This is the first blog in my Embracing Emotions series that I will be doing throughout the year. This time I focus on anger. In each blog of this series, I will discuss my experience with the emotion, what the Bible says about it, and a social work perspective. Feel free to share your experience and thoughts.
Growing up I would cower at an angry person. Anger was a very difficult emotion for me to see in others. I lived my life so that others would not become angry with me and if I sensed anger in other people, I would quickly weal up with tears or run away. Essentially I was/am a people pleaser. Mostly, I didn’t experience much anger either. Because I was scared of feeling it, I learned to go with the flow and avoid situations where I might become angry easily. I kept my friends at a distance, not afraid to be vulnerable, but not so close I could be hurt if there was conflict.
For the most part, this was all unconscious behavior. But I did know that anger made me want to run and hide. Well, getting married and having children has forced me into conflicts and experiencing emotions like never before. My anger has reared its ugly head much stronger than I’ve ever anticipated. To be honest, I’ve hated it. I hate how I sound and I hate how I react to these strong emotions. Not to mention the fact that I see anger in my children and I don’t see them handling it well either. #momwin
The Psalms talks a lot about anger. God, other nations, and the author all becoming angry for various reasons. Just in the first few refrains I saw the word anger multiple times. I started sensing a theme and I realized I wanted to dig a little deeper into this.
The language about God becoming angry brings up some pretty significant questions for me. Why does God have such strong anger? Is he truly an angry God that is “terrifying them with his fierce fury” (Ps. 2:5)? Did the author of Psalms perceive God differently than he is? A few places I see God and anger in Psalms are as follows (not an extensive list):
- His anger flares up in an instant (2:12)
- To bring justice (7:6)
- He hates those who love violence. (11:5)
- The earth trembles because of his anger (18:7)
- Bursting anger against his people (60:1)
- Anger is intense with his own sheep (74:1)
- Who can stand before him angry? (76:7)
Perhaps because we are made in the image of God he too experiences emotions just as we do. By God revealing to the author of the Psalms that he becomes angry at times, it may help us understand and relate to God better. A big part of us as humans is experiencing emotions and if God experiences anger then we have permission too as well. The trick (for me and many others) is learning how to embrace it and show it in healthy and constructive ways. The Psalms speaks to this. Here is a short list:
- “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent.” (4:4)
- “Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper–it only leads to harm.” (37:8)
- “Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.” (38:1) Note: I see this as a reminder to work on not lashing out in anger or disciplining when angry. Take a step back, breathe, walk around for two seconds to think, and then follow through with teaching or consequence.
- “Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath.” (78:38) Note: A reminder to have mercy and grace for our children. Where are they coming from? Why are they struggling to obey?
- But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (86:15)
I still have a lot of processing to do in terms of anger and how it relates to God but I believe I can trust that God is slow to anger and I believe that when God chooses to show anger it is for a reason. It’s not the uncontrolled anger that I experience at times.
Due to my training in social work, I know anger is an emotion and I know its normal to feel. I just need to embrace the fact that I feel anger and learn how to properly deal with it. I think the times I feel the strongest (burning) anger are when my children are deliberately disobeying me or disrespecting me. When I’ve asked nicely three times to stop leaning and jumping on me so I can put the other child’s shoes on because we are in a rush, my patience has expired and angry face rears its ugly head.
I found an article called “Mindfulness and the treatment of anger problems” (Wright, Day, and Howells, 2008) that brings up a lot of useful information about anger and how to healthfully handle experiencing it. The first point that stood out was that anger is quite useful and constructive when it sparks us to defend, motivates us into motion, or helps us to communicate things that are important to us. When I am reminded that anger can be a useful emotion, not just destructive, this gives me perspective.
The article further discusses the options for treatment of uncontrolled anger. The first is cognitive-behavioral approach which is when the person is exposed to the trigger that makes him or her angry and relearning the reaction to the trigger. Another option is learning to control self through coping skills and yet another is learning relaxation techniques.
As is the title of the article, mindfulness is offered up as another option to help with anger awareness and control. It is suggested that mindfulness might help the observer realize that emotions are just feelings that come and go and are not necessarily a reflection of reality. Mindfulness appears to also help prevent experiencing the emotion at all because you can become aware of the trigger coming and act on prevention of it.
While I am not mindfulness expert, the idea of being aware of your surroundings and focusing on feelings flowing in and out are two foundational aspects to this way of thinking. Mindfulness is based off of Buddhists practices. I believe mindfulness can be accomplished through meditation or time spent with God. The idea is to learn to pay attention to the present, be in the moment, and be non-judgmental. This is a fitting way to deal with anger. Paying attention to the fact that I am experiencing it, not judging it as a negative or positive emotion, and then acting (not reacting) from there.
I would love to explore mindfulness even more. It seems to be a helpful practice for many emotions that we experience like anger, anxiety, or depression and more. While mindfulness can be intricate and takes time to master, if you are a beginner here are two practical tips for how to begin working on it.
- Listen to and participate in guided meditations that you can easily find on youtube. Often these help you focus on your breath and how your body feels.
- When you are experiencing strong emotions, pay attention to your present surroundings. First take note and then label things you can see, smell, taste, hear, and feel.