May 20, 2009

Anger--The Misunderstood Emotion

2009 1514 page20 capnger is one of the most complex and confusing feelings we experience. People often say that it’s not good to be angry, yet that explosive emotion can continue to simmer below the surface.

Everyone experiences anger at some time. How then do we manage this powerful emotion appropriately?
A Natural Emotion
Christians look to the Bible for answers. The Gospels reveal that Jesus was angry on several occasions. Perhaps the story that most readily comes to mind is when He drove the money changers out of the Temple (see Matt. 21:12, 13; Mark 11:15-17).
In Ephesians 4:26* Paul wrote: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” This text acknowledges anger as a natural human emotion, but it admonishes us that in our anger we should not sin. In other words, we should be in control of our anger; our anger should not control us. Jesus was angry that day in the Temple, but His anger was under control.
Individuals typically experience anger when they feel taken advantage of, ignored, frustrated, abused, or neglected. Those who have experienced a significant loss, such as the death of a relative or friend, or an economic loss, may also respond with anger.
2009 1514 page20Sometimes anger can mask other feelings such as fear, and sadness can at times mask anger. Anger can also be transferred from one person or situation to another. A mother who has unresolved anger toward her parents may transfer that anger to her own children.
Anger can be defined simply as an intensely emotional response to a situation. In other words, no situation or person can “make” us angry; our anger is directly related to our perceptions of situations, persons, and events. It’s not the negative event itself but our perceptions and thoughts about the negative event that create our emotional response.
Anger itself isn’t negative. It is uncontrollable anger that is dangerous. Because we usually view anger in a negative light and are, therefore, fearful of the emotion, we become reluctant to express our true feelings. There’s a danger, however, of keeping anger bottled inside. Bottled-up anger may explode in an inappropriate manner. Anger has both positive and negative aspects.
Positive Aspects
1. Feelings of anger can signal that there’s something troubling in a situation and that it needs to be resolved.
2. Anger can motivate us to action. The sight of the money changers desecrating the Temple drove Jesus to act. Many injustices are happening in our society, and people should become angry enough to do something about them.
3. Expressing anger can relieve strong feelings and emotions, which 
if kept inside could later have adverse effects.
Negative Aspects
1. Anger that is uncontrolled can cause people to harm others and themselves physically or emotionally.
2. Uncontrolled anger can interfere with thought patterns and the ability to reason.
3. Anger can cause responses that people will often later regret, or that are even punishable by law.
4. Inappropriate anger can alienate individuals from friends and family.
5. Chronic and continuous anger can have adverse effects on health.
Controlling Anger
Self-Awareness—Excuses shouldn’t be made for anger, such as blaming others or saying, “This is just the way I am.” Out-of-control anger is inappropriate, unacceptable, and cannot be justified.
Anger control, when done effectively, doesn’t mean bottling it up. In order 
to better manage anger, it’s important 
to become more self-aware. First learn to acknowledge anger and decide consciously to control it. An awareness of 
the events that trigger anger and the thoughts and feelings that precede an outburst of anger would better help to bring the anger under control. In other words, self-awareness helps us to avoid situations that cause us to become angry. Redirecting thoughts and feelings could prevent individuals from reaching the “boiling point” and exploding in anger.
Physical Activity—Relaxation and physical activity are also excellent stress relievers that can assist in reducing anger. Deep breathing is a simple relaxation technique that can help to relieve stress and therefore bring anger under control. Exercise is an activity that many of us avoid; however, it provides many benefits, primarily helping the mind and body to relax. A relaxed mind and body can alleviate an individual’s susceptibility to stress and angry outbursts. Finding time each day for some relaxation and exercise could greatly improve quality of life.
Talking It Out—Talking to a trusted friend or counselor is also a helpful way of gaining control of anger. This person would provide not only a sounding board for expressing anger but also serve as someone to whom you are accountable. Having to tell a friend each time we lose control of anger is guaranteed to help us think through our feelings. A counselor who is experienced in anger management can also help individuals to effectively develop techniques for appropriately managing anger.
Reconcile—We all experience times of feeling anger toward others, including friends, family members, and even church family members. Inappropriate behavior won’t resolve anger. Aggressive behavior—such as physical and verbal abuse or passive-aggressive behavior, including gossiping or giving “the silent treatment”—will serve only to make the situation worse. A more appropriate method would be to prayerfully approach the person and calmly discuss angry feelings. Be sure to do this at an appropriate time and place, and try not to accuse the other person or to draw conclusions from their actions. It might not have been their intention to offend you. Also, be ready to forgive the other person. The inability to forgive can also render us incapable of letting go of anger.
Turn It Over to God—Finally, and most important, we should pray about our anger and turn it over to God. Many Christians live under a cloud of depression and guilt, which is oftentimes caused by anger. Let’s not allow anger to rob us of a complete and full relationship with Jesus Christ. We should ask God to give us peace and help us to recapture the joy we once had. God is more than willing to receive our burdens and replace them with peace. All we have to do is ask. The Bible says: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved” (Ps. 55:22). We are also reminded in Philippians 4:6, 7: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We can experience renewal if we open our hearts and fully surrender to Christ.
Remember, we are in control. No person or situation can “make” us angry. It’s how we choose to respond to the person or situation that can trigger our anger. So let’s claim this scripture as our own: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13), and trust God to help us gain control of our anger. 
*All Bible texts are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, copyright ” 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Karen Green is a counselor, seminar presenter, and freelance writer. She and her husband, R. Xavier, are the founders of Zavkay Family Services, a company dedicated to strengthening families. They are members of the Conant Gardens Adventist Church in Detroit, Michigan.