Is Irritable Male Syndrome Wrecking Your
Relationships? 3 Things You Must Do Now to Protect
Shortly after The Irritable Male Syndrome was
published in 2004, I began to get letters from
women all over the world who recognized themselves
and the men in their lives in the stories I
recounted in the book. This is typical of many I
Last month a man came home from work with
my husbands face but he did not act at all
like the man I married. I've known this man for 30
years, married 22 of them and have never met this
guy before. Angry, nasty, and cruel are just a few
words to describe him. He used to be the most
upbeat, happy person I knew. Now hes gone
from Mr. Nice to Mr. Mean. In spite of how he
treats me I still love my husband and want to save
our marriage. Please, can you help me? MK.
I wrote Mr. Mean: Saving Your Relationship from
the Irritable Male Syndrome to respond to the women
who asked for a book that would help them know what
to do to save themselves, rescue their relationship
and support their man. I also wrote for the men
who were beginning to break through their denial
and to see things through the eyes of their
Here are 3 essential sections from the book that
you can use now to better understand Irritable Male
Syndrome (IMS) and to take appropriate action.
1. How Can A Man Change From Dr. Jekyll to
Mr. Hyde Seemingly Overnight?
The book Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written by
Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886 and has become a
mainstay of stage and screen throughout the world.
It seems to speak to something in the human psyche,
particularly the male mind. The story is about Dr.
Henry Jekyll who is pursuing his life-long quest to
separate the two natures of man to get at the
essence of good and evil.
Refused help by his peers and superiors, he
begins experiments on himself with his own formula.
He meets with success, yet the results are
shocking. The evil nature of Dr. Jekyll surfaces
as a separate identity: Edward Hyde. Hyde begins
murdering the members of the Board of Governors who
previously refused assistance to Jekyll's cause.
Throughout the story Jekyll fights in vain to keep
his darker half under control.
Even this short summary of the story can give us
important insights about what is going on with so
many men today. Like the good doctor in the story,
men today are questioning what is right
and what is wrong in the world. For
many men, they have spent their lives trying to do
what they thought was right. Theyve done
their best to make the world a better place for
their wives and children, but they feel they have
Many have worked at jobs that no longer exist or
have been laid off because of a sinking economy.
More and more men, whether working or not, feel
that their dreams of success are slipping away from
them. They work harder and make less money. They
do everything they can to create a secure life for
themselves and their family and see their
retirement and savings accounts getting lower and
lower. Their fear, frustration, and shame often
turn to anger.
Another aspect of the story is instructive. Dr.
Jekyll feels betrayed by his superiors, and as the
transformed Mr. Hyde he begins to murder the Board
of Governors who refused previously to support his
efforts. Susan Faludi, author of Stiffed: The
Betrayal of the American Male captures the betrayal
felt by the average guy towards the men in power
who promised that if he played by the rules and
worked hard he would ascend the ladder of success
until he reached the top.
Implicit in all of this, says
Faludi, was a promise of loyalty, a guarantee
to the new man of tomorrow that his company would
never fire him, his wife would never leave him, and
the team he rooted for would never pull up stakes.
Instead, the average man found his father was an
absent father, the job market had no place for him,
women were ashamed of his inability to make a
decent living, and his favorite sports team moved
to another city and abandoned him.
The first step to helping yourself and the man
in your life is to put yourself in his shoes. Can
you empathize with how a man feels? Can you
experience the rage that comes from the betrayal of
a promise? Can you understand why Dr. Jekyll
becomes Mr. Hyde and goes after those in power who
2. What Is the Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS)
and Why Is It So Dangerous?
After studying IMS for nearly 10 year now, I
have a pretty clear picture of what we are dealing
with. Heres how I define Irritable Male
A state of hypersensitivity, anxiety,
frustration, and anger that occurs in males and is
associated with biochemical changes, hormonal
fluctuations, stress, and loss of male
Working with men (and those who live with them)
who are experiencing IMS, I have found there are
four core symptoms
that underlie many others: hypersensitivity,
anxiety, frustration and anger.
The women who live with these men say things
like the following:
- I feel like I have to walk on eggshells when
Im around him.
- I never know when Im going to say
something that will set him off.
- Hes like a time bomb ready to explode
but I never know when.
- Nothing I do pleases him.
The men dont often recognize their own
hypersensitivity. Rather, their perception is that
they are fine but everyone else is going out of
their way to irritate them. The guys say things
- Quit bothering me.
- Leave me alone.
- No, nothings wrong. Im fine.
- They dont say anything. They
increasingly withdraw into a numbing
One concept I have found helpful is the notion
that many of us are emotionally
sunburned, but our partners dont know
it. We might think of a man who is extremely
sunburned and gets a loving hug from his wife. He
cries out in anger and pain. He assumes she knows
hes sunburned so if she grabs him
she must be trying to hurt him. She has no idea he
is sunburned and cant understand why he
reacts angrily to her loving touch. You can see
how this can lead a couple down a road of
Anxiety is a state of apprehension, uncertainty,
and fear resulting from the anticipation of a
realistic, or fantasized, threatening event or
situation. IMS men live in constant worry and
fear. There are many real threats that they are
dealing withsexual changes, job insecurities,
relationship problems. There are also many
uncertainties that lead men to ruminate and
fantasize about future problems.
IMS men feel blocked in attaining what they want
and need in life. They often dont even know
what they need. When they do know, they may think
theres no way they can get it. They often
feel defeated in the things they try to do to
improve their lives. These men feel frustrated in
their relationships with family, friends, and at
work. The world is changing and they dont
know where, how, or if they fit in.
Author Susan Faludi captures this frustration in
her book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American
Man. The frustration is expressed in the question
that is at the center of her study of American
males. If, as men are so often told, they
are the dominant sex, why do so many of them feel
dominated, done in by the world? This
frustration, that is frequently hidden and
unrecognized, is a key element of IMS.
Anger can be simply defined as a strong feeling
of displeasure or hostility. Yet anger is a
complex emotion. Outwardly expressed it can lead
to aggression and violence. When it is turned
inward it can result in depression and suicide.
Anger can be direct and obvious or it can be subtle
and covert. Anger can be loud or quiet. It can be
expressed as hateful words, hurtful actions, or in
For many men, anger is the only emotion they
have learned to express. Growing up male, we are
taught to avoid anything that is seen as the least
bit feminine. We are taught that men
do while women feel. As a
result men learn to keep all emotions under wrap.
We cannot show we are hurt, afraid, worried, or
panicked. The only feeling that is sometimes
allowed to many men is anger. When men begin going
through IMS, it is often anger that is the primary
If these symptoms are not addressed adequately
they tend to get worse. Over a period of weeks,
months, and years, the pressure builds up. Often
it explodes, seemingly out of the blue. One day he
appears to be fine. The next, hes claiming
hes had enough and he wants to leave. Most
women Ive talked with say they felt that
something wasnt right, but they didnt
have the understanding and the courage to deal with
it directly. Dont let this happen to
Many women suffer indirectly from IMS as they
see the man they love becoming more and more
unhappy, angry, and withdrawn. They also suffer
directly as they increasingly become the target of
his angry and erratic moods. The relationship that
they have lovingly built through the years begins
to crumble. This is more than painful. It is a
What Causes Irritable Male Syndrome?
Based on research and feedback involving more
than 60,000 men, we have a much better
understanding of what is causing IMS. Although
triggers vary, man to man, we found that there were
four key elements at
the core of most mens problems: 1) Hormonal
fluctuations, 2) Biochemical changes in brain
chemistry, 3) Increasing stress, 4) Loss of male
identity and purpose.
Hormones and IMS.
In order to understand the way in which hormonal
fluctuations cause IMS in men, we need to know
something about testosterone. Theresa L. Crenshaw,
M.D., author of The Alchemy of Love and Lust,
describes testosterone this way:
Testosterone is the young Marlon
Brandosexual, sensual, alluring, dark, with a
She goes on to say that It is also our
warmone, triggering aggression,
competitiveness, and even violence. Testy is a
fitting term. We know that men with
testosterone levels that are too high can become
angry and aggressive. But recent research shows
that most hormonal problems in men are caused by
testosterone levels that are too low.
Dr. Gerald Lincoln, who coined the term
Irritable Male Syndrome, found that
lowering levels of testosterone in his research
animals caused them to become more irritable,
biting their cages as well as the researchers who
were testing them. Larrian Gillespie, M.D., an
expert on male and female hormones says, Low
testosterone is associated with symptoms of
Irritable Male Syndrome.
Brain-Chemistry Changes and IMS:
Most people have heard of the brain
neurotransmitter, serotonin. When we have enough
flowing through our brains, we feel good. When
there isnt enough, we feel bad. Siegfried
Meryn, M.D., author of Mens Health and the
Hormone Revolution calls serotonin the male
hormone of bliss. Women have the same
hormone in their brains and it has an equally
positive effect on them. The more serotonin
the body produces, says Dr. Meryn, the
happier, more positive and more euphoric we are.
Low serotonin can contribute to a mans
irritability and aggression.
One of the most common causes of low serotonin
levels is our eating and drinking habits. For
instance, research has shown that protein, if
consumed in excessive quantity, suppresses central
nervous system serotonin levels. Many men were
taught to believe that eating lots of meat would
make them manly. Not only are there hormones
injected in meat to make the animals fatter, but
the protein contained in the meat can be harmful as
Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., and her colleagues at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that a
high protein, low carbohydrate diet can cause
increased irritability in men. They found that men
often mistake their cravings for healthy
carbohydrates, such as those found in vegetables
like potatoes, rice, corn, squash, etc., with
cravings for protein found in meat.
Eating protein when we need
carbohydrates, says Wurtman, will make
us grumpy, irritable, or restless.
Wurtmans team also found that alcohol
consumption increases serotonin levels initially.
However, chronic use dramatically lowers serotonin,
resulting in depression, carbohydrate cravings,
sleep disturbances, and proneness to
argumentativeness and irritability. It may be that
the male propensity to eat too much meat and drink
too much alcohol is contributing to lower serotonin
levels in brain chemistry, which leads to symptoms
Stress and IMS.
We all know the feeling. Weve had another
one of those days at work. One deadline after
another, and there isnt enough time to
breathe. Someone is always making more demands,
and no matter how hard we try to stay on top of
things, we seem to be getting farther and farther
behind. Many of us have lost our jobs. If we have
a job, were often working more hours for less
money. The economy is in turmoil. Our savings are
dwindling, and our hopes for retirement seem to be
fading away. We all recognize the feeling of being
In my experience as a psychotherapist, I have
found that stress underlies most of the
psychological, social, and medical problems that
people face in contemporary society, including IMS.
For most of us, stress is synonymous with worry.
If it is something that makes us worry, then it is
We cant avoid stress, nor would we want
to. Life is change and change is life. The
problem arises when there is too much change in too
short a time. We might think of the problem that
leads to the Irritable Male Syndrome as
dis-stress or overstress.
Stress is unavoidable, necessary, invigorating and
life-enhancing. Distress and overstress can cause
untold difficulties if not understood and
So, what can we do to relieve the build up of
stress? Theres actually a very simple
answer. If you think about the kinds of stresses
our bodies are designed to meet, they all involve
physical activity. When a wild animal came into
the camp of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we
either fought or ran away. In either case, we
utilized a lot of physical energy.
Its physical activity that allows the body
to attend to the stress and then to return to
normal. In our modern world, we usually dont
have wild animals bursting into our living rooms.
The stresses are more psychological than physical.
Yet the reaction is the same. Our bodies release
stress hormones that can only be dissipated through
physical activity. So, if you build up stress
every day, you must do something physical every
day. Walk, run, take an aerobics class. As the
saying goes, just do it. Youll
feel better and its a sure-fire way to treat
Loss of Male Identity and Purpose and IMS.
For most of human history, the male role was
clear. Our main job was to bring home the
bacon. We hunted for our food and shared
what we killed with family and tribe. Everyone had
a role to play. Some were good at tracking
animals. Others excelled at making bows and arrows
or spears. Some men were strong and could shoot an
arrow with enough force to kill a buffalo. Others
were skilled at singing songs and doing dances that
invoked the spirit of the animal and made the hunt
But now many of us work at jobs that we hate,
producing goods or services that have no real value
to the community. Weve gotten farther and
farther away from the basics of bringing home food
weve hunted or grown by ourselves. The money
we receive is small compensation for doing work
that is meaningless. And the men with some kind of
job, no matter how bad, are the lucky ones. More
and more men are losing their jobs and cant
easily find new ones.
In her book, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the
American Man, author Susan Faludi concludes
that male stress, shame, depression, and violence
are not just a problem of individual men, but a
product of the social betrayal that men feel as a
result of the changing economic situation we all
face. One of the men Faludi talked to at length,
Don Motta, could be speaking for millions of men in
this country who have been laid off, been
downsized, or part of a company that has gone
There is no way you can feel like a
man, says Motta. You cant.
Its the fact that Im not capable of
supporting my family
When youve been
very successful in buying a house, a car, and could
pay for your daughter to go to college, though she
didnt want to, you have a sense of success
and people see it. I havent been able to
support my daughter. I havent been able to
support my wife. Ill be very frank with
you, he said slowly, placing every word down
as if each were an increasingly heavy weight.
I. Feel. Ive. Been.
As Faludi interviewed men all across the
country, she uncovered a fact that most men and
women know all too well. Men put a lot of their
identity and sense of self-worth into their jobs.
If we arent working or cant support our
family, we feel that were not really men.
Mottas feeling of being castrated, speaks
volumes. Even men who choose to retire, often feel
lost and inadequate. We need to help men know that
there is more to who they are than a paycheck. But
we also have to develop societies that create
meaningful work that can provide a decent
All Four Are Related
Any one of the four causes mentioned above could
have a major impact on a man and contribute to IMS.
But what makes it even more difficult is that they
interact with each other. When a man doesnt
feel he has meaningful work, for instance, his
stress levels go up and his testosterone levels go
down. When men are stressed they often drink too
much, which lowers their testosterone as well as
their serotonin levels.
The good news is that by changing any one, we
can impact all of them. Here are a few things a
man can do now. Have his hormone levels checked.
Find out if his testosterone is low. Eat healthy
food with a balance of carbohydrates, fats, and
proteins. Exercise every day. Look for work that
is meaningful, and he should not take it personally
if our dysfunctional economy pushes him out of his
job. He should grow something he can eat, even
its just a carrot or potato.
Write down the ways in which your man's hormonal
fluctuations, biochemical changes, increasing
stress, and loss of male identity and purpose may
be impacting you. How are they impacting the man
in your life? Resist the temptation to immediately
go and tell him what to do. Rather, listen deeply.
Put yourself in his shoes. Get in touch with his
feelings and his needs. It takes time to deal with
these issues. Be patient. Be kind.
* * *
Wealth can't buy health, but health can buy
wealth. - Henry David Thoreau
is the internationally best-selling author of eight
books including Male
translated into 17 foreign languages. Other books
for Love in All the Wrong
Irritable Male Syndrome: Managing. The 4 Key Causes
of Depression and
Aggression and his
latest book Mr.
Mean: Saving Your Relationship from the Irritable
Male Syndrome. For over
45 years he has been a leader in the field of men's
health. He is a member of the International
Scientific Board of the World Congress on
Mens Health and has been on the Board of
Advisors of the Mens Health Network since its
founding in 1992. His work has been featured in
major newspapers throughout the United States
including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall
Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and USA
Today. He has been featured on more than 1,000
radio and T.V. programs including The View with
Barbara Walters, Good Morning America, Inside
Edition, CBS, NBC, and Fox News, To Tell the Truth,
Extra, Leeza, Geraldo, and Joan Rivers. He also did
a nationally televised special on Male Menopause
for PBS. To receive a Free E-book on Mens
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