Overcoming Dangerous Emotions: Anger
Unchecked anger can do permanent damage to our relationships and reputation. How can we overcome anger problems? Part 3 of the “Overcoming Dangerous Emotions” series.
How often have we wished that our “fuses were longer” or our tempers controlled? The Bible emphasizes the need to be slow to anger, but how do we make changes to make that a reality?
Both Psalm 4:4 and Ephesians 4:26 use the phrase, “Be angry, and do not sin.” These verses are telling us that anger is not wrong of itself; in fact, these verses appear to even encourage a righteous indignation to reject what we know to be wrong and live God’s way of life. This right kind of anger (the kind compatible with the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23) can motivate us to change for the better, to help those in need and to defend God’s teachings.
Unfortunately, few of us can honestly say that the majority of the anger we experience is righteous indignation—especially when we can’t control it.
Why is anger spiritually dangerous?
Just as with all uncontrolled emotions, chronic anger is a pathway to behavior that we know is not what God expects of us. Christ equated being angry without cause (the only right cause being righteous indignation) to murder in the heart (Matthew 5:21-22).
Many times we may kid ourselves into thinking we have righteous indignation about supposed harms committed against us or undesirable behaviors we see. Meanwhile, our minds are content with condemning others rather than judging righteously. Too often we attempt to justify ourselves rather than examine ourselves.
Unresolved anger can eventually transform into all sorts of unwanted character traits, such as bitterness, harshness, coldness, inability to trust, grudge-holding, impatience and hatred. So, in order to not hinder our demonstration of the fruit of God’s Spirit (including love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, gentleness and self-control), we know we must overcome consistent anger.
Identify the cause of angry thinking
Once we recognize there is a problem, then we can start looking for the stimuli that provokes our anger. To do this, we should keep a record (whether in a journal or with an electronic device) of everything that made us angry during the day. This can be done at the end of the day before going to sleep, but it is more effective as close to the event as possible.
We have to ask ourselves questions, such as:
- Did someone say something I felt was offensive?
- Did something I planned not go the way I wanted?
- Did I see someone who reminded me of someone who has hurt me in the past?
- Did someone’s tone of voice get on my nerves?
Determine which situations can be avoided and which situations need to be dealt with. The majority of causes are ones we cannot avoid, so remember what the apostle Paul wrote: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18, emphasis added).
To do this in tough situations, we have to change our thinking.
Analyze and compare our thinking with reality
Next, it’s time to jot down the thoughts that accompany our events or causes. Some thoughts might include:
- They are doing it on purpose!
- She knows I hate that, and she keeps doing it just to get me mad!
- I can’t stand that guy!
- What is his problem?
- I can’t believe this!
- How dare they?
- Those idiots never listen to me!
Take a good look at all the thoughts generated by each event. When we stop justifying our outbursts of wrath, we can begin to see in ourselves traces of being petty, easily offended, impatient, etc.
So what do we do? We should analyze our thinking. Here are some examples:
- Is it fair/rational to think that people always know they are upsetting us with something they do or how they talk or how they behave?
- Is it fair/rational to think that we have never offended anyone and would not want to be extended some latitude in these situations? Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 tells us: “Also do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others.”
- Is it fair/rational to get so upset over things that (upon further examination) may be trivial, petty or just a misunderstanding?
Substitute the irrational with rational and biblical thinking
Once we realize that many of our thoughts about certain events are irrational and not in line with God’s thinking, then we can change them. We have to commit to different thinking when these same situations occur again, since life will be full of these causes of anger.
Determine some rational, biblical thoughts relating to causes of our anger:
- This upsets me, but I will bear with others in love.
- This is a petty and insignificant issue.
- I need to speak the truth in love.
- If I don’t forgive, God won’t forgive me.
Thoughts that involve biblical insight should be used to replace thoughts that are too often self-centered and perhaps even violent.
What if I’ve already lost control?
As stated earlier in this series, sometimes strong emotions will seem to skip from stimulus to reaction, seemingly bypassing the thought process. So what do we do?
There are several well-known calming techniques to bring us down from anger (for example, breathing in and holding for several seconds, then breathing out; excusing ourselves from a situation; and walking off the energy), but immediately praying to God and asking for patience and His Holy Spirit should be our first option.
Then we should ask, “Why am I upset? Is this righteous indignation? Do I control my anger, or does it control me?”
Finally, we should prepare for our next battle with anger by studying what we’ve written and the biblical principles about overcoming anger.