething inside without even knowing what it was that made you so angry. Rage sees personal attack in every disagreement. Rage causes you to feel threatened when there is no threat. And rage causes you to viciously counter-attack even a minor threat.

Rage is like a wounded animal. It attacks anything that moves. And as with a wounded animal, the attacks do nothing to ease the pain. Rage depersonalizes individual people and events into a faceless, nameless “them.”

I’ll show them.

I’ll get back at them someday.


On Sale
Jul 31, 2018
Page Count
304 pages

Thomas J. Harbin

About the Author

Thomas J. Harbin, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in private practice, specializing in the treatment of angry men. He has written numerous articles for scientific audiences and frequently speaks to groups on the topic of male anger. He lives in North Carolina and enjoys fly-fishing and woodworking in his spare time.

Learn more about this author