Dealing with Anger

Other Negative Emotions

(C) 2000, Don Mize


Many people consider anger wrong.  Many Christians believe anger equals sin.  Anger, however, can be transformed into a positive force in your life.  We will discuss anger, but the suggestions apply to all negative emotions.

Anger is energy

The Bible admonishes us to be angry without sinning and tells us we should not let the sun go down on our anger (Ephesians 4:26).  Anger is a powerful force that must be dealt with, and certainly we are in danger of sinning when we are angry.  However, when Jesus confronted the religious hypocrites of his day, he was angry (Matthew 23:13-36; Mark 3:1-5).  Orthodox Christianity has always maintained that Jesus was without sin, so anger does not equal sin.
Read up on the biological changes produced by stress (webmd.com and/or medscape.com).  When you are threatened, powerful chemical changes occur to prepare you to either fight or run.  The chemicals released when you feel angry energize you to attack whatever is threatening you.  The threat may be physical (as when you encounter a tiger), the threat may be psychological (as when your self-esteem or ideals are attacked), or the threat may be theoretical (existing only in automatic thoughts rather than in objective reality).
The point is that anger is energy.  If you are chopping down a tree and feel anger, you can pour that energy into swinging the axe.  Unfortunately, in modern society, many real or theoretical threats do not require raw physical energy to be successfully countered.  Relationship problems are usually made worse by excessive anger.  Biologically, we are geared to respond to physical threats like encountering a tiger while we live in a world where many threats reside in our perceptions and/or are better resolved rationally.
Also, most of us become angry over small inconveniences rather than over great moral issues.  While driving to work, we grind our teeth over the slow driver in front of us and scarcely glance at the homeless person sleeping in a cardboard box.
If anger is energy, then the whole issue is how to express our anger in a way that will not harm us or others.

You have an anger button

Imagine that you have an anger button. What punches it?  Do certain words, or people, or situations release the flood of attacking energy?  Whenever your anger button is punched, you are on automatic.  Everything you do or say in the immediate future is programmed.  If you grew up in a home where anger was expressed by hitting, you may hit someone.  If you grew up in a home where anger was expressed by verbal attacks, you may say terrible things to someone.  In fact, you probably will sound like one of your parents
If you were brought up in a home where no one expressed anger, you may bottle your anger up inside and even lose touch with it.  You are also likely to become depressed.  Or, you may explode from time to time over some trivial matter rather than over the original incident that made you angry.  Or, you may misdirect your anger and unload on your mate the anger generated by your boss.
Start by admitting that you have an anger button, and start noticing what punches that button.  You will find that certain situations, certain words, ever certain personalities will punch your button.  For some reason, once you label the button and what punches it, you often will avoid the automatic response.

Other negative emotions (such as fear, despair, hopelessness, etc.) will also respond to this approach.

You may on occasion need some help in sorting things out, but often you can do it on your own.

You have automatic thoughts and pictures

Another approach is to start with anger (or any other unwanted emotion) and backtrack to see what automatic thoughts (words) are active in your head.  For example, most people find that when they feel anger IT’S NOT FAIR has popped up.  Another seemingly universal thought that produces anger is one that contains the word OUGHT or SHOULD.
IT’S NOT FAIR has to do with injustice and the emotion of anger is linked to the thought. Remember, the thought is automatic.  Your choice lies in your action once the thought occurs.  You may tie a mental red flag on it, recognize it more readily, work through it, and be able to dismiss it more easily, but you will not be able to erase it.
OUGHT/SHOULD thoughts are related to the concept of perfection.  Again, you feel anger and can only discover the thought by backtracking from the anger to the OUGHT or SHOULD.  For example, “He should work faster,” or “She ought not to have said that.”

You cannot attack the feelings

If you feel angry, you feel angry.  To lie to yourself about your feeling of anger will lead to serious trouble.  The same can be said about other emotions.  If you feel fearful, anxious, sad, hurt, or mistreated, that is how you feel.  Lying to oneself is the most serious lie of all.
Attacking the feeling doesn’t work.  Someone will say to you, “You shouldn’t feel that way.  You shouldn’t feel hurt.”  So, we repress the feeling of hurt, but the feeling merely goes underground and expresses itself irrationally.

You can attack the automatic thought

We can, however, attack the automatic thought.  IT’S NOT FAIR pops into your head and you feel angry.
Do you really believe the world is fair?  Most people readily admit that they do not.  They have observed enough unfair situations to know the world isn’t fair.  So, what else is new?  Unless you want to be angry all the time, you might as well tie a mental red flag to that automatic thought and dismiss it.  You can work rationally to make things more just, but you don’t need that much anger.
Stopped being shocked by imperfection.  Why are you shocked when he/she did not act perfectly?  Tie a red flag on the OUGHT/SHOULD thought, calm down, and work for a rational approach that will lead you toward a more perfect situation.

You can attack the automatic picture

Some of us think in pictures.  Like a movie playing in our head, an incident will replay, and we will become more and more angry (or hurt, or fearful).
Reviewing a situation mentally can be constructive to a point.  Replay that argument at work and see if you could have handled it differently.

But, if every time you see the person, the movie starts in your head and you become more and more angry, you need to understand where the “off” switch is located.  Why give a person you don’t like that much power over you?  You can see her across a street, have the movie start playing in your head, relive the whole incident in living color, and she is having a wonderful day shopping while you stew.

You can turn off the movie and return to the present by talking to yourself.  Rather than thinking in pictures, think in words.  Focus on the present.

Conclusion

This brief introduction should help you to understand that anger is energy, that many times we respond automatically through conditioning (our button is punched), and that thoughts/pictures and feelings are linked.
You may on occasion need help in getting in touch with feelings, in identifying the triggers, and/or working through some distorted automatic thoughts.  Experiment with these ideas and let me know how they worked out for you.

 
 
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