At last a book, written by a black man, for black men and women who want less conflict in their relationships and better ways to deal with anger.
Although the unique problems of black men are not new, they have been habitually discussed without solid suggestions for change until now. Psychologist Ernest Johnson, who has been helping black men cope with anger including his own for more than a decade, offers hope and answers. He shows how anger can be used rather than avoided to build a life filled with love, self-respect, and peace. Exploring the sources of frustration particular to black men today, Dr. Johnson offers prescriptions for managing anger and coping with stress. Changing thought patterns and actions begins with learning how to:
- Identify camouflaged anger rage that may be repressed or diverted into harmful behaviors, such as excessive smoking, alcohol or drug use, poor eating habits, or risky sexual conduct
- Build on friendliness, happiness, trust, and compassion to achieve a committed relationship with a black woman
- Recognize the real origins of tense, hurt, or helpless feelings the first step toward change
- Use simple techniques, such as meditation and time-outs, to stop anger before it takes control
- Move from anger to problem-solving
- Heal the wounds of the past
Contrary to popular belief, the most powerful part of a man is his feelings. Brothers on the Mend shows African-American men how to heal themselves and those who love them by embracing the feelings that will set them free.
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About the Author
Dr. Ernest H. Johnson, a medical and health psychologist, is a former professor and director of behavioral medicine research in the department of family medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine, where he directed a $1.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue research about the associations among stress, anger, and health problems. He earned his PhD in psychology at the University of South Florida and speaks widely on the subjects of health, anger management, weight loss, and the prevention of HIV. He has given presentations at colleges and universities across the country. Recently, his focus has been to deliver his message about health, particularly the management of anger, obesity, and hypertension, to members of black churches throughout the southeastern United States.
Read an Excerpt
From Chapter One: Why Are Black Men Angry?
Tony, a thirty-nine-year-old black business executive, had just returned home after dropping his wife and kids off at the airport to visit his mother-in-law. He was carrying grocery bags into his new home in a predominantly white neighborhood when a police car pulled up. Two white officers got out, eyeing Tony suspiciously. A burglary had recently occurred in the area, they explained. Despite Tony's protest that he owned the home, one of the officers demanded to see some identification. Tony discovered he had left his wallet on the kitchen counter, but his explanations seemed only to further convince the officers that something was amiss. Saying that they were being cautious and checking out all strangers, they immediately handcuffed Tony. He felt his muscles start to tighten. His breathing became shallow as he started to perspire and feel both nervous and angry about what was taking place.
Inside the house, the officers made Tony accompany them as they walked through looking in every room and closet for his "accomplice." The feeling of wanting to explode in indignation -- a natural impulse for any man -- seized Tony. But given his situation, he swallowed the urge, feeling his heart race. The tightness in his muscles seemed to spread to his chest. Only after Tony showed them his identification and enough pictures throughout the house of himself and his family did the policemen finally acknowledge that Tony was a homeowner, not a burglar.
The policemen apologized and left, but the anger that Tony had suppressed like a smoldering volcano had built to a white-hot rage.
Alone in his new house, the stress of the incidentaiolation of one's expectations and standards. Under these circumstances, especially if the loss is sudden, anger will be intensely experienced. The degree of anger is related to one's temperament, level of personal stress, how one has learned from parents and others to handle provocations, and the value placed on the possessions that are about to be taken away.
Injustices, betrayal, exploitation, manipulation and mistreatment, sexual harassment, and racism will cause anger. Threats to the ego such as a direct put-down or derogatory comments can also produce anger.
When Texas billionaire and former presidential candidate Ross Perot used the phrase "You people" in a speech to a convention of NAACP delegates in 1992, for example, he was startled by a chorus of angry boos from his mostly black audience. Repeated blows to the ego can create an angry black man with low self-esteem, a person who does not care about himself or anyone else. Such a state of despair allows for what appears to be random violent outbursts or withdrawal into hopelessness.
As Tony's case illustrates, angry reactions involve two things: psychological events, consisting of negative feelings and hateful thoughts, and biological reactions, such as elevated adrenaline levels, rapid heart rate, perspiration, muscle tension, and tightness in the chest. Anger is a basic emotion that supports our behavior in times of stress, frustration, and emergency. It alerts us to the presence of danger as well as prepares us to meet the danger through a basic, evolutionary process called the "fight or flight" response.
The fight/flight response is a set of biological changes that prepare the person for either flight from the danger and threat or an attack against it. The purpose of these biological stress responses -- which humans share with all other animals -- is to prepare the individual for the action that is about to occur. Such actions are motivated by a survival instinct. The body is now armed for physical assault, and the person is ready to either face the enemy head-on (fight) or run like hell (flight) to avoid being beat up. But in our civilized world today, often the "enemy" is not even a man but a piece of paper (e.g., an eviction notice, a long-overdue bill, a letter indicating that your position at work will be terminated, divorce papers).
What is the consequence of constantly arming ourselves to deal with events that don't have a real physical threat?
Some psychologists have argued that one of the results is that we become less capable of distinguishing between real and imagined or perceived dangers. Either way, we react to these threats with a set of built-in biological responses that may diminish rather than enhance our survival in these modern times.
Our survival capability is reduced simply because anger was designed to serve as a reaction to physical threats to our survival and not to psychological assaults to our pride, diminished self-respect, unfair criticisms and evaluations, frustration, humiliation, exploitations and manipulations.
Unfortunately, we respond biologically to these psychological attacks as if they were physical. For an entire range of reasons, both historical and contemporary, black men more often than not will harbor more anger than they are willing to admit. Like the temperature gauge in your car, you can either choose to respond to a trouble sign immediately or ignor e it as if it were unimportant and will in some magical way start functioning correctly again. Ignoring those little red lights and gauges in the car can become costly. In my case, the engine in my Volkswagen van exploded while I was stuck in rush-hour traffic.
Many black men who disregard the warning signs of repressed anger can suffer similar dire consequences emotionally. The intensity of these hurts grows and becomes the cause of a multitude of explosive interpersonal problems. Many of these men develop adverse psychological symptoms akin to post-traumatic stress -- a condition that is often found among men who have survived the traumatic experiences of war. Even the act of showing anger is deeply embedded in America's pyscho-racial history. Expressing anger is considered an acceptable way for men in the majority culture to cope with feeling out of control. In fact, after the explosion, calmness is restored and men hope that all is forgiven. They would have you believe that their angry outbursts are a way of letting off steam to prevent a full-blown explosion and that it's nothing personal. Unfortunately, these bombs tend to go off frequently, and spouses, girlfriends, and innocent children are often the targets (as reflected in the steady increase in spousal and child abuse among all ethnic groups in the United States) because they are convenient and vulnerable.
Anger becomes a shield to hide other emotional responses such as pain or empathy. Being angry is so linked to aggression, in fact, that men in the majority culture grow up believing that expressing anger is what a man has to do to compete against other men on the basketball court, in college, or in the workplace. What gets confusing to black men is that the messages about anger and aggression that they receive are just the opposite. Black men learn that to survive and become successful in white America they must curb and suppress their feelings, especially anger.
What appears to be at the center of much of the suppressed anger and rage among black men is self-doubt, which makes a man distrust his worth and abilities. This is the kind of self-doubt that poisons the collective spirit and memory. It gathers in its wake all of the assorted disappointments, frustrations, deprivations, and racial hurts real or imagined in a man's life before it erupts as uncontrollable anger and rage. Two pivotal causes of anger, racism and learning to handle provocations by imitating the reactions of male role models, provide some of the fuel for the doubt that black men experience.
Information obtained from interviews with the black men described throughout this book provides strong confirmation of this point. For example, most of the men interviewed believed that the major cause of the anger and rage they experience is the violation of rights, unfair treatment, racism and the way they have learned how to cope with frustration. However, just as many men believed that submerging their natural anger is the wisest choice, particularly when the provocation involves a white person or a person of higher rank or authority. This effort to conceal any cracks in the facade of being the aggressive, "together," in-control brother is a constant with black men. Instead of dealing with anger at its source, they may
- take out their frustration on other blacks as reflected by some of the black-on-black murders
- use alcohol and drug s to cope with the bad feelings
- use wit and humor to minimize the seriousness of the situation
- identify with the source of the oppression and lash out at other blacks as a way of being accepted by the oppressor
- blame white people and racism for their problems
- stay cool, denying the situation and trying to remain unaffected by their feelings
- bury angry and hurt feelings so deeply that they result in chronic depression and hopelessness
None of these responses represent a full acknowledgment of the depth of the anger and rage experienced. Neither do they permit black men to use their anger -- a natural response to provocation -- to directly address the stressful events and restore balance in their lives and in their physiology. Serious problems occur as a consequence. Some of the ways to cope with stress are presented in chapter 11, "The Psychology of Staying Cool."
Suppressed feelings of anger often find expression in the homes of black men, or on the job. For many brothers these angry feelings can lead to poor health habits or exacerbate existing health problems. One of the most disastrous habits that is often used to cope with anger is drinking.
"I felt upset, angry, and hurt, but then I realized that there was nothing that I could do about this thing except to believe that a system that has more black men behind prison bars than it has in college couldn't possibly provide justice for me. I sure as hell did not believe that the system was going to treat me any different than any other black man," says Gregory.
When Gregory was twenty-five, he was stopped one night and arrested as he was driving home from work. Gregory fit the description of a black man who had murdered a white convenience-store manager during a robbery the day before. Gregory was jailed for several days, even though his alibi, a black male friend, could prove that the two of them were at the friend's house shooting pool at the time of the robbery and murder. After several days and statements from witnesses who described the villain as a man who looked nothing like Gregory, it finally dawned on the police that they had the wrong man.
Even though they apologized and spoke to Gregory's supervisors at work to avert any problems there, the damage had already been done.
After his release, Gregory responded to the event as if it had had no effect on him at all. He was a classic "cool brother" as he talked openly to his family and friends about his ordeal. However, that same day, he resumed a habit that he had worked for several years to eliminate -- whiskey. He took his first drink in five years and got drunk. Gregory was driving down to the police station to give them a piece of his mind when he was pulled over and arrested for drunk driving. On reflection, Gregory now admits feeling "violated" helpless, and humiliated" when he was arrested as a murder suspect.
In both Tony's and Gregory's cases, there were many alternative responses to the rage and humiliation. Some of the techniques for coping with angry people (Chapter 9) would have been effective. For example, to emotionally distance themselves from feeling so hurt and humiliated, both Tony and Gregory could have used a self-statement, such as "I won't be manipulated into losing my cool," as a mental mantra to prevent their feelings from ruling the situation. They could also have drastically changed their thinking a bout the situation by looking at what was happening from the other person's point of view and using a self-empowering statement such as "I'm not going to let this person push my buttons."
Like Tony, and many other black men, Gregory expressed his anger in a way that got him in further trouble that could possibly have been prevented.
The pain and humiliation black men have had to deal with is a central part of the black experience in America. The history of black people in the United States is several hundred years of slavery, discrimination, and government-sanctioned racism only recently remediated through civil rights legislation and antihate laws.
Racism is a central part of the chronic, background stress and strain in the lives of all African-American men. Sometimes the racism is directly and overtly displayed. On other occasions, stress and strain is induced by the perception that racism is a factor in the outcome of a situation. Both experiences contribute to the greater exposure to chronic life stress for black men and the exaggerated angry reactions it can trigger.
But this pain and pathos does not only affect poor, impoverished black men who break the law. Attending college does not permit African-American males to escape second-class status in America, or the frustrations of racism. It does not matter how much education a black man has, where he went to college, or how much fame and fortune he has attained, he can expect to suffer some injustices in his life based entirely on the color of his skin. This situation, regardless of how it manifests, cannot help but cause him to be angry. For many different reasons, however, black men choose not to share the pain, ang uish, and hurt they experience. Instead, they choose to be "cool," although the chances are quite good that many of them have felt very angry and helpless about being treated unfairly.
The scholarly multimillionaire and Wimbledon tennis champion Arthur Ashe, who died from an AIDS-related illness, revealed that the killer virus was not his heaviest burden. He wrote in his memoir, Days of Grace, that AIDS "is a burden, alright...but being black is the greatest burden I've had to bear. No question about it. Race has always been my biggest burden. Having to live as a minority in America. Even now it continues to feel like an extra weight tied around me. Race is for me a more onerous burden than AIDS."
One of the consequences of American history is that blacks, men in particular, still continue to experience a greater array of chronic stressors relative to other ethnic groups. Some of these chronic sources of stress include higher unemployment, higher poverty rates and low-income levels, lower-status occupations, lower social status, residential crowding, substandard housing, and residence in areas with higher levels of environmental toxins. The emotional turmoil and anguish associated with any one of these stressors is hard to cope with, but many black men deal with the cumulative effects of a number of these events daily, and quite often the emotional response to their loss of pride and dignity is anger. Why? Because for most black men the definition of manhood includes their ability to hold a job, provide for themselves and a family, and successfully interact with the system. Most men will perceive a man who is not doing these things as failing his first test of manhood. These unsuccessful men may even hate themselves and others because of their circumstances and failures.
This pattern of coping with angry feelings is possibly a remnant of an emotional and behavioral reaction style that was quite adaptive during slavery, where it was forbidden for black men to speak up or "talk back" to white people about their circumstances.
Black men in the not-too-distant past of slavery were trapped in a social and psychological situation where they felt threatened, angry, and harbored much hostility -- yet these feelings had to be suppressed because their life or their family would be jeopardized. In the Jim Crow era black men had no doubt that they were living in a racist society: schools, housing, restaurants, rest rooms, and water fountains were segregated. Today, slavery and legal segregation is over, and yet the evidence of institutional racism radiates throughout the land.
In many communities across America, black men witness their neighbors, friends, and relatives fall victim to intentional as well as random acts of violence. There is no doubt that these men are highly disturbed as a consequence of witnessing shootings and killings. However, even the closest loved ones are not privy to these private fears and anxieties. So great is the burden of maintaining control and the image of strength.
But if these angry feelings are not verbally expressed, they do often find expression in the homes or workplaces of black men, and in some cases black men vent much of their hurt against themselves. While racism is indeed a factor that contributes to black men feeling stressed-out, it is not racism and prejudice that is directly killing black men. Black men are being killed predominantly by oth er black men. What's even more troubling is that many of the victims were socially acquainted with the perpetrators. Quite often the killer and victim were close friends or family members.
"The cost of keeping so many bad feelings to myself has been great, and it is hard to feel proud about being a man. Most of the problems I had growing up were because of racism -- because of the way I got treated by white people and because of the way they seem to keep black people down," says Thomas.
Thomas, a thirty-five-year-old truck driver, moved to a small town in Florida from Detroit's inner city when he was twenty-five. Life, he said, was bad and hard growing up in Detroit, where his father was always unemployed or being harassed by white people. "After seeing so many people get shot, I had to get out of there before I got shot or had to shoot somebody in order to protect myself." In Thomas's case, he hid from the misery and emotional pain of losing his best friend to homicide when Thomas was seventeen by using crack cocaine and other drugs for nearly a decade. His habit had become so bad that he stole and did anything to get high, and yet he always bragged about being able to kick the habit anytime he chose to. Unfortunately the event that changed his life was the murder of a younger sister who was pregnant. She was shot to death and robbed by one of his fellow crack-addict friends as she was washing her clothes at a Laundromat.
For several weeks after his sister's death Thomas was deeply depressed and experienced much guilt about not having been a better big brother to his sister. Thomas also realized that he had never allowed himself to grieve afterthe earlier loss of his best friend, who was also murdered by a drug addict he thought was a close friend. It was like "everything came crashing down on me at once and I had nowhere to hide and nothing to do except face my problems," said Thomas. "I even refused to get high because of the shame and guilt that I was experiencing because of how my sister was murdered by a crack-head friend of mine. I was angry at myself and angry at my sister. I found myself being angrier than I had ever been in my life."
So why do black men suppress so much of their feelings when they know that they will eventually cause serious damage to themselves or to their relationships with family members or coworkers?
There is strong evidence that cultural and social factors such as those discussed are part of the explanation. But other factors, such as early childhood experiences of black men and the exposure to male role models with suppressive emotional-reaction styles are also likely to contribute to this phenomenon.
I Do As My Father Did
It has been argued that one of the major reasons for the excessive anger and violent behavior of black men is that they are simply mimicking the behaviors of their fathers or other important male role models. Just as we learn and acquire new behavioral skills such as tying shoes, hitting a ball, or driving a car by imitating what we see, our emotional reactions to frustrations and stress are developed in the same way. We learn most things from imitating the people who love and care about us the most -- our family. For example, estimates from national studies have revealed that sons who witness their father's violence against their mother have a 1,000 percent higher rate of wife abuse than sons who do not. Also, th ere is very strong evidence that sons who are exposed to violence between their parents are more likely to exhibit both short-term and long-term adjustment problems such as academic difficulties, defiance, drug abuse, and delinquency. Being part of a home with a high degree of angry and hostile behavior may establish the foundations for some of the angry and violent behaviors that occur later in life.
"For all of my life I knew that I might have a problem with anger. All doubts were removed when I started raising my boys. Punishment, rather than praise, was the method that I first used to discipline my first son. Not only was the use of punishment ineffective and not working, I was frightened and started to lose my temper about everything. One of my fears was that I would hurt my sons, and the other fear was that I was adopting my father's ways of parenting. I was afraid that I was seeing myself as my father, who was very abusive to me and my two brothers."
Gerald, twenty-six, had approached child-rearing much as he had seen it done in his own youth. He describes his father as a "smoldering volcano that erupts with no warning and destroys everything and everyone that is nearby and some of the people that are watching from a distance."
Like many black men, including his father, Gerald could not always leave his anger and frustrations about work at his job. Instead, the conflicted feelings found their way into his family and into the bedroom with his wife, whom he slapped, cursed, yelled at, and beat up on several occasions. "I was fortunate to see my problems with controlling anger and to get help before the anguish that I was causing created some irreversible damage," says Gerald. "I know that my anger has caused a lot of problems in the past, but I thought that things would somehow change once I got married and settled down. But then my wife got pregnant and that caused some additional stress and worries." Even though he has a master's in business administration from a top university, it has been hard for Gerald to find a job that is in line with his educational accomplishments. He works as the manager of a clothing store, which he describes as a "job beneath my dignity, but one that pays the bills and feeds my two sons."
Gerald says that he was quite happy at first about having a son. Then later, even arguments over petty matters caused him to explode. "I was so upset and angry all of the time. Regardless of the situation or who was involved, I was angry, and they were going to get some of my feelings no matter what," said Gerald. "When my wife actually took the two boys and moved in with her mother, I finally took a good and honest look at myself and my problem."
During this time Gerald had numerous talks with his mother and was surprised to learn that his mother had had similar problems with Gerald's father. In the end, Gerald got some long-overdue psychotherapy for his problems and started counseling sessions so that he and his wife could work out their difficulties. Had he not done so, it is unlikely that Gerald would have broken the "intergenerational" pattern of coping with anger and frustration that has been passed along from fathers to sons.
Gerald was fortunate that through psychotherapy he realized that his brutalizing way of disciplining his boys was problematic and would eventually result in their developing similar ways of using threats and punishment to get the ir needs met. He was also lucky because one of the bitter aftereffects of this unbalanced way of coping with anger is that black males develop resentment and hostility toward the person who delivers the punishment. These negative feelings are then acted out indirectly in passive-aggressive and destructive ways.
It is quite possible that Gerald could have learned ways to better channel his anger without psychotherapy. For example, he could have used some of the techniques that are described in chapter 7, "Strategies for Stopping Anger Before It Escalates" and chapter 8, "Obstacles to Healing and Managing Anger." The techniques are often used to help men learn how to interrupt chains of aversive behaviors by teaching them how to identify the situations that "trigger" them to feel and act angry. Other techniques described in these chapters would have provided Gerald with ways to defuse anger and some proactive ways to solve problems that trigger angry reactions. Also, a man like Gerald could use the information provided in the "Self-Awareness Strategies and Exercises" section at the end of this chapter to educate himself and his sons about how they should express feelings of anger and rage. By doing so he would help his sons learn how to use proactive and problem-solving methods to cope with frustration and provocations.
We live in a time where millions of black males are being raised with absent fathers. Given that boys learn to do things by watching and imitating their parents and caregivers, then the absence of a father figure means that many black boys are not possibly learning the appropriate lessons for dealing with life. This in no way implies that black women should be blamed for their sons ' unsuccessful transitions from boyhood to manhood. By all means, the major cause of the problem is the absence of fathers. Raising a child alone is difficult, but many black women overcome the problems and provide their sons the appropriate guidance so that they become successful men. The following chapter describes some of the challenges associated with raising a son alone and offers some prescriptions for developing the type of nurturing and loving relationship that will enable your son to learn how to be a man.
Prescriptions for Change
Much of the doubt that black men have about themselves and their abilities, as we have shown, has been acquired from their childhood experiences. Consequently, the solution, then, for dealing with the types of cultural, social, and familial issues that were discussed must come from within the individual and his family. Regardless of the number of "social programs" that are created to help black men, the real and enduring work must come from the healing of the hurts that have hindered the development of trust, love, and respect for one's family -- regardless of the circumstances of the childhood experiences.
For a man to deal with his emotional development he must come to terms with who he really is, how other people perceive him, and what kind of man he wants to become. For many of us, there is a huge difference in these aspects of ourselves, and unfortunately much of the glue that holds these three things together is composed of hatred, frustration, disappointment, destructive family backgrounds, shame, and guilt, as opposed to love.
Basically, what is being said is that a real man must come to understand that the love that he gives to others h e gives to himself. However, for a real man to give love he must also learn to love and accept himself.
For most of us there is no real way to change things that have happened in our past, and yet many brothers are constantly wishing that their past was somehow different. It is as if some black men have strongly adopted the idea that life and the concept of who they are is a fixed and static thing rather than a forever-changing process where no one moment or experience is ever exactly like any other moment or experience, and where there is always the potential for growth.
However, it is the memory of painful moments, comprised mostly of deep emotional hurts, that men use to drag their past into the present and their futures. Until a man accepts his hurts and talks out his feelings, he will be forever trying to hide from a part of himself that he must confront and learn to love in order for him to become a whole man.
Much has been written about what people can do to cope with anger in the short run, but it is whether a man, over time, can use his anger as an incentive and as fuel to achieve greater clarity and discover new and more self-empowering ways to deal with old problems and new ones when they arise that may be most significant. While the problems in managing and expressing anger that are contained in each man's experiences are not universal, you will undoubtedly recognize things that connect these with your own life and that of your son, husband, lover, brother, or someone else you know. For example, much of the emotional suffering that is depicted in these cases could have been averted if the men talked with family members about the events.
Tony, the black business executive, for exa mple, was handcuffed and forced to follow the police officers through every room of his own home as they allegedly searched for his partner in crime. An event of this nature would undoubtedly cause any man some discomfort. The situation would also lead him to want to talk about the event to relieve some of his frustration.
However, for Tony to talk he would have to experience a "paradigm shift" that causes him to realize that he is focusing only on one outcome that could result from his talking with his wife.
A paradigm is a set of beliefs about the order of things in your world. In Tony's case, as it is with some of the other men, he is focusing only on being perceived as a weak man and the hurt to his "pride and dignity" that could result from letting his wife know about his encounter with the police. In essence, he has blinded himself to the possibility that talking about this event will lessen his anxiety and fear, strengthen the level of trust he has with his wife, and offer his wife an explanation for some of his unbalanced and bizarre ways of behaving each time he sees a police car or when they return home at night from social engagements.
Tony has failed to consider the possibility that other people, particularly those who love and care about him, may see the event from a different perspective or offer solutions that would enable him to use his anger and feelings to address this problem rather than seeing him as weak. This also applies to the situation that Gregory encountered. Instead of responding to his arrest by getting drunk to hide his rage and humiliation, Gregory would have benefited greatly by talking about his true feelings with his family and friends. By getting drunk and th en deciding to do something about his feelings, Gregory created a way to express himself without taking responsibility for his actions. "If it wasn't for my drinking, most people, including my family, would have never known how angry, embarrassed, and humiliated I was about being arrested like that," explains Gregory. His use of alcohol to lower his psychological defenses enough to permit him to act on his feelings introduces another factor that often complicates dealing with anger. This was also true for Thomas, who used crack cocaine and other drugs to hide his feelings about the murder of his sister and his best friend.
If talking about these events will relieve much of the pain and suffering that is experienced by black men, then what can you or others do to encourage black men to talk openly about their problems and challenges?
First of all, black men need to do as brother Malcolm X says: "Think for yourself, do for yourself, and stop blaming other people for your problems." Many of you are already reading this book, and that's a great start, but to evolve into a great man you have to focus on those qualities, values, and ways of coping that you want for yourself. One way to help develop your inner dialogue to your higher self is through the daily practice of meditation or some relaxation technique. A few basic techniques are described in chapter 11, "The Psychology of Staying Cool."
Through meditation you learn how to have quiet time away from all of the worries you have about the world -- time to focus within. The techniques in chapter 11 will help you relax and provide you with some of the mental and physical energy that is necessary to effectively handle the problems that occur in you r life. As a consequence of the greater mental clarity derived from meditation, you will be more adept at handling stressful situations that cause anger.
If you are a man reading this book, you need to encourage other men to better understand themselves by starting discussions about the information that is contained in this book. You can use the information in the section "Self-Awareness Strategies and Exercises" to structure discussions with your male friends and coworkers about different ways of coping with anger and frustration. When you enter into these discussions, it is important to let the brother know that there are no right or wrong ways to express anger because each style has its good and bad points and that most men use some part of each style to cope with different situations. Another thing that you should consider is starting or joining a discussion group for men. You can use this book as a guide to probe into the different values and beliefs that black men have about "manhood." This type of exposure to black men who are clear about their roles as men and comfortable talking out their feelings can trigger the type of introspection that causes a shift in beliefs and values. Some of the men would also benefit, as Gerald did, from psychotherapy or counseling with a minister. Why? Because many of the "mixed-up" feelings that black men have about identity and manhood are associated with love and respect for parents and family on the one hand, and hatred, disrespect, and a lack of trust on the other hand. In most cases, the most self-empowering insights about how this situation came about can be gained in the safety of a fully trusting relationship with a psychotherapist. The big problem i s that black men often refuse to seek out help because they are either afraid of the things they may find out about themselves or they don't trust counselors and doctors. As a consequence, they shy away from doctors and refuse to make healthy changes in their lifestyle and relationships.
In many cases, wives, girlfriends, female friends, and relatives provide the encouragement for black men to seek out help. A woman can be an invaluable source of encouragement for black men by simply being empathetic and willing to listen to and help her mate, male friend, or relative seek help for himself. In addition, black women can encourage the men in their lives to share their feelings through the use of what is called active listening or reflective listening. This is a nonjudgmental way of responding to comments made by another person. It simply involves the restatement of the comments with the purpose being to unquestionably let the other person know that you really have received their message. The real power of this method is in avoiding analyzing or summarizing the situation for them.
Secondly, one of the most powerful things a woman can do is ask about things that don't appear just right to her. Most men, for example, waste a great deal of time going around in circles trying to determine "why" an event occurred or "why" something did not work out as planned. Imagine that you are driving home one night and you come to a road that is closed to all traffic. Let's say that you stop your car and begin to ponder, "Why is this road closed?" You can be assured that no matter what answers you come up with, you will not get any closer to your home. What I am getting at is that the real power is in asking your m an (son, male relative) to focus on questions that can cause him to be proactive rather than reactive. Questions such as "What can I do to solve this problem and maintain my dignity?" "What can I do to make this situation perfect?" "What can I do at this very moment to bring greater happiness to all of the people involved?" "What can I do to prevent this situation from repeating?"
If you are a woman reading this book, you could encourage your man to better understand himself by having a few discussions with him about the content of these questions. If you are a mother with a son, my advice is for you to usethe questionnaires and the information in the "Self-Awareness Strategies and Exercises" sections, located at the end of the chapters, to structure discussions with your son about his characteristic ways of coping with anger and frustration. When you enter into these discussions, it is important to let the brother know that there are many ways to express anger, with each style having its good and bad points and that most men use some part of each style to cope with different situations.
In learning effective ways to cope with anger it is important to remember that "being angry" or "getting angry" is a process, and as such it is natural for the ways to cope with anger to change as the process changes and as the reasons for the feelings come into focus. Unfortunately, most black men are not aware of this process, and they cling to their characteristic ways of coping without closely reflecting on whether what they are doing is making the situation better or worse. Essentially, many men lack flexibility in their ways of dealing with stress and frustration. While there are probably countless reasons for this rigidity, brothers must learn to be flexible in their approach if they are to effectively deal with anger and conflict.
In general, black men need to learn how to be proactive rather than reactive for their overall emotional development. Unlike the reactive brother who blames others, including his family, for his problems, the proactive man takes responsibility for his actions and effectiveness. He may have been raised in poverty with parents who could not read, but he understands that much of what he has become started as a thought that he put in motion. He accepts his upbringing and realizes that no rules say that because you are a black male raised in poverty, you can't grow up to be whatever you make up your mind to become.
In essence, the proactive man has little self-doubt because he has overcome many of the barriers that prevent other black men from getting to know a powerful and important part of themselves (see "Proactive Problem Solving" in chapter 7). Contrary to popular belief, the most powerful part of a man is his feelings -- the fuel that turns thoughts about who you are, what you want to do, and what you want to become into actions.
As indicated earlier, hatred, frustration, betrayal, disappointment, destructive family backgrounds, shame, and guilt have overshadowed emotions like love and trust in too many black men. From a practical or grassroots perspective there is much that a black man, parent, grandparent, or any other relative can do to help a young man develop his true potential and real power.
The real secret is in knowing that the seeds for manhood develop inside of the soul and spirit of a man. When the spirit of a man or growing boy is finely tuned and we ll developed, nothing can stand in his path for righteousness, greatness, and success.
If you are a man reading this, then one way to help yourself develop more pride and respect for black men is to read these stories about black men, particularly biographies. Reading one biography every week or two is not a costly adventure, and it is likely to decrease some mindless time that you spend watching television. An exceptional and rich source of information about historical black men before, during and after Christ can be found in a two-volume set called World's Great Men of Color by J. A. Rogers. This same advice can be used to help a son, father, brother, or any male relative.
Copyright © 1998 by Dr. Ernest Johnson
Table of Contents
UNDERSTANDING ANGER AND LIFE STRESS
1 Why Are Black Men Angry?
2 Can a Single Mother Raise a Son to Be a Good Man?
3 Stretching the Family Roots
4 Black Women
5 Rage in the Workplace
6 Health and Emotional Well-Being
OTHER STRATEGIES FOR MANAGING ANGER AND STRESS
7 Strategies for Stopping Anger Before It Escalates
8 Obstacles to Healing and Managing Anger
9 Coping with Angry People
10 Changing Your Thinking Is Not As Difficult As You Think
11 The Psychology of Staying Cool
12 The Role of Spirituality in Managing Anger
Appendix: The Million Man March Pledge