Anger, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. It can actually be a helpful tool. Anger can be red flag that lets you know there’s a problem you need to deal with.
The Bible says, “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27)
So it’s possible to be angry and not sin. But this verse also tells us that if it’s not handled properly, anger can give the devil a place in your life.
In the classes and workshops we teach, Jody and I often say that the prison system is full of people who couldn’t get control of their anger for just five more minutes. My mom has been a physician’s assistant in the New York Department of Corrections for more than 30 years, and Jody’s first career was as a corrections officer. Both of them agree that there are countless sad stories of men and women who live in constant regret because they didn’t know how to handle anger.
Anger can escalate when you don’t have a tool. If you find yourself feeling out of control in your anger, ask yourself what tool you are missing. One sign is that you find yourself wanting revenge! Imagine that your child came home from school and walked into the kitchen with his backpack on. As he’s talking, he swings around and knocks a dish from your new set off the counter. You watch the dish smash against the tile and scatter in thousands of tiny pieces. You’re so angry that you want to go into his room and break something of his so he’ll know how it feels. That’s revenge!
When we feel anger rise up, it can be helpful to stop for a moment, recognize it as a red flag and make a decision to not react. Then figure out what’s causing it.
In the case of the broken dish, you sense an injustice. Someone else’s carelessness caused you to lose something valuable. But once you know that this is what’s happening, you can figure out what tool you need to fix it. Your son needs to become more aware of his surroundings and more careful with his things and other people’s things. Your anger was a red flag letting you know that this is something you need to work on.
Five Causes of Anger
There are five basic causes of anger.
Anger Cause #1 — Sensory Issue (physical pain, hunger, dehydration, exhaustion, overstimulation, etc.)
This is a big one for a lot of people. I have one son who can become enraged when he gets hurt, and his initial reaction is to try to find someone to blame. This is the same kid who would come unglued as a toddler if we weren’t careful to keep him hydrated. Some people are extra sensitive to sensory issues. My oldest is autistic, and we was little, he could go into a fit of rage in an overstimulating environment. But even neuro-typical people can get angry if they’re hungry or tired or overstimulated.
Anger Cause #2 — Injustice
Some people are born with an extra measure of diplomacy, and when faced with an apparent injustice, they can stay calm and try to find a solution that benefits everyone. For the rest of us, the mere hint of injustice can send us flying off the handle in outrage and fury.
Anger Cause #3 — Interruption of Process
This one seems to be especially difficult for us multitasking moms. We’re trying to collect all the pieces, tidy up all the loose ends and get out the door on time, and in that very moment an argument breaks out that requires our attention. We’re not mad at the kids for having a problem; we’re enraged that it had to happen when we were clearly busy.
Anger Cause #4 — Unmet Expectations
Newlyweds seem especially prone to this one. They often come into the marriage with preconceived notions about how things should be and can become infuriated when those often unspoken expectations are not met. In most cases, the issue of unmet expectations can be overcome with better communication skills.
Anger Cause #5 — Fear
Ever faced the terrifying notion that your child is lost? I remember one summer day when my oldest was a just a little guy. We had a party in our back yard, and at one point I turned around and Griffyn was gone. We had heard an ice cream truck come down the block, so we thought maybe he slipped out of the yard when no one was looking to follow the truck’s music.
All of the adults scattered, running up and down the block calling his name, but he was nowhere to be found. My heart nearly pounded out of my chest as I ran from room to room and floor to floor in the house trying to find him.
What was about 15 minutes of searching felt like hours. We knocked on doors, looked in bushes, peeked under porches, but there was no sign of Griffyn anywhere. Of course, I’d been praying feverishly throughout our search, but at one point, I decided to just stop, close my eyes and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
The cars! No one had checked the parked cars. Sure enough, Griffyn was playing on the back seat floor of one of the cars in our driveway. Whew! To say I was relieved would be a gross understatement. I felt like I could breathe again. But after a few moments of hugging my baby and kissing him all over, feelings of relief were quickly replace by a rising anger. Once I knew he was alive and safe, I wanted to kill him!
That’s what fear can do. Once the fear is gone, rage takes its place.
Somehow, just knowing what’s causing our anger, just taking the time to recognize it and unpack it, helps us to use it for good instead of being used by it for bad. It’s something that we can model for our kids and something we can talk about when anger rises up in them.
Check back tomorrow. We’re going to talk about how to stay unoffended.