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Men’s and Women’s Anger

Everyone gets angry from time to time! In fact, according to research the average person will get angry at least four times a day. This is the first of a series of blogs about managing anger – looking at the work of clinical psychologist Harriet Lerner and also some interesting research on the differences between men’s and women’s anger.

Best book about anger – ever

I first came across Harriet Lerner’s book The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships when a client told me it was the best book she had ever read. I read it pretty much in one sitting, was similarly impressed by it and have since recommended it to many people – several of whom have said “I knew from the first page that it was the book for me – it describes me perfectly!”

The differences between men’s and women’s anger

Psychologist Sandra Thomas, a leading anger researcher conducted the Women’s Anger Study in 1993. This was a large-scale investigation involving 535 women between the ages of 25 and 66. She was interested in what makes ordinary women angry day-to-day.  The study revealed three common roots to women’s anger: powerlessness, injustice and the irresponsibility of other people.

Thomas says that anger in men is often viewed as “masculine”or “manly” even when men engage in fistfights or act their anger out physically. “For girls, acting out in that way is not encouraged. Women usually get the message that anger is unpleasant and unfeminine.” Therefore, their anger may be misdirected in passive-aggressive manoeuvres such as sulking or destructive gossip.” 

In her view, however, neither approach in its extreme is healthy. It is important, Thomas says, for both men and women to be clear and forthright when they are angry and to use problem-solving techniques in dealing with their anger.

Raymond DiGiuseppe, in another large scale survey of 1,300 people ages 18 to 90, found that there were differences in the way they experience anger. Specifically, men scored higher on physical aggression, passive aggression and experiences of impulsively dealing with their anger. They also more often had a revenge motive to their anger and scored higher on coercing other people.

Women, on the other hand, were found to be angry longer, more resentful and less likely to express their anger, compared with men. DiGuiseppe found that women used indirect aggression by “writing off” a higher number of people–intending to never speak to them again because of their anger.

Anger slowly decreases with age, DiGiuseppe found, and differences in the domains of anger between the sexes decreases for those older than 50, although men are still more likely to be aggressive and women are still more likely to have longer episodes of anger. 

Men’s lack of voice in relationships?

Not being able to express how we feel in our closest relationships can have very serious results. Despite its title, Harriet Lerner is clear that her book is not just for women and says that research has shown that men may lose their voice in relationships even more than women do. When there is conflict, men may distance and stonewall, telling themselves, “It’s not worth the fight.”  They may remove themselves emotionally from the relationship, and then feel devastated when a partner leaves them “out of the blue.”

A vehicle for change

She says that anger is a very important emotion  – it can be a vehicle for change.  It can help us to clarify the limits of how much we can give or do in a relationship, and the limits of our tolerance. It can inspire us to take a new position on our own behalf so that old patterns of behaviour (what she calls “the dance”) continue in the same way.

References Why won’t he apologise? Harriet Lerner TEDtalk Interview with Harriet Lerner on The Dance of Anger

DiGiuseppe, R., & Tafrate, R.C. (in press). The anger disorder ScalManual. Toronto: Multi-Health Systems.

Thomas, S.P. (1993). Women and anger. New York: Springer


Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


Book a counselling session today!

See also: Control your Anger!  Learning About AngerManaging Anger

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