Confronting the Beast Within

Book Review by Ed Hamlin, Ph.D.

Confronting the Beast Within

I was on a promised trip to the mall with my daughter soon after I completed reading Beyond Anger: A Guide for Men by Thomas J. Harbin, Ph.D. I was browsing near the front of the book store while she was ensconced in the children’s section at the rear when a loud argument erupted immediately outside the store. The argument was between what appeared to be a teenage daughter and her father, though he was clearly the more vocal of the two. His anger was rapidly escalating. The volume of his voice was increasing each second, and his frequent profanities were becoming more threatening.

Fearing that he would completely lose control and begin physically assaulting the young girl, I moved closer to the entrance in order to be able to intervene if necessary. It certainly appeared this man had reached a point where he was too hostile to be calmed verbally, and it was my assumption that he would require unwelcomed physical restraint. His partner, however, quickly appeared and with likely well-practiced maneuvers calmed him enough for him to be led away.

I was recalling the descriptions of men like the one I’d just witnessed in the pages of Harbin’s book. He had described the insecurities of angry men that are hidden by the bravado and threats or actual acts of physical violence. These hostile men have a need to assert power over others to overcome fears of being dominated, humiliated, or exposed as ineffectual.

It seemed uncanny to encounter such an angry person and witness his rapidly deteriorating control so soon after completing Harbin’s book about male anger. Here right before me had been an example of the very things he had so well depicted in his book. This man so close to completely losing control in the middle of the mall could have easily been the cover illustration for the book. He demonstrated the short fuse, provocative language, threatening gestures, and loss of control so indicative of the worst case examples used by Harbin to provide illustrations in his text.

However, after the near encounter as I was recalling the descriptions from Harbin’s accounts a more uncomfortable awareness arose. Because of reading Beyond Anger I was also aware of my own reaction to the angry man outside the book store. My immediate response was, “What a jerk!” My reaction to him was one including anger and hostility. Complete honesty requires admission that a part of me wanted to confront him and maybe even “put him in his place.” I was still seething after he was led away by his cajoling partner and engaged in fantasies about the confrontation I had anticipated long after he was gone. I was casting myself as the rescuer and righteous avenger.

Harbin details how such images are programmed into the male psyche by the heroes of our myths; the Duke, James Bond, Superman, and all the other bigger than life men who have configured our images of manhood. Harbin’s courageous self-disclosure about his own anger combined with his descriptions of the various ways anger is harbored and reflected in men helped increase my discomforting awareness of how easily anger could be triggered in me. Fortunately, my own controls were not tested at the mall, and I was able to reflect on both the anger shown by the hostile father and the anger that lurks inside of me.

Harbin has written a book about male anger that works at different levels. Beyond Anger fills a much needed niche in the self-help literature by being aimed exclusively toward men. He is able to draw on the experience he has gained as a psychologist working with angry men, some being referred by the courts while others having sought his help on their own. He provides many examples revealing the different styles of dealing with angry feelings which will allow many men to recognize themselves in the vignettes.

There are descriptions of the detrimental impact of anger on health, relationships, career, and well-being. Harbin included numerous simple checklists which serve to help readers identify if their anger has reached problematic levels. He also describes the relationship between fear and insecurity and the anger many men fee. Throughout the text there a re many extremely helpful, common sense strategies and exercises for the reader to employ.

He also describes in easily understood language validated cognitive-behavioral techniques for conquering eruptive emotions and controlling hostile behaviors. Guidelines are provided to help someone determine when self-help is not enough and professional help will be needed. Harbin provides pointers on how to choose a therapist who can help address anger problems and how to go about contacting one.

The final part of the book gives guidelines and rules for establishing an anger-free family. The entire book is written in a conversational style making it easy to read and perfect to use as a self-help tool. The language is free of jargon, void of distracting digressions, and clear in its message and directions. Therapists will find it beneficial for treatment when it is recommended to their angry male clients. A therapist can help these clients put the suggested skills and strategies into practice while monitoring the impact. It is also organized in a practical format and with discussion prompting material and exercises making it an extremely useful text for inclusion in group therapy for angry or physically abusive men.

However, in addition to being a good self-help book for use by identified angry men and therapy clients, this book will prove thought provoking for those of us who do not typically think of ourselves as angry or hostile me. In our post-O.J. world, it is important for all men to examine how their anger is triggered and expresses. Harbin points out that anger problems of one form or another are very common among men.

Even men who never raise their voice or hand in anger, there may be problems with over-control, spitefulness or passive aggressiveness. As one of our founding fathers reminded us a couple of centuries ago, it is a very difficult thing to be angry with the right person, for the right reason, at the right time, in the right way. Only recognized anger can be addressed, and Harbin has done a great service in helping many of us see the anger that all too frequently lurks within. I highly recommend reading this book and using it with clients who present problems with controlling their anger. It just might save someone’s job, health, marriage, friendships or life.

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