What do we do about our own anger? I don’t want to be a bomb looking for a place to explode, nor do I want to be in danger of imploding, turning the anger inward until I am a wreck. Internalized anger that is never expressed, maybe from a fear of confrontation or by the belief that feeling or expressing anger is wrong, does just as much damage to our bodies, minds and souls as does an explosion of anger.
Most of the time, the anger continuum looks like this model found in Dr. Jeremy Crosby’s book, “A Mind Frozen in Time.” We start out calm, then work up to explosive rage. When sharing this with one person, they commented, “There was a time not too long ago that I woke up every morning somewhere between Frustrated and Agitated, and it didn’t take much to make me furious.” However, most of us, most of the time begin calm then work up the continuum.
So, what can I do when I find myself moving up the scale? Old school said, “Pitch a hissy fit and get over it.” Hissy fits do no one any good. Modern research is very clear that letting it rip by hitting something increases anger and aggression, moving us further up the scale, and does nothing to resolve anger. In addition, laws, social norms, and common sense place limits on how far our anger can take us. It is best to deal with your anger before those triggers tip you over the edge.
Anger can be controlled. Here are five steps from Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, “ANGER, Taming A Powerful Emotion,” that work.
ACKNOWLEDGE - STOP - THINK - CHOOSE - RESPOND
1) ACKNOWLEDGE that we are angry. I have personally been amazed at how much it has helped me to simply say to myself, “I am angry.” Anger’s main purpose is to motivate us to positive action that will leave things better than we found them. So, put it this way; 1) I am angry, 2) This is why, 3) This is what I can do about it. However, before you decide what to do about it, you need to STOP.
2) STOP, because anger is like the flashing red light on the dash of your car. It is saying, “Something is wrong and now is the time to pull over and fix it.” The apostle Paul said it pretty clearly, “In your anger do not sin.”(Ephesians 4:26). He didn’t say don’t get angry, the challenge is do not sin when we are angry. Did your mother teach you to count to ten when you are angry? If so, you might need to add a zero or two to that…count to 100 or even to 1,000. That will give you time to THINK.
3) THINK, and locate the focus of your anger. Is your anger justified? If you were to stand in court would the judge say, “Yes, you had a reason to be angry. Anyone would be angry under those circumstances.” That does not mean you would be declared innocent of anything you did because of your anger. We are responsible for our actions. Anger does not justify mistreating others. Anger does not give us a license to break the law, or even to hurt someone because they have hurt us. We experience anger when love or holiness is violated. Two violations (they hurt me so I hurt them) do not equal innocence.
4) CHOOSE, after an alyzing your options. It is time to ask, “What are the possible actions that I could take?” You might want to write down the thoughts that come to your mind, or say them out loud to yourself. There might be times when you will need to talk it out with a trusted friend, advisor, or counselor. I suggest two fundamental questions: Is it positive and loving? Does it align with the two attributes of God that I mentioned last week, love and holiness? Will it improve our relationship or end it? If the relationship needs to be ended, what is the best way to a necessary ending?
Is overlooking the matter the best option? Revenge is God’s prerogative, not mine (see Romans 12:19). It is selfish to say, “I have a right to set things straight, Grandpa always said, don’t get mad get even.” If “getting even” is a part of your anger response, go back to step 2 and Stop!
5) RESPOND, not react, by taking constructive action. Loving confrontation is not easy for most people. We have had no training and very little experience in this approach to handling anger. We are far more experienced at venting, or denying, or stuffing it, than we are at lovingly confronting. No one said it would be easy, best is usually not easiest.
Next week, we will discuss responding to the angry person when that angry person is not you.