In today’s society, anger is one emotion that is regularly not expressed well. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy notes there are typically three responses to anger which can all be unhealthy: fight, flight, or freeze. Further, with our digital era and social media, impulse control mixed with anger tends to lead to erratic and harmful words expressed. In most of these responses, communication breaks down quickly, feelings are hurt, and relationships become hurt or broken.
Anger disrupts family get-togethers that we are not allowed to discuss political or religious topics. Parents yell at six-year-olds for not doing a good enough job on the soccer field. It’s become a such a problem culturally that it is seriously impacting the development of our children and how they act in society.
Childhood disruptive behaviors such as anger outbursts and aggression are among the most frequent reasons for outpatient mental health referrals.“Behavioral Interventions for Anger, Irritability, and Aggression in Children and Adolescents.” Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology
Maybe the best book of the Bible that addresses anger is the book of Proverbs that will be referenced most here. It’s a book with tweetable nuggets of knowledge that is the perfect length when we are in our anger-fueled mindset. Here’s the first that I hope inspires you to keep learning about anger management, even as you go through this devotional.
Whoever is patient has great understanding,Proverbs 14:29 (NIV)
but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.
The Purpose Of Anger
So what can we do about anger? How do we resolve this?
Interestingly, anger is seen as a bad thing, but why? If we think about it, God has a righteous and holy anger at the very beginning of Scripture when Adam and Eve sinned. We wouldn’t say God did anything wrong. In fact, Jesus also demonstrated anger several times, one of my favorite Bible verses to quote being Jesus getting so upset that He begins to flip tables and benches as He yells at money-lenders in the temple. (Matthew 21:12-13)
Anger, in and of itself, is not bad. Paul explicitly states this in his letter to the Ephesians, a church who clearly needed help with anger management.
In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angryEphesians 4:26 (NIV)
Note that Paul did not say do not be angry, but when you are angry to not sin. You can be angry and not sin. I’ll take it a step further and suggest that those who try to shut down anger, in fact, may need to check your own intentions. It may be that the anger needs to be expressed.
How To Express Anger Healthily
Rick Warren, renown pastor and Christian author/speaker who has advocated for more mental health inclusion in the Church, has a simple technique for expressing anger, using the acrostic THINK.
T: Is it truthful? Is what I’m about to say the truth?
H: Is it helpful? Or will it simply harm the other person?
I: Is it inspirational? Does it build up or does it tear down?
N: Is it necessary? If it’s not necessary, why do I need to say it?
K: Is it kind?“THINK Before You Speak in Anger.” Rick Warren.
Proverbs supports this idea of stopping to think.
A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,Proverbs 15:18 (NIV)
but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.
For me, the best part about this is that you are being intentional with your anger. In counseling, we talk about the need to respond instead of react. When we react, you don’t think about any of those five questions. When you respond, you process through your thoughts, allowing your emotions to die down and not misdirect any other emotions.
Further, when we are angry in an argument, what you argue about regularly ends up not going about the original thing that started the argument. Here’s my favorite example I use in marital/couples/parenting counseling.
The biggest fight that my wife and I had in the first year of our marriage is if my clothing went into the hamper. I throw my clothing towards the hamper bin like I’m Michael Jordan at the free-throw line but it ends up turning out to be more like Shaq, a miss every time. My wife would get so upset at me, “quit leaving your clothes on the floor.” My response usually was along the lines of, “what’s the big deal? I’ll put it in when I take it down to the washer later.” This consistently led to a fight.
One day I had the wisdom to do a version of THINK and ask, “why are you upset?” After a long conversation, it was clear that my wife saw me throwing clothing on the floor as complete disrespect for her. Me doing so was implying to her that she was my maid, something I never, ever wanted to communicate to her. Tears were shed and while I cannot say my rate of getting it in the hamper is much better, her knowing I respect her immensely has improved.
What To Do When You Don’t Express It?
So you’ve used the THINK technique and decided to not express your anger, what do you do now? Surprisingly, you cannot simply be okay. We need to do something with it.
There are several medical and psychological studies out there that show stuffing down your anger, not resolving it, and allowing it to continue to build up and fester can have long-lasting problems on relationships and your health. This includes hypertension, lower immune system response, difficulty sleeping, increased impulse-control problems, anxiety and depressive symptoms, and a whole host of things. It’s suggested that anger felt too intensely or too frequently is as bad or worse than smoking a pack of cigarettes that day.
Here are a couple of things you can do:
- Don’t Deny It Exists. Back to that person who tries to stop an argument, this is who we are talking to. When you repress your anger, you deny it’s there. Deny your anger often enough and you’ll be depressed. Bottling it up inside leads to shame, guilt, resentment, hate, anxiety, and depression. Denying anger is a sin. It’s called lying.
- Seek Counsel. This includes someone who has Godly wisdom, honestly, it might just need to start with praying to God in the first place and you certainly should be praying throughout the process. Do not turn it to gossip, always look to grow stronger in yourself. If need be, go share it with your pastor or counselor.
- Later, Talk To Person. When emotions have died down and you are not emotional, go talk with the person. Develop empathy in understanding their perspective. Use “I statements” to express yourself to them without putting the problem on what they did wrong. And don’t wait six months or a year. You’re hiding from your problems if that’s the case.
- Express It In Healthy Ways. I’m actually going to tell you yelling and punching something is unhealthy. Getting that physical release is not, but if we create a habit of punching or yelling at a pillow or punching bag and later get angry without that object around, it’s too easy to use that individual’s head as a substitute. Don’t pout, spit sarcasm, manipulate, or do something stupid like speed off in your car or drink til you can’t walk. Go for a walk, a run, do push-ups, meditate, read Scripture, listen to music, prepare dinner, draw, knit, or something else.
- Forgive. This one is simple. Forgive their transgressions and ask for forgiveness in anything you did. Ask it of the individual. Ask it of God.
One last Scripture from Proverbs ends this discussion on anger well.
A person’s wisdom yields patience;Proverbs 19:11 (NIV)
it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.
What other Scripture and techniques do you do to avoid anger?