I get my fair share of hate mail on the Internet, which I find unpleasant but not entirely surprising. Many people aren't good at expressing their anger cleanly, and some of them choose to channel it into hate mail directed at me.

Being on the receiving end of somebody else's hostility can be stressful, so it's important to be assertive with these people to stop their stress from entering our emotional boundary.

Use assertiveness to stop other people's anger entering your emotional boundary.

Use assertiveness to stop other people's anger entering your emotional boundary.

He's an example from a few weeks ago: I got an email from a female ex-friend who I initially met through a blog I run, which began:

"I don't read your shit, but…"

... and went on to give me some unsolicited advice that I didn't find particularly helpful.

When I met this woman a few years ago she had been ill for several years and seemed really pissed off. Since she lived in the same city as me, I could actually go and hang out with her physically; which I did for a while.

As I got to know her, I learnt a bit about her background story. Her father had abandoned her quite young, and by the sounds of it a string of men had taken advantage of her. To me, she seemed like a classic case of a woman who had been treated badly by men and had a lot of internalized rage towards them. Although she was quite attractive, when I saw the way that she treated her boyfriend, I was glad not to be on the receiving end of that.

When I suggested that there might be some link between her anger and her illness, or that at the very least it would be worth seeing a therapist to deal with the feelings she had about being ill (and hopefully also her feelings towards men), she resisted the whole idea.

I was still working through a lot of the pain that I was carrying around my critical mother when we met, and was still attracting angry women looking for a man to dump on onto my radar. My mother would never plainly express that she was angry; instead, her anger came out in toxic ways like sarcasm, criticism, belittlement and bullying. Just like this woman.

I finally decided to cut contact with her a couple of years back after she wrote some hostile comments on Facebook about the article that I wrote linking mental Illness with unexpressed emotion. She disagreed strongly; but it wasn't the fact that she disagreed that upset me, it was the way that she expressed it that I didn't like.

She was clearly very angry with me about what I wrote. That may have been a projection of the anger that she felt towards men generally, or towards people who said things she disagreed with; or any number of other things.

When I empathized with her for the anger that she felt towards me, she reacted with increasing hostility and denial. Although she was clearly angry about what I had written, she was unable to recognise it in herself.

I now see showing empathy as the best way to identify whether you want to keep an angry person in your life or not. Notice how they respond when you offer empathy. If you say to them "Wow, you sound really angry with me" and they deny it even more angrily; then you know you are dealing with somebody who doesn't want to face up to their own anger.

Of course it's possible when offering empathy to someone that I might get it wrong; but if I empathise with someone's anger and it turns out that they aren't actually angry, they generally just correct me; without sarcasm and hostility.

I shifted the conversation about my article to Facebook chat to see if we could resolve it. After a few goes offering more empathy for her anger and receiving hostility in return, I realised that she wasn't able to acknowledge her anger and I was tired of bearing the brunt of it, so I decided to unfriend and block her from Facebook.

I don't mind people getting angry from time to time, but I don't want women with internalized rage towards men using me as a dumping ground just because I'm sensitive. Women like that are just replaying the dynamic between my mother and father which I don't wish to recreate in my life.

Up until recently I've been an easy target for this kind of thing, but now I act assertively and don't take their crap any more.

If they want to pay me to teach them how to express that anger in a healthy way, I'm up for that. But to do that requires a certain level of self-awareness. You've got to be able to acknowledge that the anger is there in the first place, and some people just aren't ready or willing to do that yet. I walk away from people like that now, and each time I do it's another step towards breaking the unhealthy relational patterns that I learnt from my parents.

The trick is to avoid getting sucked into an argument with someone who uses criticism, sarcasm and bullying to inflict harm as an outlet for their anger; rather than identifying and expressing anger cleanly in order to resolve issues and build a stronger relationship.

The only way to "win/win" an argument with somebody who would rather hurt you than deal with their own anger is to not play the game. Have the last word by saying that you just don't wish to continue the conversation.

My final email to my now-ex-friend read:

"I get that you're angry and I don't like the way you express it.

I don't wish to communicate with you again."

Graham Stoney

Graham Stoney

I struggled for years with low self-esteem, anxiety and a lack of self-confidence before finding a solution that really worked. I created The Confident Man Program to help other men live the life of their dreams. I also offer 1-on-1 coaching via Skype so if you related to this article contact me about coaching.


Diego · April 10, 2016 at 5:23 am

Hi Graham. Thanks for the articles.
I accidentally found your web site by googling "domineering mother". The thing is I'm dealing with 2 things that we have in common. a controlling mother and an angry woman, which in this case is my ex-wife. My ex's history is very similar to your ex-friends', she was abandoned by her father at a young age so she channeled that hate towards me. Getting married was a mistake but having a low self esteem, my guilt didn't let me take the right decision and say no to her.
One year after divorce, I try the best (as we have a child) to keep a good relation, but I still can't handle her aggression. Many times I say yes, to avoid a fight, even when I don't agree. I let her take the decisions. Money is also a problem, I give her more than I should for our child, even when her financial situation is better than mine. My financial situation is bad so I had to come back to live to my controlling mother's home. Coming back to my mother's wasn't easy, specially because it's in a farm without social life, but the good side is it made me realize the cause of my problems in my relationships. Live in a rural area in Argentina, its hard to find mens therapy groups around, the only option is common therapy. I would appreciate if you send me links on this subject where I can seek help or articles that you wrote.

    Graham Stoney

    Graham Stoney · April 29, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    Thanks for your comment Diego. I hear that the primary women in your life have caused you quite a bit of grief, and continue want to influence on you in ways you don't really like. Unfortunately when we have unresolved wounds from a controlling mother, we tend to end up attracting controlling damaged women as partners; so it's not surprising how things worked out with your ex. The good news is that these relationships are opportunities for us to heal our childhood wounds now as an adult. If I was to coach you, I'd help you heal the underlying wound that makes the potential arguments with your ex so uncomfortable and lead you to keep saying "yes" to things that don't work for you. Standing up to a woman when she's behaving badly creates boundaries that actually give her a sense of safety in the relationship; although she may not appear appreciative at the time when you say "no" to her, she'll respect you more than if you keep saying "yes" to everything she wants. (Even though you're not married, you still have a relationship of sorts since you both want the best for your child). The key is to be assertive without causing harm to the other person, and to learn to tolerate the discomfort of conflict. You may actually find this easier to practise on your ex than on your mother, since the stakes are usually higher with our biological parent. Ultimately, you want to start standing up to your mother too. I recommend you check out my article on How To Recover From A Controlling Mother, and if you'd like to talk 1-on-1 about this, please drop me a line. I've found that having support from objective, compassionate people with good communication skills has been, and continues to be a lifeline for preserving my sanity in dealing with my mother! Cheers, Graham

Jerry · March 26, 2016 at 7:37 am

Hi Graham Your comments describing your experiences are very clear and helpful. I can relate to the anxiety, the constant inner critic and the generally low emotional set point as an adult. These are all emotions that are some variation on fear. There aren't a lot of resources in many towns for men to feel safe enough to go in to this huge area of our wounded psyche. Two hyper critical and controlling parents. I have no desire to see them again. I would like to tell people that there is no need to feel guilty about making this choice.

    Graham Stoney

    Graham Stoney · March 26, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Thanks Jerry, I appreciate your response. I totally agree that this is a massive problem for many men. Healing our wounded psyche involves standing up assertively to damaging behavior by our parents or other people who trigger us in similar ways, and this can cause overwhelming feelings of fear and guilt. Not because we're doing anything wrong, but just because we're overriding our default damaged programming. That's why support of other men in the process to not let guilt stop us in our tracks, is so important. Cheers, Graham

Curtis · March 9, 2016 at 8:32 pm

well put Graham. I struggled for some time recently with a woman at work who insisted on ignoring simple propriety in the workplace but when I confronted her on it her response was completely dismissive. I said, "It appears you have a problem with me. I would appreciate you telling me directly so that we can resolve it." Her response was denial, and something like, "...Well I don't really know you". once I realized that she really had no intent on ever getting to know me, it became obvious that she needs attention and assumes that people are out to get her when they don't give it. Well, I just stopped. I don't even acknowledge her existence until she asks me something work-related. it was odd one day when she suddenly tried vying for my attention and I really was completely uninterested. It was annoying, to be blunt.

For years this used to bother me because women like this one actually changed the course of my life, and usually for the worse (namely, like yourself, my mother), but my counselor and my men's group reminded me again and again that there is no need because she has absolutely no power over my life.

I applaud you for bringing up these issues and it was refreshing to read an article of yours as i haven't read one in a long time. Man it's amazing how I read your posts much different now than a couple years ago. It is also a testament to the quality of my counselor and men's therapy group and how far I have come. I look forward to one day joining you on this journey to help men. Thanks for your courage and your input.

    Graham Stoney

    Graham Stoney · March 11, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    Hey Curtis. Thanks for the comment. I'm glad to hear about the progess that you've been making. I often notice that some women treat men however we allow them to. Start standing up for ourselves, and they lose their power over us. Cheers, Graham

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