Anger is a fact of life. Our world is filled with violence, hatred, war, and aggression. We can find ourselves facing anger with friends, coworkers, family members, and even the driver in the car next to us. If you’re like me, you might struggle with anger as a first response when something doesn’t go your way, when your children don’t do what you ask, or when you face conflict at work. In those moments we make snap decisions and allow our words and actions to own us. How we react in moments of anger looks different for each us. Some of us lash out while others swallow the anger, leading to expressions of resentment and sarcasm toward others. It’s safe to say we’ve all struggled with anger at one time or another. There is a high cost to anger. It destroys relationships and tears people apart. Anger can instantly demonstrate how broken we really are. I believe this is why God addressed anger more than 54 times in the Bible.
James explained how we are to handle anger when he wrote, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19, 20). The writer of Proverbs noted, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (15:1, English Standard Version), God calls us not to sin in our anger and gives clear guidelines on how to handle our anger. This sounds great until we find ourselves in a conversation where anger suddenly arises. If you are someone who struggles with anger management, you would agree with me that knowing how to handle yourself and actually reacting in a calm manner are two very different things.
The Source of Anger
Before we can manage our anger, we need to consider where anger comes from. Anger is often a reaction to a deep hurt or betrayal. When we feel that our identity is being attacked or our safety is being compromised, our deep, primary emotions are stirred and anger occurs. Such feelings are often fueled by difficult situations and broken relationships from our past. Anger often catches us off guard. We feel the anger, but we can’t identify why we have the feeling. Others see the angry reaction but not the hurt that lies beneath.
Some counselors use the visual image of an iceberg when discussing anger. We see only the tip of the iceberg floating in the ocean. The entire mass of ice, however, is often 10 times the size of what we can see. Picture your anger as an iceberg. What is above the water is what others see when we react in anger. What is underneath the water, and unseen, is the emotion we feel that caused the anger. Hidden emotions like stress, depression, rejection, exhaustion, hurt, envy, shame, sadness, and trauma tell us that we are not safe. They are the true source of our anger. The situation that prompted the anger began when someone said or did something you didn’t like, which tapped into a deep hurt. To express that deep hurt would require us to be vulnerable and aware of why we feel the way we do. It’s often easier to express anger than deal with difficult issues because anger feels like a safe way in the moment to end the pain. These unseen emotions are what someone really is feeling when anger occurs. Those who struggle with anger management don’t recognize in the moment why there is a strong, swift, and at times explosive reaction. We find various ways to offload our hurt through anger, avoidance, and blame. Anger simply allows us to keep people at a distance and avoid transparency, honesty, intimacy, and grace. God’s desire for us is not to avoid intimacy or transparency, but to be open and calm in the face of a conflict.
This is why God instructed us to deal with our anger immediately, before the sun goes down (Ephesians 4:26). Anger is detrimental to our emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing. Whether you struggle with anger daily or occasionally, here are a few tips.
Understand the cause and source of your anger. This takes effort and willingness to be honest and transparent with yourself. If you find this difficult, I would encourage you to meet with a Christian counselor to explore the emotions that are below the surface of your icebergs.
Learn to accept grace from others and give grace as well. We are called to be patient and slow to anger (James 1:19, 20). “The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy” (Proverbs 14:10). We often become angry because we have been provoked by someone who has tapped the bitterness in our hearts. They have crossed one of our boundaries. Boundaries help us know how to respond (and not over react) in such situations. Knowing and understanding your limits can create a yield sign that allows you to respond by remaining calm during a conflict.
Manage your expectations. Often people who struggle with anger management find anger emerging when their expectations have not been reached. Recognizing unrealistic expectations can help keep things in perspective. My friend, Natalie Hubbartt, describes dealing with expectations in the following way. “We need to be careful to set agreements rather than expectations. An expectation is what one person plans, assumes, or even hopes another person will do. An agreement is a decision two people arrive at together and communicate with one another. Many unmet expectations would be alleviated if we instead started with agreements.” Agreement is something you can do at the beginning of a relationship, situation, or conversation. Work with those involved and agree on intended outcomes. This way perfectionism or misguided ideas are avoided and an environment of understanding, togetherness, and openness is created, thus defeating anger and making room for connection.
Pray and read Scripture on a regular basis. Our recognition that we need a Savior changes our view of life (Romans 12:2). We need to bring our struggles and confessions to God and allow him to continue to transform us. Through that transformation we learn how not to be conformed to this world. We receive grace and forgiveness so we can extend these gifts to others. Reading God’s Word fills our hearts with grace, which breeds peace instead of resentment, fear, and hurt. By warming our ocean, we melt our icebergs.
Anger is not an easy emotion to manage. When we unleash it, we lose respect and weaken our witness for Christ. Taking steps to control our anger allow us to begin the hard work of searching our hearts and managing our emotions in the moment. When we are willing to do the work, we will discover that God’s grace is sufficient. As he transforms us daily, we will begin to see changes and provide a soft answer that turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1).
Lori and her husband, Brian, are parents to three amazing teenagers. Lori has a master of arts degree in Counseling and Practical Ministries from Cincinnati
Christian University and is currently licensed as a mental health counselor in the state of Indiana. She serves East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis as their NextGen Pastor.