Ever feel like anger is holding you down? I have to admit, out of the many situations I have counseled; whether loss of a loved one, marital (divorce), anxiety and depression, or addiction, the most common manifestation is anger. Anger is also one of the deepest seeded emotions, which scars everyone it touches. A working definition of anger is helpful for us. Anger is a release of energy into the nervous system, hindering clear logic and reasonable thinking; basically, it stops us from making good choices. In this post, space and time restrict me from being exhaustive, so I will share two of the biggest situations, loss of a loved one and addiction then after explaining both, provide two steps in battling anger. If you have any questions, feel free to write me.
Loss of a Loved One
Anger seems to build in people who have lost loved ones for several reasons: (1) guilt over the relationship with the deceased, (2) anxiety of being left behind, (3) an untimely or unprepared for death, and (4) un-forgiveness. Let me explain these: (1) losing someone close to us can expose the way we treated, or didn’t treat, them. For instance, I may have anger because I believe the deceased never loved me, so I returned no love to them. –Or I played the “tit for tat” game and now they are gone, so I have no way of continuing the game by my rules. (2) I feel like the deceased “left me behind,” as if it is me against the world—this can cause anger issues in many ways. (3) If a death occurs suddenly and I never had a chance to share my love for that person, or I feel like, “it’s God’s fault,” this can fester into deeper problems. (4) Lastly, not forgiving a deceased person can be a huge hindrance in living a life free of anger. Of these four, the third and fourth are the most witnessed in my counseling and the most dangerous. People tend to blame God for an unexpected, or even expected, death. True, God is in control, but humanity fails to recognize that death is the inevitable; none of us are getting out alive. This doesn’t make it easier, but it is perspective—something anger does not have. If this is you, this is definitely an area you need to seek godly counsel, trust me. As well, unforgiveness carries an even bigger problem; as the Lord stated, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15). Both of these areas produce a deeply rooted resentment and unhealthy disposition. This person will lose trust in people, society, self, and especially God.
Substance Abuse Anger
The problem for substance abusers is their minds are not making rational sense, since they are under the influence of mind altering matter. With them, anger can surely intensify at the drop of a hat—this speeds up the cardiovascular system, while changing some of the brain’s functions. Anyone who has lived with an addict knows it is like living with someone who is bi-polar; one minute they are happy, the next they are extremely volatile or emotional. This is a reaction of the chemical imbalance in the brain. Even after months (or years) of treatment in a structured facility, living a chemical-free life, the ex-addict still finds himself “flying off the handle,” at the smallest of things; mainly because over time, the addict has learned, and become a MASTER of, manipulation. They manipulate everything, even their own thoughts! Everything is methodically executed in deception with the sole purpose of “scoring” the next hit, drink, or drug. It’s a never ending cycle. This causes the addict to bond with the powerful emotion—anger. If anger can be the manipulator in relationships, the addict feels he or she has “an upper hand.” For this reason, a twelve step program may help in bringing the individual into an accountability format, but the hostility which arises in the mind, after the meeting, is still manifested, almost daily. One can take away a drug, but the molded emotion of anger resides causing the “clean addict,” to revert back to “power.” Without delving too far into the physiological and neuro-biological complexities which occur in the body (and mind), let me briefly provide two applicable approaches to relieve anger.
First, one major reason anger exists, even in someone claiming to be a Christian, is because there is no transformation (regeneration) of the mind. A person who submits their life to Christ is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17); therefore, the old person is passed away and the new person lives in Christ (Rom. 6:6). Sounds easy, but few learn true submission. Anger has no hold over the Christian and while true, anger is still a very powerful foe and must be dealt with head-on.
Acknowledgement and Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Here, Jesus informs His listeners that righteousness is not the outward act of following the Commands, but an inward heart. Forget about murder, an angry person has already murdered in thought. The person who has lost a loved one and has anger issues, may fall into this category; they are angry and hating someone: the deceased, a family member, or friend. So, the first act of being free from anger is to realize its destructive nature—break free by recognizing the chains which bind. Acknowledge your anger and to whom it is directed. There is power in this because secrets which are exposed will eventually lose their foothold. Next, if the person is deceased, try writing a letter to that person describing your anger; remember; only you are going to see the letter anyway, be honest. If the person is living, begin by praying for that person, no matter the extent of the prayer, beginning is the first step—then be persistent and do this daily. Once again, if your anger issue is with God, seek one on one godly counsel.
Prayer & James 1:19
While in counseling, sometimes I provide homework for those who have anger problems, which may consist of reflection of an event, writing letters to those who wronged the individual (as above), applicable actions (like going to the end of a line in the supermarket and waiting, holding doors for people, intentionally letting others in during traffic, etc.), or memorizing certain Scripture for prayer.
James 1:19, “…let every person, be quick to hear, slow to speak, [and] slow to anger,” is my favorite and the most effective verse, as a weapon to curb anger. Since this verse worked for me, I can state that anger can be relieved by citing and praying Scripture. This is not some “name and claim it” sort of psycho-faith-babble. However, I believe emphatically, and honestly, that God loves when we recite His Word back to Him. Since Jesus is the Word (Jn. 1:1, 14; Rev. 19:13), it only makes logical sense that the Creator loves when believers employ Holy Spirit inspired truth, which consists of His Son—yes, it is Trinitarian. For me, I was having anger problems, even after surrendering to Christ. When I came across this verse during reading, I decided (probably not on my own) to pray it every morning, day, and night. I will admit that I added an applicable ending, but my prayer went like this:
“Lord, please help me, as your Word declares, let me be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…and I ask, quick to love.”
I consistently prayed that prayer every day, sometimes adding in that the Lord made me with one mouth and two ears; asking for help in listening twice as much as I spoke. As well, I was honest with God; I asked Him to reveal my heart (I believe this is imperative). Every time an anger issue presented itself before me (in traffic, in a store, at work); I recited this verse in my head. After three months, yes three months, I can honestly admit to you, that my anger simply vanished. While I have witnessed people in counseling who have had far quicker results from praying this prayer (some as quick as three weeks), no one person is identical; meaning, each person’s level of anger varies.
As stated, anger prohibits the process of thinking logically. Let me clarify something as well, the praying of James 1:19 did not alter my brain chemistry or the fact that some people “angered” me; however, I did find that when I would get bothered or angered, the first thought into my head was that Scripture. The persistent actions are what eventually altered my brain chemistry. This is the integral point of praying Scripture; it renews the mind (Rom. 12:2)! The brain cannot think of two separate things at the same time, it just is not programmed that way. So, in review, (1) acknowledge that you have an issue with anger, (2) write down what or who makes you angry, (3) seek God first and foremost, (4) and pray the promises of Scripture.