LEARNING THROUGH NASHVILLE INDIVIDUAL COUNSELING THAT MEN ARE MORE HARD-WIRED FOR AGGRESSION
Even into their 40’s and 50’s, the research would suggest that males have a stronger tendency to acting out on their anger than females. In a fantastic book discussing the natural inclinations of males called, “The Male Brain,” by Louann Brizendine, M.D., she elucidates about a male client who had just acted out in a familiar pattern.
She writes, “Joe, a forty-five-year-old manager at a local car dealership, called me in great distress, saying his wife, Maria, my former patient, was going to leave him if he didn’t come see me about his anger. He explained that she was furious with him for getting into a shouting match with a cab driver…A man’s brain area for suppressing anger, the septum, is smaller than it is in the female brain, so expressing anger is a more common response for men than for women. The anger-aggression circuits in the male brain are formed before he’s born and get behaviorally reinforced during boyhood and hormonally reinforced during the teen years. And by adulthood, using these hormonally influenced circuits for social risk taking and aggression have become a familiar part of his life. Men in their forties, like Joe, still have a lot of testosterone and vasopressin fueling their brain circuits, often giving them a hair trigger for anger. Studies have found that though men and women report that they feel anger for an equal number of minutes per day, men get physically aggressive twenty times more often than women do.” (p. 102)
SHOULD MEN JUST ACCEPT THEIR ANGER AND AGGRESSION?
While this is by NO MEANS a justification for or acceptance of male aggression and physicality, it should shed some light on the discrepancies between male and female reactiveness to anger-inducing situations. She goes on to describe exactly how Joe’s brain was working during the interaction with the cab driver, “But if we could have watched Joe’s brain circuits while they were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic behind the cab that was braking at every green light, we’d have seen Joe’s anger-aggression circuits responding to his rising hormonal tide. As his frustration grew, we’d see his testosterone and stress hormone, cortisol, activating his amygdala and firing up his fighting circuits. When Joe flashed his lights at the taxi to speed up and the driver hit his brakes instead, we’d have seen Joe’s motor cortex activate the muscles in his hands and arms as he banged on the steering wheel and blasted the horn. When the cab driver retaliated by slowing down more and braking erratically, we’d have seen Joe’s brain being flooded with a mixture of adrenaline, cortisol, and testosterone. We’d have seen his “good judgment” circuits, the frontal lobes, go dark and offline as his right foot pressed down on the gas pedal to bumper-tap the cab—hard enough to splash (his wife’s) coffee all over her dress. As the cabbie slammed on his brakes and jumped out of his car, we’d have seen Joe laser-focusing every cell in his brain and body for a fight. When (his wife) yelled, “Stop, Joe! What if he has a gun?” Joe’s auditory system barely heard her. He’d already thrust open his door and was hurling his bulky frame out of the car. Now, sitting in front of me, Joe looked as though he’d been sent to the principal’s office for fighting on the playground.” (p. 103)
WHAT PART COULD NASHVILLE INDIVIDUAL COUNSELING PLAY?
While I am in no way advocating for men acting on these aggressive impulses, I do want to highlight the difference, biologically, neurologically, and societally, between males and females. And this specific example is incredibly enlightening regarding what typically happens for a male after an incident such as this one. In cases like this, men aren’t typically taught how their brains work and how they are fundamentally different than a woman’s brain. It is imperative that men aren’t berated for more “civil,” but also aren’t given a free pass, because “boys will be boys.” There needs to be education, insight, and some sense of compassion for how situations like this occur.
Nashville individual counseling can help both men and women learn that we can’t compare apples to apples when it comes to aggression and how we respond to anger. To Joe’s brain and psyche, this really wasn’t “that big of a deal.” Joe’s interpretation of that experience needs to be validated, but not ignored. Joe’s work in individual therapy will be on learning to accept that he has a stronger inclination towards aggression and developing tools and understanding for not letting the train “run off the tracks.”
Most men, after a situation like this, will turn defensive—“it’s just who I am,” or dismissive—“It’s not that big of a deal,” or shame filled—“I can never live up to the expectations of society/women/civility.” Hence, Joe’s feeling of being in the principal’s office will NEVER be effective in changing how Joe reacts to situations of stress like the one portrayed.
If you are struggling with how to both accept your anger and do something differently, then Nashville individual counseling may be beneficial for you. Chris Roberts is a licensed professional counselor in Nashville, TN with experience helping men and women understand the natural drives toward aggression and finding more healthy ways of dealing with it. You can contact Chris at (615) 800-9260 or firstname.lastname@example.org.