For many individuals, anger feels like a force that can just completely take over and be a major source of stress in your life. Anger might show up in a variety of situations and at a variety of levels. Some of our earliest experiences of anger revolve around issues with siblings or parents or just the fact that we are hungry.
Have you ever noticed how some people seem more prone to anger while others seem able to stay calm and collected? What does that other group of people possess that lets them seemingly navigate life unscathed and unbothered?
First of all, let’s talk about what anger is. Anger is an emotion, of course, but it is also much more. I like to think of anger as a tool. Anger gets us to outcomes we want or tells us that something is wrong with our life.
You may have approached this article thinking your anger has become a problem, and while that may be the case, I never want someone to think anger is a problem in and of itself. Anger is an emotion, and God gives us emotions for a reason. To deny our anger is to deny a part of our existence, so we should not do that.
We have the concept of righteous anger and depictions of it in the scriptures, such as Jesus clearing the temple in the New Testament. Further, the Bible does not say do not be angry, but rather simply “be slow to become angry” (James 1:19, NIV). We are not called to a monk-like peace but urged to simply pursue other avenues first before giving into anger.
Anger should be used as a tool. Anger can get us what we want and highlight what we need. When I work with individuals, and especially with couples, anger often comes up. Most of the time anger is not a pleasant feeling, although it can feel good to vent anger with a small group of like-minded people. (Think of venting about politics with people with whom you see eye to eye.) However, if I run around using my hammer to try and fix my computer, I’m going to have issues! Just the same, our tool of anger needs to be used correctly.
When looking at anger, I like to work with individuals to get at what is “underneath” it. A lot of the time, I will get the response of “frustration,” and that’s when I get to say one of my favorite therapy phrases I have come up with over the years, and that is “I like to call frustration anger-lite” and then dig a little deeper.
Frustration is a sort of low level anger and it is often much more palatable to ourselves and others, but ultimately it’s a degree of the same emotion. So upon further inspection, most people can identify some other emotions that exist underneath. Often, there exists hurt, pain, sadness, and/or disappointment. Just like we would retaliate from an animal biting us physically, our anger is a response to an emotional bite or some other injury. It exists to protect us in a way.
So what do we do when anger gets out of control? Also, how should we define out of control for anger? If in anger, your actions cause you to have regrets later on, this may be the litmus test for you. Should you feel confident in what you did while angry, then your anger was likely ok at that moment.
However, there will be some calloused individuals who will become angry and have no regrets about hurting people; this does not apply to them. Anger can also feel out of control when you cannot find a way to calm yourself down. Anger is like pain.
When we touch a hot stove, we pull our hand away. If we don’t, it can be dangerous to our health. Anger tells us to pull away from an emotional situation and address the underlying problems. If we do not, it will be dangerous to our emotional health. If you find that you cannot pull away from your anger or do not know when it creeps in, then it may be out of control.
Once you have identified that your anger is out of control, I would encourage you to diagnose what your primary emotion is. Are you sad? Are you disappointed? Try to admit that first to yourself, then to whoever may be affected by that anger.
However, it can be difficult to address anger when you are not aware of it’s growth in yourself. Many people don’t realize they are angry until they are heated and fuming or even after the fact. If this is you, then I would encourage you to work on mindfulness and to be able to catch yourself in the moment.
Sometimes difficult, mindfulness is like a muscle you have to exercise and stretch to use effectively. Mindfulness is simply being aware of yourself and how actions affect you. To get in touch with your own emotional state, start noticing your physical state. What is it like to breathe, to feel the clothes on your skin rub with each rise of your chest?
Notice what the temperature feels like, and then just accept that this is what it is. It can feel difficult at first, but tell yourself that you are going to just sit with this a bit. In order to effectively battle anger with mindfulness, you will need to practice techniques like this while calm, or else you will never be able to implement them when you need to.
Looking back at the verse stated earlier, the whole verse is this: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Notice how this verse gives a sort of antidote to anger prior to saying to be slow to it: listen more and speak less. Focus less on being heard and more on hearing.
Further, another concept to meditate on is that of the fruit of the Spirit. For a refresher, they are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Focusing on any one of those will help you to be in a space where it is difficult to get angry.
For many, working through anger can be a difficult process and require some accountability along the way. I cannot recommend counseling for working through anger enough. You may wonder what a counselor could really do and feel some skepticism about this, but please know it can be tremendously beneficial! Trying to work on anger alone can feel like bumping around in the dark. A therapist can help you to hold a flashlight to your own life and see what you keep running into.
When I work with individuals working on anger, I first like to ask what sort of triggers they have. Perhaps these relate to unresolved events in the past or connect to unhealed relationships. At a certain level, we have to learn how to forgive to be able to move on from anger.
Once we have identified these sorts of things, then we can focus on the primary emotions. If we can address why you are hurt, lonely, sad, or disappointed, we will work toward anger being less of a need and a response.
Once the underlying work is done, we can work towards alternative responses and work on rehearsing these. At a certain point, anger becomes a learned automatic response. As such, it takes practice to relate differently.
This might involve learning when to breathe and when to leave. Also, you might just learn some things to say that will be more helpful for you to reach your goals. By reaching out to a therapist, you can begin to find a journey towards peace and a happier life. I encourage you to reach out soon and do not delay getting help for your future!
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