I’ve written a great deal about how anxiety manifests in women.
Women have higher rates of anxiety than men do overall, and anxiety in women can massively hurt their relationships with their husbands and kids.
However, plenty of men still suffer from anxiety disorders, and this impacts their functioning within relationships, as parents, on the job, and more.
Photo: Mental Health America (MHA)/Pexels
Here are five less obvious ways anxiety manifests in men:
1. Controlling behavior
Many men come off as very controlling when they struggle with anxiety. Because it is so hard for them to be in an unpredictable environment, they attempt to control every aspect of their routine, their home, and the actions of those around them. Women may think that a man is self-absorbed or even narcissistic when he is highly anxious and unable to deal with change.
A very anxious man may be extremely quick to anger because he feels so dysregulated internally when things don’t go according to plan. When he gets home from work and the kids are loud, he may feel completely overwhelmed and respond with aggressive remarks or even storm out of the room or house. Overstimulation and unexpected noise or mess can lead to outbursts and even rage.
Rigid men exemplify the saying, “My way or the highway.” A man who struggles with a rigid worldview often attracts enabling women, who placate them and go along with them, although as these women age and grow more confident, they may push back, leading to marital conflict. Rigid men also tend to find parenting challenging, especially as their kids get older and assert their individual preferences or identities, which may go against the man’s preferences or desired outcomes. At the extreme, rigidity may be indicative of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD, which is different than OCD).
4. Few if any friends
Men who are anxious find it hard to go with the flow, and being able to do this is a key aspect of successful friendships. Sometimes, they will have business partners or workout partners, but they do not tend to see these men socially in other arenas. These men are often nervous about what they will talk about, whether the other men are judging them (a hallmark of social anxiety), and the perceived waste of time of non-“productive” pursuits (in contrast to working out together or working on a business together). Often, their lack of friendships is upsetting to their wives, who don’t get to have “couple friends” because the man doesn’t want to be friends with the male half of the couple.
5. Difficulties with sex
In addition to experiencing erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation, both linked to anxiety, sex may be boring and rote with anxious men. They can become “superstitious” about not messing up something that works for them, or that they feel works for their wives. Often, they are focused on performance at the expense of fun, spontaneity, or experimentation. Women don’t realize that the fear of losing their erection (and the fear of being judged if this happens) is at the root of what feels like detached, uninspiring sex.
If these points resonate with you, therapy can help. Exposure therapy and its principles are at the heart of most treatments for anxiety, whether this is social anxiety, panic, or generalized anxiety. In addition to the impact of genetics (few anxious people don’t have an anxious parent), there is a huge impact of upbringing and learned attitudes about the world, including fear of change and fear of negative evaluation.
Deeper work that explores the man’s family of origin can be transformational in allowing the man to see that his thought patterns were learned and can be unlearned. Empathy is not a strength of many anxious men, because when they are experiencing “fight or flight,” which is a daily feeling, they stop thinking about how their wife and kids are feeling.
Therapy can help with perspective-taking in this way. And finally, couples counseling can also help partners work together and communicate effectively when one is anxious, and work on physical intimacy issues as well. Don’t waste more time being anxious when you could be living a more peaceful and fulfilling life.
Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.