“Anger is a signal and one worth paying attention to” Harriet Lerner

Anger is misunderstood emotion. Often experienced as negative, explosive and dangerous, anger also has the potential to be a powerful ally to our personal growth.

I have lots of nice guys in my therapy room. In fact being a nice guy is often an important part of their self-definition. Nice guys put other people first, they would do anything for you, they work hard and are reliable. So why do they often come to therapy feeling unhappy and guilty, after explosive bouts of anger and rage? It may seem paradoxical at first but part of the problem is the inability to express anger effectively.

Underneath the nice guy persona is a profound lack of self-worth. This inherent feeling of not being good enough is defended against by putting others needs first. At some level, these men feel that they will only be loved and valued if they please other people. As a result, they fail to attend to their own needs and wants leaving them frustrated and unhappy.

So where does anger fit into this equation and why should nice guys get angry?

Anger is essentially our bodies way of telling us something is wrong in our environment. It is a signal that something needs changing. Anger is the fuel that allows us to challenge the status quo and make powerful change in our life. But this is a problem for nice guys. Anger screams “I am important, my needs and wants are important” but nice guys have built their whole persona about putting the needs others first. The feeling of anger becomes unacceptable within the nice guy’s belief so becomes suppressed, buried deep inside along with their own sense of needs. This process becomes so ingrained that most nice guys I meet are no longer able to identify their own wants and needs.

In the long term suppressing anger in this way just build trouble. Each time the nice guy swallows his anger he builds up a little more frustration and resentment until eventually, he explodes with rage. The most likely trigger will be when someone undermines his nice guy persona. Perhaps a partner criticizes him for not doing enough housework, or a boss comments on an unfinished project. At this point, the build-up of frustration and resentment is released like a volcano in explosive rage. Of course, this angry outburst only brings about the rupture in a relationship that he feared all along. The nice guy is left with enormous feelings of guilt and redoubles his effort to put everybody else first and the cycle of anger and the cycle starts again.

The reality is that ineffective expression of anger only serves to maintain the status quo.The nice guy remains frustrated and unhappy. “I never get what I want” he mumbles under his breath.

Through therapy, the nice guy learns to listen to the call of anger and identify those wants and needs that go unmet. He learns techniques to channel that anger into assertive, problem-solving communication.

Through this process course, he is still a nice guy. But now he uses appropriate adult boundaries and assertiveness to place limits on his actions that stop him feeling unfairly put upon. In short, he learns to say “NO”.

Originally published at emergetherapy.co.uk


  • Nathan Gould PTSTA(P)

    Psychotherapist and Social Entrepreneur

    UK Counselling Network CIC LTD

    Nathan is a psychotherapist, trainer and supervisor based in West Yorkshire, England. His practice specializes in dealing with anger and rage in both individuals and couples. Nathan is also a founding Director of the UK Counselling Network CIC, which is dedicated to delivering low-cost counselling and psychotherapy.