Anger is not always what you think it is. Anger may be what you feel when
you initially react, or it may be a secondary emotion that happens when the
primary emotion it too painful to experience. Unresolved or unrecognized anger
of all sorts is disastrous for relationships. It hurts those who receive it.
Anger is expressed in many ways including quiet verbal attacks, yelling,
physical attacks, and many sorts of passive-aggressive behaviors.
Passive aggressive means not meeting someone’s needs or desires in ways
you would have if you weren’t angry. It could be not talking,
“accidentally” forgetting to do something important for another person,
“feeling sick” so you withhold sex, or not doing your share of the work.
Passive-aggressive anger is sometimes the hardest to recognize. Consider
how often you withhold love from those close to you. Could you be reacting
in anger even though that anger isn’t overt?
Because this anger is subtle and sometimes unseen, it can be dismissed
and allowed to grow until it destroys a relationship.
So where does anger come from and what can you do about it? Anger
is normally preceded by several events that can happen so fast, they seem like
one, but if you are aware of the process, you can take steps to reverse it.
LEADING TO ANGER
things don’t turn out the way you planned, you can feel exploited,
disrespected, unloved, unfairly treated, sad, or a myriad of other uncomfortable
feelings. These are called primary emotions.
on the other hand, although uncomfortable for others, is normally much more
comfortable for you than experiencing the primary emotions. Most men were taught
not to experience those feelings from boyhood. Dad and other kids would
“teach” you to stifle feelings with “don’t cry, shake it off, and hit
back harder.” To make things
easier on yourself, you skip over your real feelings and go directly to anger, a
powerful secondary emotion. Anger is similar to drug and alcohol abuse as it
medicates people to avoid unwanted pain.
EXPECTATIONS are the basis of many problems with anger. For example, you expect
people to never drive below the speed limit or always be on time, or you expect
things to never break down. In spite of your experience, you act as if those
expectations are realistic, and you are easily disappointed.
you are realistic, you expect that sometimes you will get stuck in traffic,
people will be late, and things will break down. Then when one of those events
happens, you can say to yourself, “This is one of those times.” There
usually won’t be a strong emotional reaction when the expected happens.
realistic isn’t the same as being negative. Accepting difficulties does
not mean you believe there is a problem around every corner. Life is
neither perfect nor full of problems. Watch
for unrealistic expectations you have in your relationships.
let’s step back and figure out where our unrealistic expectations come from.
The generation born between 1979 and 1994 is called the “entitlement
generation,” and those born outside it many times find its views repulsive.
However, for all of us, most of our unrealistic expectations have their
root in entitlement. We believe
particular events in our life should turn out better than they are turning out.
PAIN FROM PAST EXPERIENCES can provoke anger in a seemingly unrelated situation. One indicator of this cause is when you overreact to an event. Feedback from people around you may be more accurate than your own perception of what constitutes overreaction. The overreaction may indicate that you are still hurting about something. The hurt can be from unresolved issues with the person, but usually it is from pain you experienced as a child or a traumatic experience you experienced as an adult.
LEADING TO VICTORY
STEP 1: RECOGNIZE THE ROOT
your anger is primarily based on unrealistic expectations, you need to base
expectations on your past experiences rather than your current view. Make
a short list of the things that can get you angry. Jot down next to each what
expectation was not met. Was the
expectation realistic? If not, make
a note of what would be realistic. Take at least three minutes to picture
the event happening again and you now experiencing it with a realistic
expectation. The success you have
when the event recurs will depend on how much time and energy you put into this
step. If you start to get angry with an event,
consider whether or not your expectations are realistic. Many times just
making that mental switch will immediately stop the anger.
You are on your way to an important engagement, like meeting a friend or
getting to work. Several drivers are not driving intelligently which will
prevent you from reaching your destination on time. You are upset! STOP!
Ask yourself, “Is it realistic to expect that over 80% of drivers will drive
in a competent and considerate manner? Is it realistic to expect those who
drive poorly to do so at a convenient time?”
If not, then say, “This is one of those inconvenient times when drivers
are displaying their incompetence.” Flipping this mental switch will be
a tremendous help in dissipating unnecessarily strong emotional reactions.
your anger is tied to unresolved childhood pain, ask yourself: Did either
of my parents or an older sibling treat me in a manner similar to the current
situation? If your dad told you that you were stupid, you will react
strongly to any implications of your lack of intelligence. If Dad always
complained to you about Mom not doing the dishes, you will normally react with
much stronger emotion to a sink full of dishes that you would have otherwise.
When you are aware of the source of some particular pain suffered from
caregivers you are able to take another step in dealing with your strong
parents are perfect; all “abuse” their children in one way or another, many
times simply out of ignorance. They may not have known how their actions
or words would hurt a small child. Because you may not have understood the
emotions you felt at the time, you bottled them up, and they may quickly turn to
STEP 2: IDENTIFY THE PRIMARY EMOTION
order to keep anger at bay, as soon as you feel the first signs of it you need
you have recognized that your anger was tied to unrealistic expectations, and
you’ve already implemented step one above by changing your expectations. Now
do your very best to determine what you are really feeling, because it is
extremely rare for your primary feeling to be anger. This is harder for some
than others. If you have a hard time feeling certain emotions, such as
being sad, put down or overwhelmed, learn to identify those feelings.
For a list of feelings see the
Feeling List links
on the other hand, your anger is related to childhood pain, you can use
counseling, self-help, or both to address it. Several books listed below discuss
this process. If you were able to complete the first action step and
determine some sort of similar childhood event, you can mentally separate past
A friend, Joe, has criticized you. Say, preferably out loud, “Part of my
feelings stem from my dad calling me stupid so many times when I was growing
spouse has not done an expected chore. You might say, “Part of the reason I am
upset at my wife Karen for not keeping the house clean is that my dad always
complained to me that my mom didn’t keep the house clean.”
This mental exercise can help to immediately reduce the intensity of the current emotion.
STEP 3: EXPRESS THE PRIMARY EMOTION
you determine your real feeling, you need to express it. Being able to
experience a broad range of feelings rounds you out as a person and is an
essential tool in winning the battle against anger. If your feeling was
precipitated by a person that you view as caring and safe, you can share how
what they did “made” you feel. Say, “When you _________, I felt
_________.” This does not blame the other person for your feelings.
At the same time, no one can argue with your feelings. Every time you
and experience your real feeling, you won’t feel anger.
if your feelings don’t seem to fit the situation, you need to experience them,
because they ARE your feelings. At the time these emotions overwhelmed you in
childhood, you ended up being a victim, and there was no hero to protect you.
If the person you are with is not safe to share with, then you
should experience them privately. Spend
some quiet time re-living those events. When
you do so, visualize your adult self or Jesus standing up for the little child
who was unable to stand up to what the caregiver was saying or doing.
final victory step is to share your feeling(s) with God in prayer. He
understands. He has been through the
pain you are dealing with. Tell Him
how you feel. Then listen. Read
in the Psalms how David cried out to God with his painful feelings.
Read the blessings of those described in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5).
Hebrews 4:15-16 describes God as being on your side:
we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was
without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so
that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
that one helpful word in this entire process is
you are dealing with anger, you need to slow things down and determine what is
going on. You need to let your mind rather than your emotions rule during
those times. STOP and reset your
expectations to realistic ones. If the angry feeling persists, STOP to
determine what your true feeling is. If
that doesn’t work, you still need to slow things down so you are not ruled by
your reactions. Anger can be conquered. The Bible says, “Man’s anger
does not bring about the kind of righteous life that God desires.”
(James 1:20) He has given you appropriate outlets for your emotions, and
He will show you how to utilize them.
want skeptics to know how much I would have considered this all a bunch of
rubbish years ago. My thinking was “I’m an adult now.
I’ve forgiven those who hurt me in the past. Experiencing all those
feelings is for women after all. If someone doesn’t want me to get
angry, they shouldn’t do things that make me angry.”
So from a true skeptic, give it a try.
Don’t be controlled by your anger. Don’t let your anger ruin
your relationships. Don’t pass it
on to your children. Rule your anger
by having realistic expectations and experiencing what you are really feeling.
men may think that experiencing feelings is typically what women, not men should
do. This is not true. Consider that someone shows disrespect to you. The natural
response is to feel disrespected. A very emotional person may cry about it or be
sad about it for a long time. They may feel the emotion deeply. You
don’t need to be over emotional. However, to be “healthy,” you need to
experience the natural result of the event, in this example, disrespect. If you
may think that this feeling stuff is for sissies, consider this.
It’s easy to get angry, to medicate your pain. It takes strength and
courage to feel an uncomfortable feeling.