- Emotions – The Positive Emotions and How They Work In Our Life
- Emotions – Anger – Practical Steps
- Emotions – Anger and Fear
Emotions – Anger and Fear
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I’m glad Jeff talked about the issue of repressing emotions last week and some of the damage it can cause. Emotions are so powerful. But at the same time, they are so beastial. Some of the same emotions we experience, excitement, anger, etc., are shared with a host of animals.
What’s unique about us as humans is the way we interpret emotions, how we can bring them to mind with thoughts, and control them and channel them with our thoughts.
What is anger?
A biological reaction
People are very confused about this emotion. This emotion, as it appears all our emotions, originates in the center of our brain, just above the brain stem. It is an emotion of readiness, action, alertness. When you get angry, you are like a coiled spring . . .
Anger is not aggression. That may be how you choose to act on your anger. But they are not equal. This is very important for our discussion, as you will see later. Aggression, like all responses to anger, is a learned response. But anger itself is arousal to action, and it may be very powerful.
It is impossible as a human to avoid anger. It is absolutely a basic biological response.
The Bible recognizes this, as it assumes we’ll get angry. We’ll look at some passages on anger in a moment. But the Bible’s concern is with how we react to that anger.
We learn our response
What is unique about us as humans is that in our brains we have a frontal lobe which takes emotional input, like anger, and interprets it and decides what action to take. So, the second, very important part of our definition of anger: How you respond to anger is a completely learned behavior. You learn it by trying it, and getting reinforced.
Example: Kids who try to throw temper tantrums, and then get their way, learn that this is an effective way to deal with that agitated feeling, that coiled spring. He lodges that in his brain for later.
Example: Someone who pouts and withdraws, and then gets his way, learns that is effective . . .
So that part is learned. The anger itself is biological, but it is also just a matter of being wound up, coiled, ready to act.
Why do we get angry?
A response to threat
The basic reason we get angry is because we are threatened. It arouses this alertness. That is why anger and fear are so closely related. Fear, emergency, challenge, all of these can give rise to anger.
But anger is the emotion that we want to focus on.
We get angry at people we need
We get angry because we are threatened. That threat can come in any number of ways. It doesn’t have to be some kind of a danger. It can when you want something, and the threat is that you won’t get it. You feel like you need it, but you can’t get it. Then you get angry.
This is why it is that we get angry at people we feel that we need the most. If you feel like you need someone for something, and then they threaten you by not delivering on what you think you need, then it arouses anger.
You think about the people you get angry at the most . . .
Then think about the people you never get angry at. It is probably because you don’t feel like you need that person. They don’t pose a threat.
This is going to be a very important concept when we think about God’s solutions for anger.
How anger manifests itself
The third question I want to ask about anger is how it manifests itself. Because I think there may be some people here who believe that they have only an occassional problem with anger. Others may actually believe that they have no problem with anger at all. Let me tell you, there is no one here tonight, who has a brain in their heads, who doesn’t get angry.
I have borrowed four categories of anger mis-management from a great book I have been reading on the subject, Make Anger Your Ally, by Neil Clark Warren.
Exploders are the ones we all think of when we think of an angry person. They are obviously the most visible. But you must realize that physiologically, the same chemicals and the same reactions are occuring in the body and brain of someone who represses their anger as someone who explodes.
They’re both angry. It just depends what they are doing with it.
There are those who have learned to ignore their anger, or at least pretend to. They have been negatively reinforced for expression of anger in other ways.
Example: Maybe when they exploded, they were severly punished, or they didn’t get their way.
Example: I know one common theme is for women to be taught that displays of anger are “unladylike” and brutish. They’re taught that they won’t be liked if they display their anger.
So, a very common scenario for both men and women is to repress that anger by not coming to terms with it. But the problem is that they have not resolved the source of the anger. So they keep re-living the angering event. They keep remember the hurt or the pain.
And here’s the killer: Each time they re-live that event, the same biological response occurs. They feel the tension. The adrenaline increases. There’s a tightening. And the whole thing is done all over again!
So the result is their body is constantly being tightened and re-tightened, like a spring. There’s damage. Dr. Warren documents the many types of damage tha can occur.
But beyond incidental damage that might occur from this cycle of tension, there are those who have actually learned to make themselves sick. It’s been demonstrated that people know how to give themselves headaches, vomitting, dizziness, etc. But it is also likely, but harder to demonstrate in a lab, that people can give themselves other diseases.
Why would someone make themselves sick? Even if it were possible? Well, I’m not saying that they say, “OK, here’s a headache.” It’s much more subtle than, just like for all of these forms of anger mismanagement. What has happened to this person is that he or she has been reinforced for being ill.
Example: Their parents might punish them for outbursts, ignore them at other times. But when they took ill, then they got attention.
Example: I suppose another scenario might be living in a high pressure home or environment. And when you get sick is the only relief.
What you learn through these kinds of reinforcements is that the state of sickness is a good thing. It’s comfortable. It feels good, even though the body feels bad.
So some people, consciously or otherwise, drive their anger down into their bodies.
Then there are self-punishers. Basically, a self-punisher takes his anger–his aroused state, a state of power–and turns it on himself. If something happens to go wrong, even between himself and another person, he blames himself. He feels like he is loser. He may call himself a lot of different names.
Example: I have watched this type of anger verbalized before, and it has been very dismaying. I remember talking to a girl who had just gotten out of a very cruel and ugly relationship. And her reaction was, “I keep doing this! I’m such a loser! I can’t stop ruining relationships!”
I couldn’t believe my ears! I’m going to bet that was just the tip of the iceberg. The things that a self-punisher would say out loud would have to be much more mild than the things they think.
Of course the result is going to be a severly depressed and despairing state of mind. And when I say depressed and despairing, what I mean is an unmotivated state where you feel like you can’t do anything . . .
Example: Warren relates a study done on dogs, where they were in two halves of a box with a mettle mesh for a floor. A slight electrical charge could be applied to the mesh on one side, and the dog would jump over to the other. Well, then they tied the dogs so that they couldn’t jump over. And, after a while, they stopped trying. But what is amazing is that even after they untied them, they still wouldn’t try! They would just brace themselves for the pain. Even when researchers would try to help them over, the dogs would resist them!
There are plenty of people like that. From a lifetime of tearing into themselves with negative, angry messages, they are despairing.
Finally, there are underhanders. These guys are slippery. These guys are very tricky. Because what they have learned is that outright expression of anger is not to their advantage. So, they have learned to let it out at people in a way that their victim may not even know it. Usually, the tools of choice are sarcasm, jabs and cuts. But they can resort to pouting, acting dismal, very distant, or whatever it is that they know irritates the target of their anger.
This is another form of anger mismanagement that I can understand very well. You see, I learned at a very young age, that exploding with my anger had its price.
Example: I was the kind of kid who threw temper tantrums. And they were special. I shudder to think of how extreme I could get with them. We’re talking bashing things, rolling around, throwing my body down all over the place, drooling, screaming uncontrollably. You would have thought I was demon possessed. But the worst part of it all was that I had 3 older brothers. And they used to say, for entertainment, “Hey, let’s go get Buck angry!” And when they would succeed, then they would start to dance around me with glee and sing a song, “Temper tantrum time . . .”
I learned that when you explode with your emotions, you are the victim. You are exposed for anyone to take advantage of you. So I worked and worked and worked to get control. I asked advice of people. Here was a little kid, talking to people like they were doctors, “How do you get control of your anger when you feel it coming on?” So I learned how to do that, externally.
Instead, I began to do what all underhanders do. I learned to target people with my anger in underhanded ways. I learned to watch someone and understand what gets them angry.
Example: “Oh, you hate when I’m real noisy.”
Example: “Oh, you hate it when someone doesn’t respond to you, when they just look at you.”
Example: “Oh, you hate it when someone acts like you’re stupid.”
I began to master the science of knowing what irritates people and getting them.
The worst thing about the underhander is that they can finally get to you, and you say, “Man! Cut it out! You’re driving me crazy!” And they can say, “Oh? Cool it man! I don’t know what you’re talking about! Just settle down and explain your problem to me.” And they make you feel stupid for getting angry!
Very effective, and very alienating. It’s the kind of person that no one wants to get close to because they’re dangerous. You can sense it.
No underhander I’ve talked to likes that part of the deal.
Anger is not bad
We’ve talked about anger, where it comes from and how we see it differently in our lives. But we all see it. Now I want to talk about God’s point of view on how to handle it.
And the first thing we need to realize is that anger is not bad. Even though many of the passages in the Bible are negative about anger, this is because humans mishandle their anger. That is why the Bible says that anger is dangerous and harmful. No humans handle it right.
On the other hand, if anger is handled correctly, the Bible recognizes it as a positive force.
God gets angry
For one thing, God himself gets angry.
Jesus in the temple
There are numerous examples of this throughout the Bible. But one of the most startling is when Jesus was on the earth, and he got angry at some people in the temple.
The people who ran the temple at the time were doing what religious people are famous for, bilking gullible worshippers. They had quite a little elaborate scheme set up there. And when Jesus saw it, he was furious. He had to do something about it. He couldn’t just sit idle. This is what anger is all about–the power to act.
He didn’t just act on impulse. But he went back out of the temple, the Bible tells us, and fashioned a cord whip. Then he marched back in there and whooped on all the salesmen and con artists so hard that they left their money and ran!
That’s some serious forcefulness. That’s some serious power. And it was used rightly.
So, God gets angry. Jesus got angry as a human. It is possible to use anger in a good way.
It is assumed (Eph. 4:26)
In another passage, Eph. 4:26, the Bible tells us that the problem is not anger itself. It says . . .
So, it is possible to be angry, but not to sin. That is an idea we need to develop here.
So, basically, it seems like the Bible is saying that you should be angry, but you should handle it like God does.
That is what I want to turn to now.
Scriptures on handling anger
The source of stability: acceptance from God
Where we need to start in dealing with anger is to find some stability. We need to address the problem feeling so threatened by people and situations. How can we reduce the threat we feel? That could help us to substantially control our anger.
Secondly, when we do feel threatened, we need to somehow make it so that it’s not a panick situation. In other words, how can we keep a threat in perspective and see it for what it is? It’s when we blow things up that our anger can really take off and we can take irrational measures.
The Bible has a couple solutions for this that are absolutely unique. Because they are solutions that God offers.
Our acceptance is from God
The first is that we need the emotional stabilizing of God’s love. This is going to be a theme that we come back to several times in this series. But basically, it is the idea that your emotions will be more stable, more secure, and you will feel less threatened if you feel unconditional acceptance and love.
This is a principle that we now see secular counselors advocating as a basci human need. People like Carl Rogers say we all need “positive regard” and “unconditional acceptance.” But it’s very difficult for them to say where such love would or could come from.
But God has always said that we need his love. We need to understand and believe in his love in order to be complete. I like the strong way that Paul puts it in Titus 3. Paul is a blunt, straightforward type of guy. And if he has a problem, he calls it. Here’s how he described himself apart from God’s love,
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us.
Talk about emotions out of control . . . And he says that his only salvation was experiencing the kindness and love of God.
This is something that we need to experience. God says we need it. We were meant to have it as humans. But the barrier that has always stood in the way has been our sins. All our sins stood as a point of contention between ourselves and God.
And yet, in his first act of unconditional love for us, he offers to completely forgive us. This can be your first experience of God’s unconditional love, to come to him and seek his forgiveness.
Our needs are met by God
But God wants to do more. He wants to make it so that you don’t have to rely on yourself and other people for your needs. Here, like I said before, is where the major source of threat and therefore anger comes from. But God wants to undermine that by promising to meet our needs himself.
In Philippians 4, Paul again says this about God,
And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
That is God’s desire. If we trust him, he wants to meet our needs. And we’re not talking some pie in the sky, theoretical promise here. He really wants to meet them.
I wish we had time to turn to Matt. 6, where Jesus identifies the source of worries and anxieties as us, trying to take care of ourselves. And he says that the answer is . . .
Why are you angry?
These two insights about God and his love for us are everything. I could sit up here and give you a 10 point manual on how to handle your anger, and it wouldn’t matter. Because this is where it all starts. However, I do want to give at least a few practical points from the Bible as well.
The first comes from God’s dealings with a guy named Cain, back in Gen. 4 The situation is that Cain’s younger brother had done some things to show him up. And Cain was jealous and angry about that. It’s interesting how God intervenes in the situation.
Notice God didn’t say, “Cut that out!” He asked a question. And it was a good question. “Why are you angry?”
This is the first thing we need to start to do if we are going to get control of our anger: Understand what is making us angry. Put it into words.
Now, what this means first and foremost is that we have to take responsibility for our anger. It’s not enough to say, “He made me angry by shortchanging me.” You have to go deeper than that: What expectation did you have for that person? What did you think that you needed from that person?
So, instead it might be, “I felt I needed such and such from him, and I didn’t get it. So I got angry.” You’re making the link to your felt needs and expectations.
We would understand our anger so much better if we took on this practice. And I suggest we do so with another person. This is somewhat embarassing. But if you got into the habbit of explaining to someone why you got angry. It sounds remarkable as it comes out.
Example: I got angry with her because she brought bad feelings to me on a night when I wanted to have good feelings. I felt I needed good feelings, she injected bad ones.
Example: I felt I needed to get my way, so I thought I could bowl her over with anger!
Example: I thought if I gave in it would be embarassing. I felt I needed to protect my pride, so I lashed out!
So the first practical step I can recommend is to begin to understand why you get angry. You may need some help here. The help of an uninvolved party you can be honest with. Begin to verbalize the reasons you get angry. Some even suggest that you keep an anger journal.
The second thing we see about this passage is that God tells him something about his feelings. “Do right,” he said, “and your feelings will change.”
This is a revelation into how we are as humans from the architect himself.
It’s not clear exactly what God wanted Cain to do here. Although, it probably was clear to Cain. Cain’s conscience was probably telling him what to do.
Resolving with people
In other places in the Bible, however, we know that God puts a high priority on resolving between people.
I wish I had time to go into the whole issue of resolution between angry parties. But at the bottom of it all, I can say that the insight the Bible has, which you won’t hear elsewhere, is that God doesn’t think that pride is something you should try to keep.
That’s what you’ll keep hearing from everyone. It’s universal. “I had to hold on to my pride!” “No matter how much I liked the feller, I couldn’t just throw away my pride and act like nothing was wrong!”
The Bible sees pride as nothing but a trouble maker. It is the wall that comes between people and turns simple anger into hatred and division.
The Bible puts a high value on humility. Because I know I’m loved by God, because I know I have value, I don’t have to cling to this self-centered concept we call pride.
If you have a Bible, I want to give you some scriptures to look up later and consider what they have to say about pride, getting along with each other and resolving.
Matthew 5:23, 24; Romans 12:17-21; Philippians 2:3, 4
Other thoughts to add
What about “getting it off your chest?