Taming Your Anger

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"Your test seems to indicate that you have some buried anger," said the counselor to his client. "Do you think this could be true?" he asked.

"Me! Angry? Certainly not," replied the client. "I'll punch you in the nose for saying that!"

When it comes to anger we all have a tiger of sorts within. At times it provides great courage and motivation. At other times we are so afraid it will get out of control we bury it so that nobody, including ourselves, will ever know it exists.

Many of us were taught that anger is bad and to show it is immature. The mature person, however, doesn't deny his anger. He has learned to express it in appropriate ways.

Even though some people never show their anger, everybody gets angry sometimes. Anger is a God-given emotion and is neither right or wrong. It's what we do with it that counts.

In fact, there are many things we ought to be angry about, such as social injustice, child abuse, greed and even legalistic religion that makes rules more important than people.

Hostility contaminates everything we do.

Jesus was very angry with the religious people of his day for this very reason. When he healed a man on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were so furious they plotted to kill him. To them, religious observances were more important than the needs of people. We read that Jesus "looked around at them in anger... distressed at their stubborn hearts." 1

Think too of Florence Nightingale. She was very angry about the terrible conditions suffered by wounded soldiers in the Crimean War. She used her anger creatively to bring about major changes in nursing care.

One of the worst things we can do with our anger is to repress and deny it. Long-term repressed anger turns into hostility and contaminates everything we do.

Hostility shows itself in many ways: a negative, critical attitude, nagging, sarcasm, gossip, resentment, hatred, slamming doors, shouting, taking it out on the children, kicking the cat, aggressive driving, childish "I'm hurt!" crying, rebellion, denial of sex in marriage, deviant behavior (prostitutes, for example, are often angry at their fathers), putting people down, constantly running late, passivity, withdrawal, rage, and even criminality. The list is endless.

Repressed anger or hostility, when triggered, can have fatal results. According to The Bulletin, in one year 80 percent of the homicide victims in one state were killed by family members or intimate friends. Most of these fatal attacks were the results of quarrels in everyday situations.

Or, as Dr. Cecil Osborne explains in his book, repressed anger may eventually come out in the "form of some psychosomatic illness: ulcers, asthma, arthritis, colitis, dermatitis, heart ailments or any one of a score of other."2

Furthermore, there is probably nothing more destructive to personal relationships than buried anger or hostility.

Hostility attacks people. Healthy anger is directed against wrong-doing, is connected with love, and is the right amount of anger for the given situation. A helpful question to ask yourself if you think you might be overreacting is: "Should I be this angry?"

People who overreact to situations often have a lot of repressed anger. The immediate situation that brings out the out-of-proportion anger doesn't cause it. It triggers what is already there.

The Bible reminds us that "If you are slow to get angry, you are wise. But if you are quick-tempered, you only show foolishness."3 This isn't an excuse for denying one's anger, as denial can be equally foolish and destructive.

Being quick-tempered is usually overreacting, a sign of unresolved anger.

The Bible also advises: "So get rid of your feelings of hatred [anger]. Don't just pretend to be good! Be done with dishonesty."4 Also, "If you are angry, don't sin by nursing your grudge. Don't let the sun go down with you still angry - get over it quickly; for when you are angry, you give a mighty foothold to the Devil."5

Hostility attacks people. Healthy anger is directed against wrong-doing.

How then do you resolve anger?

First, be honest and admit how you are feeling.

Second, accept yourself as a normal human being who sometimes has angry feelings.

Third, determine to resolve your feelings the same day.

Fourth, express your feeling creatively - perhaps to an under- standing friend first or to an "imaginary" substitute, and where necessary, to the person at whom you are angry. This is not an excuse to lash out at others. The goal should always be to "speak the truth in love."6

When expressing anger we need to verbalize the emotion. Talking about the anger doesn't resolve it. The emotion needs to be released - not as an attack or as blame, but as a confession and expression of our feeling as our problem. When this is done, the anger dissipates.

It is neither true nor helpful to say, "You make me mad." This is blaming the other person for your reaction and puts him or her on the defensive. It is more helpful to say, "I need to talk to you about such and such. I feel very angry about this. I know my anger is my problem and I may be overreacting, but I need to talk to you about this matter." That is, use "I" messages, not "you" messages.

Anger can also be expressed in writing, as David did in Psalms.7 I have done this many times, after which I have torn up the piece of paper. Where necessary I have re-written those feelings and personally shared them with the other person or people involved.

Resolving relationships is very important. Christ reminds us that if we have any conflict with another person, we are to put things right before bringing our gifts to God.8

Fifth, before expressing anger, check to see if you are feeling afraid or threatened, because anger is often used as a defense against feeling afraid. If fear is the problem, talk about that.

Last, when you have shared your anger, forgive. For physical, emotional and spiritual health we need to be in touch with all our feelings (positive and negative), and use and express them in creative ways. This, too, is the way of love, for unresolved anger turns into resentment and builds barriers between friends, loved ones and even God, and blocks out love.

1. Mark 3:5 NIV.   2. Cecil Osborne, The Art of Understanding Yourself, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1967, p. 61.  3. Proverbs 14:29.  4. 1 Peter 2:1 TLB.   5. Ephesians 4:26-27 TLB.   6. Ephesians 4:15.   7. See Psalm 109.   8. See Mark 11:25.

Copyright 2001 by Dick Innes

2001-2002 ACTS International. Used by permission.