03 Christian Counsel for the Angry
UNDERSTANDING ANGER (Prv 25:28)
Dictionaries describe anger using the following expressions: a feeling of great annoyance or antagonism as the result of some real or supposed grievance or a feeling of great displeasure, rage or wrath. However, there can be some quite positive aspects to the use of anger.
With anger counseling, there is a great need to differentiate between the positive and negative aspects of anger and to encourage the angry person to take ownership and be accountable for the destructive use of anger. Anger needs a target. Basically, clients can be: –
- angry at self
- angry at others
- angry at God
- angry at the world
In some cases, these feelings have been so much a part of life that they are not readily recognized as destructive ‘leading unto death’ forms of anger, until they are specifically pointed out as sinful attitudes, choices and behavior (Matt 5:21-25).
Driven by the thoughts of a violation of rights, this emotion can be used as a defense mechanism or a coping mechanism. Frustration is another troublesome emotion. Based on loss of control or lack of resources, it is a close partner to irritability which can suddenly erupt into an angry outburst. Wielded as a weapon, anger is used to gain back a sense of power and control at the expense of others. When deliberately used to manipulate others to get what we want, this can become a dangerous habit.
AS AN ADDICTIVE FORM OF ABUSE
Anger management psychotherapy will often be involved when counseling addictions, including domestic violence situations – usually in the form of group therapy in rehabilitation or in anger management courses.
Anger can become addictive both physically and emotionally. A person can feel a fear-motivated need to self-defend. Lashing out in anger at the perceived attacker gives a sense of power and release. The angry person enjoys temporary control over another person. This can become habit forming. The secondary emotion of anger has overridden the deeper, primary feeling of fear. A physical high can be experienced. As the hormones override the fear, a positive shot of pleasurable excitement increases the desire to repeat the experience.
For the passive victims, however, depression and ill health are the two most common symptoms presented. The underlying cause is anger – usually in the form of its counterparts, resentment and bitterness, which need to be dealt with on a spiritual level. Anger is often turned inwards, either because there is no outlet, or because it is a form of self-punishment for being weak and unable to defend oneself.
Sometimes, it is quite productive to stir up a person’s assertivenessin order to create a natural (and healthy) righteous anger. Even Jesus had his moments! Recall that our perfect Savior knocked over the moneychangers’ tables and called Pharisees ‘whitewashed tombs’ and ‘vipers’. There is a time for righteous anger expressed appropriately (Ex 32).
Spiritually, anger harbored and not dealt with, can be classed as a form of rebellion. This can prove quite a stronghold of denial. Our pride does not allow us to concede that we have made a home for sinful attitudes and responses. It can seriously isolate us from both man and God (Ps 68:6). The Bible instructs us not to let our anger lead us into sin, ‘be angry and sin not’ (Eph 4:26-27). We are allowed to express anger, but in a healthy and appropriate way.
Most people would define ‘real’ anger as the type when you feel very strongly wronged, as in feeling a sense of injustice and as being: in a rage, boiling over, really irritated or greatly annoyed, or as being mad at a person to the extent of feeling hatred and violence towards them. Profanity can be an outward sign that there is anger growing from the root of rebellion.
There are more subtle sinful forms of anger, which are harder to label, such as: resentfulness, bitterness, self-pity, self-righteousness, over-sensitivity, vindictiveness, unforgiveness, frustration and fretfulness. There are the sinful habits of bearing grievances and grudges, or the character traits of being a grumbler, complainer or whiner.
There is no one who has not experienced anger in one form or another. Depending on personality type, temperament and our inherited character traits, we can find anger as anything from a real problem to just an occasional disturbance. It becomes a problem when we use this emotion to control others in a negative way, or when anger controls us. On the other hand, it can be an asset when it motivates and drives us to affect positive change.
It is when anger is of one of the destructive kinds that it best opens itself to a ‘cure’ by the Holy Spirit of God.