Authored by Mara Hodler
You’ve probably heard a few of these expressions:
I’m so angry I could spit nails!
He’s so angry, he’s breathing fire!
She’s so angry, she could … !
I’ve had it up to here with … !
I’m so angry I could spit nails!
I’ve said all these and more, even with some colorful adjectives and expletives thrown in. So, I want to tell you something I’ve learned: there is a big difference between anger as an emotion and anger as a response.
Let’s talk about anger as an emotion. Anger as an emotion is something important to recognize. Much like the way pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong, anger is your heart’s way of letting you know that something is amiss. It’s not something to ignore. It’s not something to suppress.
When I stop to think about why I am angry, I usually find it’s one of two things:
1. There is an issue that needs addressing.
2. I have some maturing to do.
I wish I could tell you that it’s often the first of the two, but sadly, no. It’s often the latter.
Maybe there’s an injustice that’s making me angry. Sometimes there is a very real need that requires attention, or a “cause” I need to take up. Sometimes my anger is caused by the fact that someone has done something that was truly hurtful to me or to someone I care about. Or maybe there is a disappointment that makes me upset. There are all kinds of reasons to get angry.
Sometimes my pride has been injured, or I am jealous of someone. These are not exactly lofty reasons to be angry, but they are still worth examining. You can learn a lot about yourself by looking at what makes you angry.
You are entitled to your feelings, but your feelings are not entitled to you. In other words, you cannot stop yourself from feeling angry, annoyed, or enraged, but you have to learn how to control your responses to these feelings.
If you think about it, you probably know someone who is like the Hulk. Something makes them angry and they morph into this terrifying, rage-fueled creature. Once they have erupted and unleashed their anger, they settle down and return to their normal self, wondering why in the world you are keeping your distance from them. This is why anger as a response is problematic. Lack of self-control in the form of angry eruptions is responsible for all kinds of pain and heartache, from the hurt feelings or tears left on the face of a loved one to actual destruction of property, and in more extreme cases, people left injured or dead. Anger can have serious consequences.
I think it’s interesting that the Bible says, “In your anger do not sin”1 or “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man holds it in check.”2 These verses confirm that anger is real, but that you need to be careful not to act on your anger.
That does not mean that you should ignore the problem, but you should take a minute (or however long it takes) to cool down. Think about a response that addresses the issue, not a response that simply allows you to vent your anger.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to cool down:
1. I slowly count to ten in my head. It helps to give myself a few minutes to remember that I want to be in control.
2. I go for a walk. There’s just something about being outside that helps me blow off steam and regain perspective.
3. I vent to a trusted friend. Sometimes just hearing my thoughts and feelings out loud helps me gain a better perspective. It may help the problem shrink to its true size. Also, you might get some good insight from a neutral party.
My caution on the last option is to make sure to vent to the right person. Seriously, vent to the right person! Pick someone whose maturity you can trust, like a parent or older sibling. Don’t allow it to be an excuse to gossip.
You can borrow my ideas or find your own way to cool off. The important thing is that you figure out a way to put some space between you and your impulses.
An angry response stirs up trouble. Proverbs 15 says “a quick-tempered person stirs up dissension.”3 Anger tends to produce anger. That’s what you get when you use anger as a response—more anger, more problems.
It’s really important to learn how to manage anger. Managing anger is not the same thing as suppressing it. Just because you didn’t blow up at your friend for embarrassing you does not mean that the issue is resolved. You definitely get points for not blowing up, but there’s still more work to be done.
Now that you have sidestepped the angry response you need to take some time to figure out why you got angry and address that. Pray about it. See what you should do.
Maybe, in thinking about it, you realize that you were just feeling stressed and short on tolerance. Maybe you needed some encouragement instead of a teasing from your friend, and perhaps sharing this with your friend might help them learn to understand you better and strengthen your friendship. Not saying anything to your friend can produce feelings of resentment toward that friend and will undermine your relationship.
If you find yourself constantly losing your temper, you might need to spend some time to get to the source of your anger. It takes courage to truly examine your heart, but you owe it to yourself. On the other side of that anger is the peace and happiness you are looking for.
“Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.”4
1 Ephesians 4:26 NIV
2 Proverbs 29:11 CSB
3 Proverbs 15:18 NET Bible
4 Proverbs 16:32 NIV
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2016 by The Family International