Part 1 of a 2-Part Series
Anger is an emotion and many of us have issues with anger. It is also like a fire alarm – it’s loud and warns us to look for a fire. Often we feel angry, but don’t really know why. We just know that we are angry. I get angry at injustice, when I am afraid, or when I feel powerless. Anger can be a signal that tells us we are hurt, or that we have compromised too much in a relationship. It can warn us of emotional danger, or it can be a defensive response to criticism.
Jesus’ Anger and Ours
Most of us view anger in a negative way – and we shut it off as soon as we can. However, the Bible instructs us to be angry and not to sin. Frankly, I’ve never been good at the not sinning part. Jesus got angry. He turned over the tables in the temple and he used a whip to make his point. I love the fact that he was passionate. However, his anger was different from most of ours – he did not sin. Moreover, our anger usually signals that something is wrong and needs our attention. His anger was a righteous response that was intended to right a wrong.
Anger is a Fire Alarm
Most of us need to treat anger like a fire alarm and start looking for the fire. That means asking ourselves what is behind our anger. What is setting off the alarm: Am I insecure, afraid, defensive, needing control, or hurt, to name a few. If our anger was triggered, then our job is to analyze, get honest, and be humble. We need to ask questions, admit pain, and find the sources of our anger in order to deal with them. Instead, most of us try to just contain the anger and do not get to its root. Remember that anger is not the fire – it is just the alarm. It will keep going off until we get to the fire that tripped it.
Steps in Anger Management
In her book The Dance of Anger, Harriet Lerner suggests some behaviors that can help us to avoid the alarm. These include:
- Do speak up when an issue is important to you.
- Don’t strike while the iron is hot. Cool down, think through, proceed with caution.
- Take time to clarify your position.
- Don’t use “below the belt” tactics, such as ordering, ridiculing, moralizing, or preaching.
- Do speak in “I” language: I feel, I want, I fear.
- Don’t make vague requests. Be specific – i.e. I want more love vs. I would like dinner together tonight.
- Do try to appreciate the fact that people are different.
- Don’t participate in intellectual arguments that go nowhere.
- Do recognize that each person is responsible for his or her own behavior. No one made you angry.
- Don’t tell another person what he or she thinks or feels, or “should” think or feel.
- Do try to avoid speaking through a third party. If you want to talk, go directly to the person. No gossiping allowed.
- Do give yourself space and time to try, to be tested, to sometimes fail, and then to try again, and again.
So, what can we do about the loud, and sometimes dangerous, anger alarm? We cannot allow it to continually “go off” on others or ourselves. While the root cause is being found, it must be controlled. Pay attention to what works for you. Observe how others manage their stress and anger. You may count down from 100 in 7s, go for a walk, play a game, cook something, pull weeds, or shoot hoops. You need to learn how to manage the alarm – hopefully before it has actually sounded.
Christian Counseling to Address Your Anger Issues
As a Christian counselor, I am aware that many people have anger issues and that relationships change slowly. Be patient with yourself and with others. Allow your anger to guide you to more self-clarity and empathy, both for yourself and for those around you.
“Rage,” Courtesy of Surlan Soosay, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Angry Woman With Car Broke Down,” by Witthaya Phonsawat, FreeDigitalPhotos.net, ID 100216056