Emotions – Anger – Practical Steps

This entry is part [part not set] of 3 in the series Emotions - Buck McCallum

Emotions – Anger – Practical Steps

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Last week we talked about anger.  And because there was so much information, we flowed over into this week.  I said that this week I wanted to get into some practicals for handling your anger.  But before I do that, I just want to remind you of what we did last week:

We defined anger.  We said that anger is just a physiological response of readiness.  A readiness to act.  It is not equal with aggression.  This is so hard for us to understand.  I know from many of the questions I got last week, that is is hard for us to put away this misconception.  But anger is not equal to aggression.  Aggression is just one way that people handle anger.

There is at least one important implication of this: Everyone gets angry.  That is something you cannot help, if you are human.

Briefly, here are the four ways that we identified anger in people.  These are four ways that people mishandle their anger . . .

We also said that anger comes when we are threatened by something.  We may be threatened by someone harming us.  Or, I may be threatened when I feel like I need something from someone, and then I don’t get it.

Example: One thing that really bothers me is if I feel like I won’t get my way.  If I don’t get my way, it says something about me.  Maybe it says that I’m weak.  Or maybe it says that my ways was stupid.  Which means that I’m stupid.  I know I’m not stupid, so I’m going to get my way!

We don’t go through all these reasonings.  But we have at different times.  And if we could think it through, then we would start to see that somehow, some way, we were feeling threatened and therefore we got angry.

The note we ended on last week was that first and foremost, we need a foundation for our emotions.  We need some security for our emotions.  We need something to give us some stability so that each and every little thing won’t set us off.  If I feel real insecure, about myself or about the situation, then I’ll be more likely to get angry.  I’ll be more likely to get threatened.

Example: Have you ever wondered why a full grown man can get angry, and react to it violently to the point that he starts to beat on his wife or his children?  Is he thrilled to be able to beat on someone?  What is it?  What it is, is that man is incredible insecure, to the point that he thinks that wife or those children pose a threat.  They threaten him.  They may threaten his sense of control.  They may threaten him by making him feel unimportant.  I don’t know how.  But this man is so insecure, he gets threatened by his own wife and children.

That’s why it is that the people who can’t control their anger are very fragile people.

So it’s that insecurity and that instability we began to address last week.  And we said that first and foremost, people need to encounter the unconditional love of God.  Experiencing God’s unconditional love is where it all starts.  Because knowing and experiencing God’s love is where you ought to get your emotional security from.

I can tell how my relationship with God is doing, in part by how often I get angry.  Sometimes you will find that you are getting angry a lot.  And I know that symptom as one that tells me I am not doing well in my relationship with God.  When I haven’t been talking to him or relating to him very much, then it starts to show.

Example: I get angry at my dog, because she won’t submit to my control!

Example: I get angry at my tools because they won’t do what I want.

Example: I get angry at other drivers, because they won’t get out of my way.

I can get more unstable because my relationship with God is less stable.

So, before any of the things I am going to talk about tonight, this is most important . . .

God’s advice to the first angry person: Gen. 4

As we talk about how to handle anger, I want to look at a couple of passages out of the Bible where God gives us insight into this emotion.  The first is the first instance recorded in the Bible where someone gets angry.

It happens with a young man named Cain, back in Gen. 4  Cain was Adam and Eve’s first son.  The situation is that Cain’s younger brother had done some things to show him up.  And Cain was jealous and angry about that.  But what’s really interesting is how God intervenes in the situation.

Why are you angry?

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.  God knew what happened.  But he wanted to know why that made Cain angry.  Or, he wanted Cain to think about that.

It’s not enough to say, “He made me angry by ripping me off.”  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?

Remember, if I don’t expect anything from a person, then how are they going to make me angry?  That’s what I have to analyze and understand.

So, instead of just saying, “He did this to me,” 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 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 thought if I gave in it would be embarassing.  I felt I needed to protect my pride, so I lashed out!

Example: I felt I needed to get my way, so I thought I could bowl her over with anger!

As we start to say the reasons, it can be kind of surprising.  You may find that some of the expectations you have on people are unrealistic.  And there is something to deal with.

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.

Do right

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.  There is a relationship between our emotions and what we do.  And, according to God, that relationship is exactly the opposite of what a lot of people believe.  Most people believe that my feelings should dictate what I do.  But God is saying here that your actions will direct your feelings.

I just want to take a moment to address a popular teaching about anger at this point.  It’s known as “venting.”  There is an extremely popular brand of teaching, in professional counseling circles as well as popular advice, that if you are angry you have to ventilate the anger.  It is unhealthy for you to hold it in, so you have to let it fly.  And when they say this, it is almost always by some means of aggression.

Example: Whether it’s aggression at a dummy, or screaming, or whatever.

The reasoning is that if you hold it in, you’ll blow up at some point.  Or, you may suffer from some of the diseases we talked about last week.  So, instead of one big blow up, they say, you can have more little ones.

Now, granted, it is bad to mishandle anger in the ways we talked about last week–self-punishing, underhanding, etc.  But aggression is also mishandling of anger.  And what research shows is that instead of lessening outbursts, aggression breeds aggression.  The more you vent, the less self control you have against venting.

This is why the Bible is so down on expression anger aggressively.  I don’t want to say that it is never good.  But it is almost never the answer.  As James says in James 1:20,

Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

So, God wants us to deal with anger, but not necessarily by ventillating all over someone.

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.

But that does bring us to our next topic, what it is that we should do with anger.

What to do

Anger is a motivator.  Like I said, it makes you ready to act.  It alerts you that you have to do something.  In that respect, it can be a positive force.

I have two different situations in which your anger could be a positive force.

Situations: Agent of Change

The first, is in situations.  When you see things or settings that make you angry, then there is the possibility that you can be the one to bring change.

First, you need to understand why you are angry, as we have already said.  If, in confering with other people and prayer, you decide that you are angry for some very good reasons, then you may decide to use the force of your anger to bring some change.

But never is it good to use the forcefulness of anger in an uncontrolled, undisciplined manner.  Always under control.

Example: Even in situations of seemingly unbriddled aggression, like the football feild, they will teach you that winners control their aggression.  They get control of their emotions and use them carefully.

Example: When Jesus got angry, I refered to it last week, he walked into the temple to chase out some religious con-artists.  He was angry.  He was angry because God’s reputation was being defamed by these guys.  But in his anger, he took the time to think of a plan.  It tells us that he took the time to weave a whip of chords.  And when it came down to it, that power of his anger was under his control.

So, anger can be a great power for change, if it is under control.

People: Resolve

On the other hand, with people, I believe the emphasis in the Bible is that your anger should be a motivator not for change, like you’re going to change that person, but for resolution.  In other words, if you get angry at someone, and decide to do something about it, then usually that means we decide, “I’m going to change him!”

Example: I know that sometimes when I lash out at someone aggressively, what am I trying to do?  I’m trying to make them pay so severely, that they will stop the offensive behavior.  And that’s the kind of thing that doesn’t work (ref. James 1).  You may get short term compliance, but long term resentment and alienation.

Instead, the Bible tells us that we should work at resolving.  Paul puts it this way in Rom. 12,

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

This isn’t saying that you will never have conflict.  It’s saying that you take the initiative to make peace.  Let the anger be a warning flag that we need to work something out with that person.  Don’t ignore it.  But don’t just lash out either.

The barrier: pride

Now the big barrier between people when they are angry is pride.  Once you get angry at someone, there is this feeling that you have to protect your pride.  That’s one of those needs we think we have.

Example: If someone hurts me, and I don’t hurt them back, then what does that say about me?

Example: If I try to get my way, and someone can stop me, then what does that say about me?

Example: If I get in a fight with someone, and I don’t win, then what does that say about me?

You see how pride–the desire to protect your image–becomes entangled in our anger?  And it’s what makes it so hard to resolve.

Pride destroys people

But the Bible’s perspective on pride is that it stinks.  The Bible’s view on pride is that it is a disease, and it wipes out it’s owner.

It’s so funny.  Because the way we think, the one who has the most pride is on top.  Pride something to seek for and flaunt.  But God says, in Pro. 16:18,

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

And again in Pro. 11:2,

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Pride is something that is waiting to do you in.  Pride makes people cling to things and try to prove things that are uterly ridiculous.  Sometimes I’ve seen my pride at work when I’m trying to defend my actions or something, and I wonder if lost my sanity!

And nowhere is this more the case than when we get angry.  Then your pride will inflame and keep you from resolving.

Discipline your pride

The time to work on your pride is not in the heat of anger.  By then it’s too late.  I don’t want to say that there’s no hope at that point.  I’m just saying that the time to work on your pride is now, in everyday life.  Your pride is something that has to be disciplined and brought under control.

Pride won’t just hurt you when you’re angry.  Pride is what makes people be unrealistic about themselves.  Pride is what makes people fail to see their shortcomings.  I could go on and on about the nightmare of human pride.  But let’s just say, it is not your friend.

There are a lot of passages in the Bible on how to work on your pride.  But one of the ones I like the best is in I Peter 5:5-7

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time, casting all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

This is such a good passage because it shows us what humility is all about.  You see it says, “Humble yourself before God . . . casting all your anxieties upon him.”  That’s what humility is, to acknowledge your weaknesses.  To admit you have problems, anxieties, shortcomings.

Pride is to pretend you have it together.  It’s false.  It’s a lie.

But humility is to admit the truth.  It’s to say to God and others, “I have problems.  Here are my problems.”

If you can work on your humility, then the implications for your control of anger will be tremendous.  When you get into a conflict, you won’t feel like you have to protect some image that’s false anyway.  You won’t feel like you can’t admit you’re wrong.  In fact, if you’re a humble person, if you get in conflict with someone, you’ll realize almost immediately that you may be wrong.

You will still feel anger.  But you’ll realize that anger means you need to resolve with someone.

Matthew 5:23, 24; Romans 12:17-21; Philippians 2:3, 4

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