There seems to be a common thread among the majority of clients I see – they tend to work against their emotions, instead of knowing how to work with them.
For whatever reason, it is a prevalent belief that the “negative” emotions (not bad, just the direction of the emotion taking us down rather than up) are something to either ignore, stuff, suppress, medicate or be afraid of.
Where did this belief originate? I’m not sure, but if you know the answer, please let me know! I do know that especially among those of us with faith in God, we tend to especially gravitate towards this idea that some emotions are “good” and others are “bad” and should be avoided at all costs.
If that were truly the case, then it would have been a mighty big mistake for all current 7 billion people on planet earth to have all of the same emotions – wouldn’t it? Not to mention all of the people who have ever lived previously!
I do not believe that God is capable of making mistakes; it would be the equivalent of saying that our arms and legs should not be as they are. We all have them and for good reason, just as we all have the same emotions, and for a purpose, at that.
So then, does it make more sense to learn how to use our arms and legs to our benefit, or to act as though they are a mistake? I hope you answered to use them to our benefit!
Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Dealing with Anger
Dr. Marsha Linehan from the University of Washington created Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which empowers people to learn about the function and purpose of their emotions, mindfully observe the cause of the emotion, and then by using one’s Wise Mind, decipher what to do in response to the message that the emotion is sending us.
This method equips us with the skill of emotion regulation, and ultimately decreases suffering and allows us to extract the most meaning and fulfillment from each present moment. By using Dr. Linehan’s methods, we are able to redefine the purpose of our emotions in such a way that we embrace each emotion and accept that they are inherently valuable.
In fact, emotions tell us what we value, what we find purposeful, and ultimately what matters to us in life. We would not be human without our emotions. Moreover, we are made in the image of God – so God has all of the emotions we have (at the very least) – and He feels them to an extent that we cannot fathom, I’m sure; however, He governs them with wisdom. Shouldn’t we also endeavor to do the same?
Specifically concerning dealing with anger, Dr. Linehan’s DBT Skills and Training Manual (2015) mentions the following words to describe the emotion of anger:
- Vengefulness – just to name a few.
Why do these types of emotions happen within us? We develop an emotional response in one of two ways – either:
A) A prompting event immediately causes an emotion to arise within us, and then we have thoughts following the emotion; or
B) A prompting event produces thoughts/interpretations of the event, and then a feeling arises out of response to the thoughts/interpretations.
I like to describe it this way – if you’re swimming in the water and all of a sudden a great white shark lunges at you, you are not going to have thoughts occur as instantaneously as you will have an emotional reaction (likely, fear) occur first. However, if you see two people quarreling, you may take a while to figure out and think about what it is that is happening in front of you, before the onset of an emotion shows up.
Dr. Linehan (2015) notes the following prompting events for the onset of anger before thoughts occur:
- An important goal being blocked
- You or someone you care about being attacked or threatened
- Losing power, status, or respect
- Things not turning out as you had expected them to
- Physical or emotional pain
When the prompting event causes thoughts/interpretations to occur before the emotion of anger rises within us, we can typically narrow it down to one of the following:
- Believing that you have been treated unfairly
- Believing that important goals are being blocked
- Believing that things “should” be different than how they are
- Rigidly thinking you are “right”
- Judging that the situation is illegitimate or wrong
- Rumination about the event that set off anger to start with
There will be accompanying biological changes due to anger, and we will feel compelled to express or act on the emotion in some way – such as physical or verbal attacks, hitting or throwing inanimate objects, clenching our fists or teeth, crying, feeling flushed, etc. This is where we can go from what is organic and endowed by God – to sinful. More on this in a bit.
The Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness When Dealing with Anger
Emotions (a.k.a. “feelings” – we feel them in our body) only work one way – they come into us, deliver a message about how we “feel,” then they leave and make way for another emotion to come in. I am willing to bet that you go through the majority of your day without noticing the entry and exit of emotions, save for the very intense negative emotion or heightened positive emotion.
The purpose of mindfulness skills is to empower you to take control of your mind and bring your attention back to the present moment and the current emotional response you are having, as opposed to living the past or the future – both of which are not found in the current reality of the present moment.
If you became more aware of your emotions as they were coming and going, you may be less inclined to outright label your day as a “bad day” – because you would have inevitably encountered some facet of good throughout your day as well.
You may see something discouraging on the news, and notice the emotion of sadness or anger within you; moments later you may taste one of your favorite foods and notice the feeling of happiness in response to the taste.
The more you pay attention to your body, thoughts, and emotions, the more you are able to extract meaning and fulfillment from each moment. Doesn’t that sound worthwhile? How many of us look at our loved ones and think, “How have they changed so much and so quickly? So much time has passed!” That is typically the response we have when we are rushing through this life and not taking time to simply be.
By practicing mindfulness of one’s current emotions, a delay in response to those emotions will proceed so that one can evaluate what is most effective. Emotions are very short-sighted and beg for instant gratification; sometimes forsaking what is most efficacious for achieving long-term goals.
One may be experiencing anger issues symptoms if their relationships and interpersonal encounters often suffer due to giving in to the instant urge to act on anger, instead of noticing the anger and evaluating the true underlying cause of it, then acting from one’s wise mind in response to the message of anger.
One of my favorite ways of explaining emotions to my clients is the following: Emotions are like kids in the car. Do you want them to drive? (No.) Should you stuff them in the trunk? (No.) Where do you think the ideal place for kids in the car is? In the backseat.
Emotions belong in the backseat so that they can send us messages over the front seat and tell us what is important to us, without grabbing hold of the wheel and taking us on a joy ride – taking us off a cliff – taking us wherever and whenever the instant impulse tells us to. Sometimes this is effective – in emergencies or scenarios of mourning, etc. – but that is why we need time to access wisdom and figure out if it is effective for our life to act on the emotion in that moment.
What Does God Say About Anger?
What does God say about the emotion of anger? We can see through biblical evidence that anger itself is not sinful.
God demonstrates His anger toward the wicked in Psalm 7:11; He became angry with Solomon in 1 Kings 11:9; He was angry with Israel in 2 Kings 17:18; and Jesus became angry with the Pharisees in Mark 3:5. I believe that God became angry about sin, so He decided to do something about it by way of a Savior.
We are made in God’s image – all of the emotions that we have, He has as well. What is the difference? He governs them with wisdom. I do believe that God would encourage us to breathe and allow our emotions to become regulated when we become angry.
The Bible says this concerning anger:
A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless. A quick-tempered man does foolish things, and a crafty man is hated. – Proverbs 14:16-17
A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly. – Proverbs 14:29
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. – James 1:19-20
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not easily angered. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared. – Proverbs 22:24-25
What is the verdict, then? Does getting angry make us evil? No. Getting angry makes us human and makes us intelligent beings designed after the Creator. It is what we do in light of the anger we feel that will either cause us regret, reward, sin, or sanctification.
How then should we respond to the emotion of anger?
In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. – Ephesians 4:26
Through the Spirit, you can listen to what the anger is telling you, without acting upon an urge to sin. Anger is a very motivating emotion! I don’t know about you, but I am awfully glad that Martin Luther King Jr. was angry over injustice and racism. I am thankful that people became angry when they learned of what was going on in Nazi Germany.
Righteous anger compels us to act in ways that defend the weak, protect those who need it, speak up for what is morally right, and more. Anger helps us see if we are living aligned with our core values.
As Christians, we are to be governed by love and not any other emotion more than this one. Love covers a multitude of sins and overlooks many offenses – but love also requests action.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” – Galatians 5:22-25
Dealing with Anger: Get the Help You Need
Is your anger getting the best of you? Perhaps you can relate to the above mentioning of events that prompt feelings of anger and can recognize times when you have responded in haste. Who hasn’t?
It takes a great deal of conditioning ourselves to take a moment to breathe and step back from the power of an emotion before we immediately act upon what the emotion is telling us to do. Have you resolved these feelings? Have you solved the problem associated with it?
If you are recognizing that your anger is controlling you instead of you controlling your response to it – reach out to a Seattle Christian counselor today so that we can help you discover the root cause of the emotion and develop healthy, new coping skills that will enable you to live a more effective life.
“Mad,” courtesy of Andre Hunter, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Storm,” courtesy of Michael Shannon, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Mindful,” courtesy of Amy Treasure, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Introverts March,” courtesy of Heather Mount, unsplash.com, CC0 License