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Anger is a feeling. It is an emotional reaction to certain kinds of situations that provoke us or put stress in our lives. Anger can be a constructive force in our lives, although we most often see anger as having destructive actions and effects.

We think of anger as losing our temper or patience, as raising our voice, shouting, acting and thinking impulsively, saying things we wish we hadn’t, and feeling very strong about something. Yet anger in relation to those same feelings can also be manifested by withdrawing, denying our feelings, or becoming silently bitter.

However, anger can give us cues that something is wrong. It can help us focus our thinking on the problem. It can give us strength or determination to meet the challenge at hand. Thus, anger has constructive as well as destructive effects. In learning to deal with anger, our aim is to remove its destructive forms while learning to make proper use of its constructive forms.

Constructively, anger can be an "energizer". It can give us extra energy, mobilizing our physical resources and stamina in preparation to meet difficult situations head on. We may want to label this "determination". Yet however we label it, we can recognize the need for this kind of energy and the positive results it produces when it is properly channeled.

Anger can also be a "signal". It can make us aware that we need to honestly but kindly communicate with someone who is disturbing us. We may find "I-statements" helpful in these situations since they offer a good way to express our tension or negative feelings to others. As a signal, anger can alert us to injustice, frustration, irritation, or threats, warning us that we are being called upon to make a proper, responsible response. Anger can also signal us that we are in a stressful situation, and that we need to remain calm, sensible, and godly.

When anger is not properly channeled, it becomes a destructive energy or force in our lives and the life of everyone adversely affected by our anger. We can become so distressed or frustrated that we cannot think clearly, sensibly, or lovingly. We may then act impulsively, forgetting about considering the consequences of our behavior on ourselves and others. Anger’s energy, in this case, is allowed to bring on strong negative emotions and actions which defeat us, hindering our relationship with God and unnecessarily harming others.

Anger also becomes destructive when we take our anger signals to mean it is time to become defensive or aggressive. It is not uncommon to find us angrily defending ourselves when no defense is necessary. When we are embarrassed or hurt, we may use anger as a means of protecting our pride or preventing ourselves from feeling the sting of what has hurt us. When threatened, we may resort to anger as a means of stopping or destroying the threat rather than being sensibly cautious. Therefore, if we use our feelings to become aggressive and lash out or retaliate against those who mistreat us, we are responding in the wrong way to the signals from our anger.

Anger is destructive when it is too frequent, too intense, lasts too long, leads to aggression, or disturbs our work or relationships. We will consider each of these areas separately, keeping in mind the constructive side of anger as we examine its destructive side.

FREQUENT anger is a sign that something is wrong. There are situations in which anger is justified, proper, and helpful. An example is if someone has destroyed something that you worked on for a long time, just for the sheer joy of being destructive. Another example is if someone spitefully mistreats a person you care about. However, most of our anger is not necessary or useful. For instance, we may get angry just because things are not going exactly how we want them to, or we may make assumptions about someone else and get mad without verifying those assumptions. In many situations we can learn to distinguish whether our anger is constructive or destructive, necessary or unnecessary, by observing the short and long term consequences of our anger. Based on the consequences alone we could begin to cut down on the number of times we get angry.

Anger that is too INTENSE rarely produces positive results. A small or moderate amount of anger can be easily controlled and most often works to our advantage in constructive ways. However, high degrees of anger - intense anger - is hard to control and quickly leads to strong negative feelings and emotions. When intensely angry it is easier to become irrational, saying and doing things that we may later regret. Intense anger prevents clear thinking and causes us to jump to conclusions or act impulsively rather than carefully evaluating the situation and choosing constructive alternatives. Intense anger also puts undue stress on our bodies. It causes muscle tension and increases our blood pressure, heart beat, and blood sugar. This can put excessive strain and wear on our bodies when it happens too frequently. Anger, to be constructive, is best kept at low or moderate levels.

Anger that LASTS TOO LONG is anger that keeps eating away at us, slowly but surely destroying us. God’s Word sets the time limit for anger at one day (Ephesians 4:26,27). From this we learn that it is best to get over our anger within a short period of time. When our anger is prolonged, we maintain a level of arousal or stress that prevents our bodies and minds from returning to normal levels, thus making us more susceptible to further aggravation and annoyance. In other words, it becomes easier to get destructively angry the next time something goes wrong.

One way that we prolong or hang on to anger is by reminding ourselves of or rehearsing past situations that have upset us. When we do this, it is our mind and thoughts that cause the past angers to start up all over again. This remembered anger may be felt as vividly as if the situation were happening to us right then.

When allow anger to LEAD TO AGGRESSION, our anger has become destructive. When we feel abused or treated unfairly, we sometimes want to retaliate and hurt the person who has offended us. We most often choose angry aggression when we feel very intense about something which we have taken personally (a criticism, form of rejection, disrespect, injustice). With this mindset we may have a greater tendency to act impulsively without considering the rationality of our choice or its consequences to ourselves and others. Both verbal aggression, like calling someone a stupid idiot, and physical aggression, like punching, slapping, and pushing, are ineffective, self-defeating, destructive, and contrary to the way of God. Such responses may make us feel good about getting even, but they make us as evil as the one who attacked us, injuring them unnecessarily and driving them away from them.

Anger is destructive when it INTERFERES with doing a good job. It can affect our concentration, thereby interfering with our ability to perform tasks at a normal level.

It is also destructive when it makes it HARD FOR OTHERS TO RELATE TO US. Anger pushes people away from us, making them want to avoid us or placate us - damaging or destroying meaningful relationships in the process. When we replace caring about others with caring first about ourselves, we may use anger as a means to intimidate and manipulate others. Anger should signal us to the need to communicate effectively, but it should not be used as an occasion or excuse to manipulate. When anger brings on bitterness or slander, it becomes a dividing force between us and others. Some people, in response to their anger, withdraw into a make-believe world of their own, determining never again to relate to the people who have angered them.

External causes of anger are similar for all of us whereas internal causes vary, for they are made up of our own unique ways of interpreting and responding to life. The external factors are the things or events that happen to us, and the circumstances under which they occur. The internal factors pertain to our beliefs, what the events mean to us, our expectations about them, or our prior experience in handling them.



FRUSTRATION: Frustration occurs when we try to do something and are disappointed because we are prevented from doing it. An example is when we are trying to go somewhere and the car breaks down. Another is when we cannot find the necessary tools to do a job.

ANNOYANCES AND IRRITATIONS: These are incidents that "get on our nerves". An example is when we are constantly interrupted while trying to do something (read a book, make dinner, build a shelf, etc). Other examples are when we accidentally break something, when we soil a favorite shirt, or when someone is making too much noise.

ABUSE: Abuse can be verbal or physical. Verbal abuse consists of name-calling, cursing, and other unkind remarks directed at us. It can be obvious like the examples above, or it can be subtle and indirect, such as when others are sarcastic or try to make us look foolish. Physical abuse includes pushing, hitting, punching, grabbing, kicking.

INJUSTICE OR UNFAIRNESS: These are situations in which we have not been treated fairly, have not received what we deserve, or have received something we did not deserve. We may also feel an injustice that is directed toward someone else, especially those we care most about. Some examples are when someone is prejudiced against us, when someone makes an assumption about us without hearing our side of the story, or when someone retains that wrong assumption even after hearing our side.



BELIEFS: These are the points of view that we hold going into a situation (our prejudices), or our thoughts about a particular situation while we are going through it.

EXPECTATIONS: These are our views on what we think should take place in a situation, what the outcome should be, and how we think others should respond to us. High expectations are good if they lead to positive, constructive behavior and consequences. Expectations that are too high can be self-destructive, helping no one because they will most likely lead to disappointment and frustration which can then lead to more anger. We need to lower and/or keep all expectations at a reasonable and sane level.

SELF-STATEMENTS: These are the things we think and say to ourselves. They are our internal conversations. Our self-statements can be filled with positive or negative thoughts, and they play an important role in defining and shaping our feelings and emotions in situations. Examples of self-statements are: "When is he going to quit bugging me?", and "Can’t she leave me alone", and "They never consider my opinions or feelings, but always want me to accept theirs". Such self-talk only adds fuel to the fire and prolongs the anger long after the situation has passed. Self-statements can also rekindle an old anger by recreating and rehearsing the past situation. When our self-statements are filled with positive thoughts, though, they can be a valuable and effective way of dealing with our anger constructively. For the Christian, they should be based on God’s statements about anger, the consequences of anger, and proper, loving human relationships.

TENSION: This is our body’s response to stress, pressure, and irritating situations: tense muscles, headaches, churning stomachs, tightness in the chest. They all have a reducing effect on our tolerance level, thus making it easier for things less serious to anger us. When tense, it is easier to interpret a minor annoyance as a major catastrophe. Physical relaxation, learning how to relax our bodies during a stressful situation, helps us slow down the whole process of anger. It then helps us stay in control mentally so we can think positively and constructively.

Our beliefs about an anger producing situation determine whether our anger will be controlled for constructive purposes or whether it will be used (seemingly uncontrolled) for destructive purposes. There are two basic belief systems and resulting behaviors that help turn anger into a destructive force. The first belief system holds that when we become angry we should "bottle up" our frustration, remain silently angry, and withdraw from the situation or person - therefore avoiding further contact. The second belief system holds that the way to deal with such a situation is to become antagonistic, hostile, and aggressive.

Bottled up anger is the result of not dealing actively, honestly, positively, constructively, and godly with a conflict or provocation. Instead, we quietly stay mad and withdraw only to experience several destructive consequences. First, since we have done nothing to constructively deal with the conflict, it remains in our minds as an irritant. Second, as we rehearse the situation, we often become more angry, and may "daydream" unrealistic or irresponsible responses that would have put the other person in his place. Third, the anger smolders inside us and easily turns to resentment and bitterness toward the other person. Fourth, if we have not constructively dealt with the situation, and see no positive results, we become discouraged with feelings of helplessness or hopelessness and lose our sense of self-worth. And fifth, this uncontrolled but bottled up anger can easily become directed toward ourselves. Depression is often the final result of bottling our anger. In thinking of some factors in depression (low sense of personal worth, high self-criticism, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness) it is easy to see how bottled up anger can lead to depression.

Fighting back with antagonism, hostility, and aggression when we are angry is also destructive. Generally this response just increases further hostility and anger in the other person. Aggressive acts can either be impulsive, or they can be acts of desperation, or they can be attempts to manipulate or control others. In any case, they cause injury or damage, and are therefore self-defeating. When impulsive, our aggression becomes expressed without considering its consequences and it is often later regretted. As an act of desperation, our aggression is an attempt to overcome frustration and our sense of powerlessness. And as an act of manipulation, our aggression is intended to subdue the other person and stop the irritation. Each of these responses only destroys relationships and pushes others away from us. The right use of strength is shown through behavior which seeks the good of everyone involved, and through responsible communication.

Record all of the scriptures you can find in reference to anger. Write out the destructive consequences that are expressed in each passage. Write out the way each portion says we are to deal with anger and the constructive consequences that will result from dealing in such a way. Finally, memorize one scripture portion that helps you deal with anger in your life.



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Revised 2020