We live in an increasingly angry world.
If you don’t believe me, drive during rush hour in any major city in the U.S. Or watch cable news for thirty minutes. You’ll be convinced.
Anger is a human emotion common to all of us. It says: “You’ve taken something from me, so you owe me!”
One thing most people don’t know about anger? It doesn’t magically dissipate on its own. It has the capacity to keep percolating, often brewing beneath the surface. An entire chapter of my book: Unshakable You: Five Choices of Emotionally Healthy People is dedicated to the subject of anger. You can find it here
If we don’t tell anger where to go, it will take us to places we don’t want go. If we don’t tell our anger where to go, it will show up as a knot in our gut every time we see the person we’re angry with. If we don’t tell anger where to go, it will often take us to a place of deep sadness and even depression. If we don’t tell anger where to go, it will take us to a place of broken relationships and increasing isolation.
The apostle Paul wrote: “In your anger, do not sin.” The good news is it’s possible to feel/express anger without it resulting in damaging words or behaviors.
Here are four anger fundamentals that will help us tell anger where to go:
1. Anger is part of the human experience
It happens when someone takes something from you or crosses a healthy relational boundary you’ve set. In these situations, anger is simply part of being human.
2. Anger is the right response sometimes
Some appropriate occasions for anger? When a friend you love/trust betrays you. When your spouse verbally assaults you. Anger is an appropriate response when you see injustice inflicted on others.
3. Anger often calls attention to root issues we need to address
Irritable feelings are sometimes the result of immaturity. But sometimes they are a God-given signal something in our life needs attention. Anger is usually a secondary emotion. Something else is often going on beneath the surface that fuels it.
4. Repressed anger is a key contributor to major depression
Some therapists believe the majority of depressive episodes can be traced to stuffed anger. They define depression as anger turned inward. More on that in in a minute.
Before we look at two ways to tell anger where to go, let’s quickly look at four ways not to:
1. Eating chocolate
I’m not saying this response isn’t fun or delicious. It just isn’t helpful.
2. Caving in
Caving in looks like this: “Well, I’m an angry person because anger was modeled to me as a child! And besides, I’m [insert your nationality here], you know—it’s genetic!” In this unhealthy response we toss up our hands in despair and give way to our rage.
Blaming goes something like this: “I wouldn’t act this way if you would just behave better!” How lame does that sound?
This response involves shoving our anger underground. Submerged anger often leads to bitterness, difficulty granting forgiveness, and eventually, struggles with anxiety and/or depression.
So . . . the question is, how do we tell anger where to go so it doesn’t ruin our life, and the lives of those near us? God’s answer is essentially two-fold: Assertiveness & Forgiveness.
Assertiveness tells a person who’s taken something from you how their behavior negatively impacted you. It embodies both truthful and gracious speech.
Assertiveness is the middle ground between passivity and aggression. Passivity—stuffing your anger and letting it boil on the inside—hurts you. Aggression—which can include foul language, yelling, or getting physical with people—hurts others. Assertiveness expresses anger in a way that honors God, respects the dignity of the person who hurt you, and keeps you healthy at the same time.
Andy Stanley writes: “Forgiveness is simply the decision to cancel a debt.” For some of us, vengeance is our default move when another person takes something from us. Trying to get even allows those who’ve hurt us to control us. To determine our level of happiness. To rent space in our head. Forgiveness is a better option for all parties in the equation.
Forgiveness doesn’t minimize the pain inflicted on us. It simply moves us and the person who wounded us toward healing. It’s a foolproof way to tell our anger where to go.
Most offenses that happen to us we need to get over quickly. For example: a driver cuts you off on the freeway, or a store clerk treats you rudely. Let minor violations such as these roll off your back and simply move on. Refuse to be easily offended. However . . .
Some wounds cut deep. One of the hardest things to do in life is to forgive a person who’s deeply wounded you. King David wrote: “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God.” David had been betrayed by a close friend.
Deep relational injuries like this require some time/effort to work through. In deep-wound situations:
Be honest about the harm done
When the wound is deep, it’s my view that real forgiveness isn’t possible without acknowledging the anger you feel about the offense. Some counselors believe we cannot fully pardon someone until we’ve tapped into the pain he or she has caused us.
Be committed to the process
Forgiveness isn’t always instantaneous. Jesus commands us to forgive—but in deep wound situations, we often have to work through a process. If you’ve been betrayed by a close friend, you’ll need time just to figure out which way is up.
Be patient with the process
You may have forgiven someone a while back, but occasionally something triggers the memory of the wound and you feel anger again. If and when this occurs, don’t despair. It doesn’t mean the forgiveness you extended a while back wasn’t valid—it just means there’s more forgiving to do. Keep forgiving until the process is complete.
You may wonder, “How do I know when I’m done forgiving?” Well, that can be difficult to determine. I think if you no longer wish a slow, painful death on your offender, you’re making progress!
Andy Stanley: “To refuse to forgive is to choose to self-destruct. In the shadow of my hurt, forgiveness feels like a decision to reward my enemy. In the shadow of the cross, it’s merely a gift from one undeserving soul to another.
Assertiveness. Forgiveness. Why is telling our anger to go to those two spots so important? Why does it matter? Why should you care? Because if you don’t tell anger where to go, it will take you to places you don’t want go. Anger will end up running (and ruining) your life.
I’m rooting and praying for you!