Recently, while I was teaching on the subject of anger management to a group of young therapists, one of them chimed out, "Therapy is not Jerry Springer!" I laughed, and of course had to include this truism in a blog. So, here we are and today I'd like to talk about anger. Why is it an acceptable emotion, why is everyone angry, and is anger used properly a positive emotion?
First, let's look at what makes us angry.
There are 3 things that can cause anger as a choice: Compromise, Power, or Righteousness.
Have you ever looked at the past few years and wondered why you are so angry all the time? At the drop of a hat (meaning any little thing) do you get easily offended, feel indignant, or immediately go defensive? Well you may be reacting to a trigger that has touched upon one of the 3 areas that make us angry.
Unexpected surprises hit us when we are caught unprepared and are not looking for it. That lack of preparedness can make us unknowingly compromise what we know to be true. We can become fearful of the unknown and feel unbalanced as we worry about the probable consequences we may or may not face. Without knowing what our options are to regain balance, we look around at what others are doing. If there are enough people doing the same thing we may think they have done the research or know more than we do. So, we follow their lead, even if in our hearts we feel we are compromising something in order to be a part of the pack.
Imagine entering a freeway without knowing where the road leads. There are a bunch of cars speeding down the highway and you recognize some of the drivers. For a moment you feel safe. At some point you realize you are headed to someplace you never wanted to go and desperately begin to look for an off ramp. You begin to look for signs that will tell you how to get back in the direction you should be going. The miles fly by as you continue unsuccessfully to exit the road and you notice your anger is bubbling up. You are getting frustrated because now you realize that you are going further and further away from where you know you need to go. You continue to speed in the wrong direction because you don't see any other options. You feel trapped. You may slow down, but the other cars whip around you, honk, and give you dirty looks because you are not going right along with them, so you speed back up and fall back in line. This is what compromise does to you. You know you are doing something you shouldn't, but it's hard to change directions.
Anger is a useful emotion that motivates us toward action. The military makes people angry at the offenses committed by the enemy. Look how the news is trying to get a world angry with Russia so that we will be willing to accept even nuclear war. Anger created by fear allows one to manipulate another. Often it is the way we choose to act to hide a weaker emotion that is usually not as useful. Feelings that make us vulnerable or show our weaknesses are something we don't like. We saw this played out in the recent Will Smith incident with Chris Rock. Will Smith was feeling a certain way (guilt, embarrassment, shame) following a joke Chris made against Will's wife. In front of so many people, Will may have felt weak and exposed. So, to save pride he chose a more acceptable feeling to look strong: anger. In an attempt to gain control over his weak emotions, he acted out in anger and subsequently lost all control.
The third way we see anger displayed is when we feel righteous indignation. Righteous anger is anger correctly applied. It's the emotion a parent displays when they learn someone is harming their child, how a prisoner feels when he is falsely accused, what people feel when they are lied to. It's also what Jesus expressed when he tipped over the tables in the temple because his father's house was not a place to sell and barter. Whenever there is a clear wrong being done, a law being broken or an injustice not being corrected, that is when anger can be used for good. It's how women protect children, men protect families, and nations defend against the attacks of another nation.
Anger is an emotion just like any emotion and it's up to us to control it. The next time you get angry consider the reason for it. Are you in the middle of a compromise? Are you feeling vulnerable and weak? Or is it something that needs to be defended, protected, or rejected because it is wrong? When you know why you are feeling angry, you'll know how to respond to it. But, in all situations, be in control of your anger.
26 “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,
27 and do not give the devil a foothold."
Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV