Unwrapping the Gift of Anger

Written by Meaghan Heighway, LMHC-P

“Anybody can become angry, that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is … not easy.” (Aristotle)

In our previous post on the topic of anger, we started identifying ways that we might have seen anger misrepresented by others, which may have contributed to how we use it in our own lives. We also pointed out that anger is energy – God-given energy, which can be used for good or ill. This post takes it further, while also addressing some of the confusion Christians might feel specifically about this combustible emotion.

Some confusion people may have about the issue of anger is shown in these questions: “Aren’t Christians supposed to avoid being angry?” “If I’m angry, does that mean I’m a bad person?” “Isn’t anger a sin?” Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and if you feel particularly convicted about how you have been using anger, you may want to take that as a prodding to seek God’s input, as well as perhaps speaking to a pastor or professional counselor about the issue. However, in my opinion, the answer to all of the above questions is a resounding, “No.”

Consider Ephesians 4:26 – 27 (The Message): “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry – but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.” This passage affirms what the previous article on anger shared – that this is a God-given emotion, and anger is a natural thing. Considering the quote by Aristotle at the beginning of this article, anyone can be angry – it is how and when we choose to experience and utilize it that are the real challenges. Additionally, the temptation once we’ve started our anger is to let it off its leash and explode – and that’s where we see people often resorting to violence or unrestrained anger or rage (which is what these verses affirm – by staying angry and not controlling it, that is when we run into the danger of giving evil a foothold).

The verses, “don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge … (and) don’t go to bed angry,” give us some further practical applications for using anger effectively.

  1. Revenge is ‘eye for an eye,’ the Old Testament sense of repaying those who have wounded us. While it is completely understandable to want to retaliate against those who hurt us, we’re not called to do that. So how do we respond, when we ‘see red’ and want to strike back? Consider these concrete steps to get your anger under control in the moment (which hopefully will give you enough time to cool down a bit without acting impulsively):
    1. Count to Ten (or One Hundred!). There’s a reason this is a tried-and-true method of calming down. If we are able to ‘remove’ ourselves from the situation (either literally, by leaving the room or temporarily going somewhere else, or figuratively, by closing our eyes, focusing on our breath, and shutting out the situation in front of us), we are giving ourselves the gift of space. Deliberately taking the time to gain some distance from the situation enables us to step back and try to be more objective about the situation).
    2. Run! Seguing from removing yourself from the situation, find a way to get your anger out in a constructive manner before you address the situation. Remember, anger is energy, and so we can burn it off. Some ways of doing that would be running, jogging, walking, hitting a punching bag or pillow, doing laps in a pool or around a track, basically any type of exercise that gets your heart rate up and helps you sweat.
  2. Don’t go to bed angry means that we don’t let it fester and potentially be able to poison our souls. This verse doesn’t necessarily need to be taken literally – sometimes it’s actually better to sleep on something before addressing it (use your discretion). The main point of this part of the passage is that we’re actively choosing to do something about the anger we’re confronted with, instead of continually ignoring it or stuffing it down. For example, this might mean addressing a relationship that has been suffering from poor communication skills – and that is something you can work on. One way to do this would be finding a respected book on the topic of communication in relationships, and gleaning from others’ experience in this area. Another idea might be to consult a professional counselor for un-biased input in your relationship. No matter how you choose to use the energy of anger, the point is to use it constructively, rather than letting it spread further into your own heart.

Have compassion with yourself while you are taking the time to discern how best to respond to the situation in front of you. Anger is not an easy emotion, but it was given to us all by God, and is meant to be used as a positive force to get things done.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog is intended to educate, inform and entertain. This does not represent psychotherapy, therapeutic assessment, or any other form of therapeutic intervention. This should not be used as a substitute for consultation and treatment with a licensed mental health professional. If you have questions related to the material contained in this site please contact CCM or a licensed mental health professional of your choice.

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