A series on the topic of anger.
“Irritable man syndrome” has struck again this week. This time, after Sunday service, just a block from pulling out of the church parking lot. Angry outbursts directed towards your wife and witnessed by your young children. These recent outbursts of anger are even surprising you. You can no longer ignore your anger; it is an issue. Are you just an angry guy? It wasn’t like this 10 years ago, when it was just you and your young bride. But it seems to happen frequently with the stresses of life–the job, the marriage, the kids, and the debt. It’s a problem. Your default output “to stress” seems to have only one setting–irritability. You are tired of being tired and angry. Then, there is this passive, low-grade anger that seems to be just droning away in the background like frustrations, irritability, and bitterness. But a lot of this is a mystery to you. Anger seems to well up from within, and other times, it seems to come from outside yourself.
Are you a clam or a volcano? Either way, both reactions to anger are not healthy and erode our relationships. You can change for the better. Awareness is a tremendous first step. We will provide practical steps to recognize when you head down the anger path, so you can stop and course-correct.
What if I told you most of our anger is not unusual? It’s common and part of what makes us human. Did you realize anger is judgemental by nature? It says, “I am against that _____.” Fill in the blank. Through judgement, we declare something as unacceptable and we will voice our displeasure in some way. It’s also diagnostic–meaning it is pointing to something within us.
Types of Anger
When we consider anger, we often expect the big show stoppers, like the dramatic or ugly meltdowns or blowups, but there are other types of anger. Some examples are: blowouts, arguing, violence, frustrations, irritability, cranky, passive-aggressive aggressions, grumbling (complaining), bitterness, self-righteous anger. It helps to name these in our own lives and understand that “bad” anger damages and maims us, those around us, and erodes our relationships. Here is a helpful infographic from Rick Thomas’ counseling ministry.
“So these are the types of anger, but what is it?”
Scripture sheds light on our anger and where it comes from. Our first example is from James 4:1-3:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
So anger is? It is the way we react when something we see that is important is not the way it should be (fill in the blank_____). It is saying, “I am against that!” Whatever that ____ may be. So, anger is judgmental by nature. Since anger is judgmental, it is a moral matter because it makes a statement about what matters to you. It is part of being human–it is by design. It is part of being made in God’s image. But it is warped and twisted, isn’t it; we can tell. God gets angry (The wrath of God). When we get angry–most times we do it wrongly. We get angry over ungodly reasons and we show that anger in ungodly ways. On a side note, every time we get angry, we make our values and point of view clear (or explicit) to those around us.
Eleven years ago, I learned this concept first hand. Though I wish I could say this was a singular event, it was rather a process that happened daily involving trips home at the end of my workday. By God’s grace through His Word, well-timed godly resources, and discipleship from my church’s men’s group that helped me shed light on my anger–that it was selfish, controlling at its roots and not christlike. God used these car trips home from work to point to things within myself that were demanding even above God’s plan for me on those days.
On most days, it took about 30 minutes to drive home. With the frustrations of the workday behind me, I would head homeward, calculating my remaining time I had in the day. What could I fill it with? The shows to watch, tasks that I wanted to conquer, and entertainment I want to consume. My selfishness mixed with my desire to control my outcomes flamed my egotism.
Arriving home, my wife greeted me, along with our baby and our toddler. Wouldn’t you know, she had her own frustrations for that day with managing a household and two young children, in addition to looking forward to engaging with her husband, another human being that did not need wiping or burping. The mix of ignoring my responsibilities, loved ones, and wanting to map out my self-seeking plans for the evening were as explosive as you’d imagined.
Movie Marquees and Anger?
My anger, our anger, points to something within us. It is diagnostic. Think of it this way: The classic movie marquee. With all marquees, because of limited space, you always want to put the headliner up in the neon and lights. But there are other movies in the theater that are playing and all help keep the theater going financially. Anger is the headliner in neon and lights. But there are other emotions and thoughts that drive it to produce anger. And those are the movies playing in the theater. So ask yourself, “What is behind my anger?” I will give you a hint: it originates in our hearts and minds. It comes from our motivations and desires. We are all interpreters. Our hearts and minds are always actively interpreting the world around us.
Now let’s recall James 4:1-3 from earlier and add James 1:13-16 to our understanding of anger.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.
Any argument or outburst of anger and you will find ruling expectations / ruling desires that are being frustrated.
Back to my car ride home from work. When I exploded in anger, it was not my wife’s own frustrations that caused my anger, nor were they the source of my anger; it was a desire that was being frustrated within me that was the issue.
Note: A great resource to read about anger from a Biblical framework is from a book called, “Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness.” (This is an affiliate Amazon link.) By David Powlison.
“So. What can I do right now?”
There is still something we can do right now that will help us. Awareness. Pray for this–that God will help you see what you did not see yesterday! Awareness is key and will serve us well. These four steps can help:
- Stop/slow down,
- Do a self-check by asking yourself, “What am I feeling?,”
- Ask, “What am I thinking?,”
- Ask, “What is happening on the inside and the situation?
Don’t worry, we will unpack these together.
Step 1. Slow down / stop. Note: At the moment, you may have to do this in your head while the world keeps swirling around you. When anger comes, all things heat up and speed up. Did you know we can detect anger by this? Many emotions carry us off in the heat of the moment (They heat up and speed up). When your emotions and thoughts race–apply the brakes to slow down or stop. And ask yourself with your inner voice, “Hey, what is going on here?”
Steps 2 and 3. Start the process of the self-check. Remember, you cannot control what the other person does or may not control the situation happening to you, but you can control your part by doing this. Stop and ask yourself, “What do I feel?” And, “What am I thinking?”
Did you notice you experience more than anger? And also, did you notice you can go through multiple emotions and thoughts at the same time? Many times you find that they are incongruent. Understanding for example you love your wife, but you’re exasperated by a certain part or aspect of her in a particular reoccurring scenario that plays out on a weekly basis. Now add in thoughts that are mixed as well.
Wouldn’t it be nice to stop and pause and do a self-check? Heck yes! When you start this, you will be surprised at what you find. It will help bring into focus the blurry emotions and thoughts just under the surface. To clarify, force yourself to add words, to bring emotions into focus in your mind. I appreciate, for many adults, that their anger is kinda scary to them because it lies in murky waters. “Name it and claim it, brother!”
Do you know what happens in your mind first when you experience something? Is it an emotion or a thought? It is an emotion. That is how God designed us. It happens in a region of our brain called the amygdala, and two milliseconds later our prefrontal cortex arrives on the scene with some thoughts. So, know this about yourself, its emotions first, then thoughts are second. The “fight or flight,” saying–that is the quick acting amygdala in your brain, kicking in to produce that quick emotional reaction. So, help yourself by realizing the first thing that happens inside you when you experience anything is an emotion, no matter how mundane. Be aware that your emotions and thoughts may not be going in the same general direction.
Step 4. Slowing down and gut checking your emotions and thoughts. Look around on the inside and outside. “Ok, what is happening right now?” within yourself and the situation. Mentally, we covered that in steps 2 and 3. Now, check yourself physically. Are you tired, Hangry, injured, sour, or positive and upbeat? It matters. And finally, what is happening around you? What is the situation?
Now armed with this 4th step process, you can increase your awareness. This awareness will give you the extra time to think about the situation and not be reactive but to be redemptively proactive in the situation. Put to death the “Irritable man syndrome” in your life.
In the following articles in this anger series, we will explain the “why’s” to why we get angry, which will be helpful because it will increase your understanding about yourself, sin, God, and your relationships. It will aid you in proactively changing for the better.
Did you know anger is judgmental in nature? It’s part of being human. Even God gets angry. But for most of us, there is a difference between God’s and man’s anger, isn’t there? That is because, when we get angry, we get mad for wrong reasons and express it in the wrong ways. So to help, we will increase our awareness and cool ourselves down in moments of anger and conflict by using the four steps listed above. In future articles in this series, we will discuss the why’s and changing for the better. So be on the lookout–this is 1 of 5 in this anger series. Also, if you need more personalized help with the struggle of anger, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for counseling from a biblical perspective at https://www.providencebiblicalcounseling.org/.
Here is a link to Part 2 of this series.