Anger. Recently, I had a friend ask me if I would assist him in learning how to manage his anger. What a request!
It is an honor to be entrusted with such personal and difficult information and responsibility, especially if you knew me. I am a therapist and a youth pastor, a husband, and a father; so you might not think that anger has been a life-long struggle for me but it has. As I continue to grow into my mid 50’s and hopefully in my wisdom, I have learned a few things about anger and how to manage it better…not with perfection…but better.
For those of you who have ever been angry — I say that tongue-in-cheek realizing that it is an “emotion” which is common to everyone — read on! I hope you will find this brief blog a little helpful. Be aware that if you are looking for “tools” to manage your anger well, especially in these challenging, historical, and cultural times, no blog will be a magic cure-all. Managing anger takes intentional, hard work but hopefully, this will help.
- Anger is not wrong. It is not evil and sinful and by nature and definition, one who experiences anger is not bad or a bad person. Anger is a condition common to all people. It is the expression of anger which can be bad…or good, or usually a mix of both. Responses to the anger we experience is where good and bad go to war. Learning to reign in the wild horses of our responses and reactions is the primary goal of controlling anger and equally important, not allowing anger to control us!
- Anger is typically a response to an inner hurt or fear. This could be anything from anxiety about something to feeling out of control with someone or something, it could be reminders of painful history and events or interruptions to our ideal hopes for the moment or day. Anger is that thing that actually prepares one to face and deal with those hurts or fears. If one is experiencing anger, before acting or reacting to the situation, it may be helpful in one’s self asking, “what is that hurt or fear which is driving it?” First dealing with the emotion and/or history which has ignited the anger may help in one understanding their situation with more clarity and peace. Anger is called a “secondary emotion”. The “primary emotion” is what is causing one to become angry: the fear or hurt.
- Anger is physiological and can be an ally. It is possible to align ourselves with our anger in productive and useful ways. Simply what anger does is physiological. It gets our brain and body ready for whatever circumstances and situations are in front of us. Our pupils dilate, our blood pressure increases, our body creates more sugar and adrenaline and other “readiness” chemicals which immediately surge through our neurons throughout our central nervous system to cause us into a state of preparedness. Anger’s job is to simply get us prepared for something. Following this, it becomes our job to respond with control, how we express our anger. I would go as far as saying anger is God’s design to help His people prepare for action. What we do with that preparedness is up to us. When we get angry, if we can first ask, “what is my anger preparing me for?” we might have a more logical and productive response.
- Anger is something we can learn to control. For now, I will ask you to trust me on this one. The reason for this request is because learning to control one’s anger response can take years to master, but you can learn this skill. Coming from one who has learned and is still learning this, there are tools and resources available to help in the journey. If you think of your anger response as a wild horse, it takes time to break a horse to where you can put a saddle on it and ride it. Perhaps your anger is like trying to ride that wild horse, bare-back, without any reigns, etc. It is tiring and painful to self but it can also leave quite a path of wreckage to others along the way. Start with prayer. Look for resources. The more determined you are to overcome your destructive anger responses, the quicker you will see positive results. Here is a resource to get you started:
Make Anger Your Ally by Neil Clark Warren, Ph.D. Focus on the Family Pub. 1990. Colorado Springs, CO.
In my next article, I will be addressing some “tools” for managing anger.