Respect deficit at core of many men’s anger issues
by Bill Perkins
I‘ve been to only two professional fights in my life. And I wouldn’t have gone to either if one of the fighters hadn’t brought me along to watch.
I had no idea sitting ringside would be such a rush. Of course, knowing one of the fighters added to the excitement. The fighter’s name was Austin. He grew up in Austin, Texas. Good thing he didn’t grow up in Waxahachie—a small town in Texas. That was his joke, not mine.
The bell rang for round one. I knew what to expect from Austin because he had told me he wasn’t the aggressor in a fight. “I back up. I let the other guy come after me.”
“Because I’m a counterpuncher. When you see me backing up, don’t worry about it. Every aggressor makes a mistake, and when they do—bam! I hammer them.”
I’m glad he told me that because Austin’s opponent came after him fast and hard. The guy was shorter and built like a smaller version of Mike Tyson. For two minutes Austin backed up and dodged one punch after another. And then it was over. Austin ducked a crossing right and followed with a powerful right uppercut. Bam! His opponent’s eyes rolled into the top of his head, and he fell back hard. His head hit the canvas and bounced once. Austin raised his hands in victory and smiled triumphantly.
A week later I met with Austin and Holly, his wife, in my office. Austin was an impressive man. Only twenty-eight, he already owned a thriving construction company that built high-end homes. At 5 foot 11 inches, he weighed in at 175 pounds and wore his black hair marine short. His wife was equally impressive. A tall, attractive woman, she had short blond hair, angel green eyes, and a cheerful look. She worked as a buyer for a chain of clothing stores.
Disrespect Triggers Anger
They entered my office without speaking a word or even looking at each other and sat in the two leather chairs. Holly sat upright with her arms crossed and her jaw locked. Austin appeared relaxed with a smirk on his face. He seemed to be enjoying her misery.
I broke the tense silence. “What’s going on?”
“Holly is upset because we don’t have sex as often as she wants to.”
“Oh, really, Austin? You think that maybe I’m too sexually demanding since I want to make love with you more than once a month.” Holly spoke with a hard edge that I didn’t expect.
“I’ve been busy. You know that.”
“You’ve always been busy. But until three months ago you always found time for sex three or four times a week. I know you’re mad at me for something. I just don’t know what.”
Austin smiled. “Why would I be mad at you?”
In that moment I knew Holly was right. It was Austin’s smile that gave him away. I had seen it a week earlier at the fight when he won. Withholding sex would mimic his boxing style. Instead of attacking Holly, he backed off. No aggressive verbal attack on his part. I needed to discover what triggered his anger.
“Holly, would you mind if I spent a few minutes alone with Austin?”
She tilted her head, looking at Austin and then at me. “Sure. Go ahead.” She picked up her purse and walked out the door, closing it behind her.
“What did she do to make you mad?”
“What makes you think I’m mad?”
“Austin, let’s not play games here, okay? Just shoot straight with me.”
“I’m just giving her a taste of her own medicine.”
“I got tired of her saying she was too tired for sex or wasn’t in the mood.”
“Do you think she said that to get even with you?”
“She said until three months ago you had been having sex three or four times a week. Is that true?”
“Yeah, it’s true.”
“So how many times did she not want to make love?”
“Okay, it wasn’t that often. But it made me mad.”
“I don’t know. I guess I felt she disrespected me and my needs.”
“So you got mad, and instead of talking it through you decided to disrespect her need for intimacy?”
“That pretty much sums it up.”
“Austin, let’s assume for a minute that she disregarded your needs. On a scale of one to ten, how bad would that act be compared to what you’ve been doing for the last three months? Remember, she acted unintentionally. You meant to hurt her.”
“I know. I get your point.”
“I’m curious, Austin. How could you live with a woman so beautiful and not make love to her? I remember when I first got married I decided to withhold sex from Cindy. I figured that would straighten her out. I made it maybe two days.”
“I guess I’m better at staying mad when I feel disrespected,” he said.
Austin’s comment got my attention. It seemed that disrespect had triggered a prolonged anger that he refused to release. I hoped he could discover why. I knew from previous conversations with Austin that his wife wasn’t the only person he torpedoed when he felt disrespected.
Holly rejoined us, and Austin told her why he had been withholding sex.
Holly sat silently, but her stillness seemed sharp enough to stab Austin. She finally spoke in a controlled voice. “You figure out how to deal with your anger . . . or else.” The words didn’t sound as harsh to the ear as they appear to the eye when read. She spoke sweetly, and her words lingered in the room like a fragrance.
But Austin didn’t hear her tone. “Or else what?” he said, challenging her.
“Or else,” she hesitated. Tears trickled down her cheeks. “We’ll be living in torment. And I . . . we . . . don’t want that.”
As we talked more about how Austin’s rejection of his wife’s advances was hurting their marriage, he slowly realized how misguided his anger had been.
I took some time at the end of the session to talk with them about a man’s need for respect. “I think it ties in to our being created in the image of God. Just as God desires the respect of man, and will ultimately get it from everyone, so men desire respect. In the Garden of Eden God gave mankind dominion over the earth. But before the creation of Eve, it was Adam who named the animals. By doing so he proved himself their master. In other words, from the beginning man exercised a role of leadership over the earth and wildlife.”
“Even now after the Fall, men are still wired to understand and subdue the earth. And with that genetic drive comes an equally strong need for respect from the world around them—the world they hope to subdue.”
“In the context of marriage, God commands men to love their wives and women to respect their husbands. Paul’s command underscores the significance of a man’s need for respect.”
“So what you’re saying is that Austin’s need for respect was put there by God?” Holly said.
“That’s right. The problem is that this God-given need can easily be channeled destructively. When that happens, any act of disrespect, or perceived disrespect, can trigger inappropriate anger.”
“Like when I got mad at Holly for refusing my advances?”
Nobody Else Is Your Parent
“Okay. So how do I keep from overreacting?” Austin asked.
“Between now and next week, whenever you find yourself getting mad ask yourself, ‘Am I really being disrespected? Or is it a perceived act of disrespect?’ At the end of each day, talk with Holly about what you experienced. Next week share what you’ve learned with me.”
When we met the next week Austin was stunned by how many times he had gotten angry about perceived acts of disrespect. As he talked about getting mad, he repeatedly referred to demanding customers and subcontractors as “leeches.”
I pointed this out to him and asked why he felt they were leeches.
At first he had no idea why he would call them that. And then he surprised himself with an answer. “I think maybe it’s got to do with my mother.”
“Go on,” I said.
“She was an alcoholic . . . an emotional black hole. Instead of nurturing her kids, she wanted us to nurture her. When I was sixteen, she was in a horrible car wreck and was hospitalized for three months. She almost lost her left arm. When she came home in a wheelchair, she asked me to give her shoulder and back massages. She said I had healing hands. I did it a time or two, but it drained me too much—like a leech sucking out my blood. If she refused to respect me and my needs, how could she expect me to respect and meet hers? And so I stopped. I just didn’t have the emotional strength to care for her like that. I resented her. I also remember turning off my compassion like the light of a lamp.”
“No wonder you’re angry,” I said. “And no wonder you lack compassion for people who seem demanding or disrespectful. But, Austin, nobody else is your mother. And nobody will ever do to you what she did.”
Austin sat silently for a couple of minutes with his face in his hands. Holly leaned over and put her hand on his shoulder.
The Respect Bank
When he finally looked up he said, “I hear what you’re saying, but why would my mom’s neediness still be causing me problems?”
I leaned to my right, picked up a picture from the floor, and handed it to Austin. “I planned on showing you something today, and now seems like a good time,” I said.
After glancing at the picture, he said, “A piggy bank will help put things in perspective?”
“I hope so,” I said. “Every man has what I call a ‘respect bank’ in his heart. If his parents, coaches, teachers, family, and friends give him a lot of respect and affirmation as he’s growing up, he may get through childhood and adolescence with a respect surplus.”
I then handed him a second picture, which showed a piggy bank stuffed to overflowing with coins.
“When a young man enters adulthood with a respect surplus and someone shows him disrespect, it has little effect on him. His sense of self-worth isn’t threatened, so it’s easier for him to manage the little anger he may experience.
“Unfortunately, many men grow up with a respect deficit. Their parents and other important people in their lives gave them little respect and affirmation. That’s what happened with you and your mother and even your father. I remember when we were driving home from your fight and I asked you about your dad. You said he attended your athletic events, but you never quite measured up to his high standard of competition. I got the impression that while you respect him, you don’t think he respects you. I’m not knocking your parents; I’m just saying that their lack of affirmation and encouragement created a deficit in your respect bank.”
Austin interrupted. “And since my bank is empty, when Holly or people at work disrespect me—or seem to—I overreact and get angry. And my anger is an attempt to force them to make a deposit in my respect bank.”
“You’ve nailed it,” I said. “But there’s one more important element to consider. When you get angry at people who disrespect you and later refer to them as leeches, it may be that you feel toward them like you did toward your parents. And so you react against them in an effort to replace not only the respect you feel those people took from you, but the respect your parents took. You’re not just reacting with anger for their offense, but for the disrespect you felt for years from your mom and dad. Not only can no one else do what they did to you, but no one else should be punished for what they did.”
“So you’re saying that I’ve been trying to force Holly, along with many other people, to make up for all the respect my parents failed to give me?”
“It seems that way to me. And it might also explain why you were able to withhold sex from Holly for so long. Since you came into marriage with a deficit in your respect bank, even her best efforts couldn’t give you enough respect to create a surplus. To make matters worse, your anger had the opposite effect of what you intended. Instead of treating you with more respect, she got mad and treated you with less.”
“What can he do to create a surplus in his respect bank?” Holly asked.
“Before addressing that question, let me ask you one,” I said. “Do either of you think it would be possible to get so much respect and affirmation that you could say, ‘That’s enough; I never want any more’?”
They both laughed and assured me they couldn’t.
“Let me give you an illustration from my marriage,” I said. “I make an effort every day to tell my wife, Cindy, how beautiful I think she is. Whenever we see a stunning sunset, painting, or anything else that grabs our attention, I’ll say, ‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it?’ She’ll always agree. And then I’ll say, ‘But it’s not as beautiful as you, and I get to see you every day.’
“One evening I asked her, ‘Cindy, do you ever get tired of me telling you how beautiful I think you are? Should I cut down on the affirmation?’ ‘Oh, no!’ she said. ‘I never get enough!’”
We laughed together, and then I said, “Men are the same way when it comes to respect. . . . We can never get enough. The fact is that our parents, wives, children, bosses, and friends are incapable of filling our respect bank. Only God can do that.”
Then I asked him, “How do you win the respect of an opponent in the ring?”
“With my smartness, skill, stamina, speed, and toughness.”
“And how do you develop those?”
“The only way I know is through disciplined training.”
“When you train, do you try to anticipate how you’ll respond to an opponent?”
“Sure. That’s why I spar. It perfects my skills and makes me tough. It helps me think better when I’m in a real fight.”
“You mentioned thinking. Do you ever get mad when an opponent trash-talks you or connects with a powerful punch?”
“I train not to get mad. If I get mad, then all of my experience goes out the window because I throw wild punches.”
“Suppose for a moment that every day you’re involved in a spiritual battle… because you are. And suppose that every word and act of disrespect or perceived disrespect is a jab thrown by an opponent.”
“In order to respond with skill, stamina, speed, and toughness, you need a training routine. A routine that will help you keep your cool when someone trash-talks you or hits you with a disrespectful act. Such a routine involves strengthening the way you see yourself. And that demands depositing into your respect bank the kind of truth that will create a surplus.”
While I waited for Austin to respond, I grabbed a Bible from the round table between us.
After several moments he said, “No wonder my anger is out of control. I never even knew I was in a fight, and so I did nothing to prepare.”
“The training routine is simple, Austin. But it demands discipline. It’s based on the biblical truth that you’re a new man in Christ.” I flipped my Bible open to the book of John. “Your true and new identity is wrapped up in Jesus. And it’s based on the fact that you are of infinite value to God. It’s one thing for me to tell you that and another thing for you to believe it’s true at the core of your being. Yet how do we determine the value of anything? By the price paid for it. And the price God paid for you was the life of his Son. John 3:16 tells us, ‘For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.’”
“I realize this verse has been read and recited so many times that it often loses its punch. But if you substitute your name for the word world, you realize that Jesus is telling you God loved you enough to send his Son to die so you could have a friendship with him. God would not have allowed his Son to suffer for you unless he valued and respected you.
“Austin, would you doubt the love of someone who died for you?”
“Never,” he said.
“Of course not,” I said. “And there’s another passage that contains a complementary truth. Later, on the night before his death, Jesus prayed for his present and future disciples. During that prayer he said in John 17:23, ‘May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.’”
I handed the Bible to Austin again and asked him to read that verse aloud for Holly and me. After he read it, I asked him if he saw something mind-blowing in it.
“Jesus said that God the Father loves me as much as he loves Jesus,” Austin said. “I’ve never seen that before.”
“There are no favorites in God’s family,” I said. “Austin, Jesus prayed this knowing the disciples would abandon him and Peter would deny him. Yet Jesus said his Father loved these weak men as much as he loved his perfect Son.”
We talked briefly about this concept, and then I gave Austin a training routine. “There are several things you need to do,” I said.
“First, you must memorize and then review John 3:16 and John 17:23 every day. Each time you review the verses, take a moment and thank God that he loves and respects you. Thank him that the true and new you is a man of infinite worth to him.
“Second, when you feel disrespected throughout the day, consider yourself in a sparring match. Think of it as a situation God put you in to strengthen your character—the true and new you. Quickly tell God, ‘Thanks for filling my respect bank. Enable me to act as a man of infinite worth even when I feel otherwise.’
“Third, continue to determine whether the words and actions that anger you are real or perceived acts of disrespect. In either case, refuse to act on your anger. Control your response just as you would if you were in the boxing ring.
“Fourth, keep a daily list of how you’re doing in each of these three other disciplines and report to me next week.”
The Second Fight
The second professional fight I ever attended surprised me more than the first. I think it’s because I expected my friend to let his opponent be the aggressor. Instead, Austin took the fight to him. As the fight progressed I thought Austin would win because of his superior skills and much higher punch count. But in the fourth round a powerful jab opened a cut over his right eye, and the ringside doctor called the fight.
Afterward I asked him why he changed tactics. “I don’t know,” he said, as he rubbed the mouse over his eye. “I think it’s got something to do with how I view myself. But maybe not.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I’m not as angry. And an angry me always backed up and counterpunched. I think taking on my feelings of disrespect so aggressively enabled me to stop letting my anger knock me around and dictate the pace of my life. I suspect that carried over to the ring. I’m just more comfortable being the aggressor than before.”
Bill Perkins served as a senior pastor for 24 years and is the founder and CEO of Million Mighty Men. He has authored or collaborated on 20 books, including Six Battles Every Man Must Win, 6 Rules Every Man Must Break, and the best-selling When Good Men Are Tempted. www.billperkins.com
Taken from When Good Men Get Angry by Bill Perkins. Copyright © 2009 by Bill Perkins. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
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