Written by Pamela K. Orgeron, M.A., Ed.S., BCCC, ACLC, Author
Note: My life experiences and my education have taught me a lot about anger. In this article I will define anger. I will share journal entries of dealing with my own anger. Over 25 years after those journal entries, I will discuss additional personal insights I have gained and other information that I have learned about how to deal with my anger and anger in others.
What is Anger?
What is anger? Dictionary.com defines anger as, “a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire.” (Definition 1) American Psychological Association (APA, 2018a) identifies anger as “an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.” (¶ 1)
Etiology of Anger
Anger can result from either internal or external circumstances, or a combination of both. An example of an internal circumstance triggering anger would be a flashback of a traumatic or angering situation. External anger triggers might be a specific individual (e.g.: supervisor) or situation (e.g.: traffic holdup).
Similar to other emotions, anger manifests in physiological and biological effects. Among these effects are increased heart rate, blood pressure, levels of one’s “energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.” (APA, 2018b, What is Anger? The Nature of Anger section, ¶1) Segal and Smith (2018) report warning signs in your body that indicate you may be angry include the following:
* Knots in your stomach
* Clenching your hands or jaw
* Feeling clammy or flushed
* Breathing faster
* Pacing or needing to walk around
* “Seeing red”
*Having trouble concentrating
* Pounding heart
* Tensing your shoulders (Tip 2: Be aware of your anger warning signs and triggers; Pay attention to the way anger feels in your body section).
The APA (2018b) reports
People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their angry feelings. The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing, and calming. Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive—not aggressive—manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn’t mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others. (What is Anger? Expressing Anger section, ¶3)
Besides being assertive, calming oneself down is an effective measure to cope with angry feelings. When we calm ourselves down, we modify internal and external reactions until the anger leaves. For example, I’ve used positive self-talk to calm myself when I felt myself getting angry about something.
Less productive ways to cope with angry feelings are aggression, suppression (conscious level), repression (subconscious level), and redirection. An angry aggressive person might act out through hitting or cussing someone out. An example of suppressing anger would be feeling like you want to hit someone but in reality you smile at them. An excellent example of repressed anger would be abused children who unconsciously forget the offense against them until the anger comes out later in the form of flashbacks, depression, anxiety, etc.
For an example of redirection I look to my life. I recall being angry at classmates in the ninth grade when I did not win any class awards at the end of the school year. Rather than expressing my anger, I redirected, using the energy from my anger to study harder to do better the next year in school. On the surface, this may seem healthy but it wasn’t, as I eventually had to deal with the anger as an adult.
My Travels with Anger
Back in 1991 while in psychotherapy with Dr. Douglas Vaughan I was struggling with identifying and expressing anger. In response to my struggles, Dr. Vaughan gave me the self-talk homework assignment to write about anger. Below are excerpts from my Recovery Journal written at 12:02 PM, March 29 of that year to comply with Dr. Vaughan’s request:
Why do I have such a problem dealing with anger? Why is anger okay? How can I benefit by working through my anger? What hinders my working through anger? How can I overcome those hindrances? I’ll try to answer these questions before venturing deeper into the deep-seated anger/pain of my past.
Why do I have such a problem dealing with anger? The most honest answer to this question is that I was never taught to deal with anger as I wish I had been. I was always given the impression that anger was wrong. I remember having a real hot temper when I was younger but I soon learned I got along better with others if I put a lid on that type of feelings and avoided getting in so much trouble with Mom and Dad.
Why is anger OK? or is it? (At this point I stopped writing to look up Scriptures dealing with anger.)
Below are the verses I found in my 1991 study:
- Ephesians 4:26
- Jonah 4:4
- Jonah 3:9-10
- Deuteronomy 1:37
- Nehemiah 9:17
- Psalm 103:8-9
- Isaiah 10:5
- Isaiah 13:9
- Micah 7:18
As I complete my brief Scripture study on anger, Romans 12:19 comes to mind—”Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” (KJV)
After researching the Scriptures for what God says about anger, I find there is no sin in being angry. The sin begins when we allow anger to fester into bitterness without forgiveness or when we seek to obtain vengeance or get back at the person or object of our anger.
How can I benefit by working through my anger?
1. Find freedom/inner peace concerning past injustices done against me. With this peace will come:
1. Less stress
2. More energy to do positive things
3. Better physical health—less headaches, nervous stomachs, etc. brought on by stress
2. With the resolution of my anger within, I’ll be able to move on with my life in a productive, optimistic way.
1. Ability to achieve and maintain goal weight since the desire to stuff down our feelings with food will no longer be prominent.
2. Time/opportunity/energy to give to building career/relationship goals.
3. Ability to allow my life and what I’ve learned to be a ministry tool to others at the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
What hinders my letting go of anger to find complete healing? How can I overcome these hindrances? The number one cause of my hanging on to anger is fear. The fear is of a variety of dimensions: fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, fear of failure, etc. But it all boils down to one word: fear. [Since the topic of this blog is anger rather than fear, I will stop with my journal entry here. Next week’s blog will cover the topic of fear.]
Personal Reflections & More
God has brought me a long way from being that insecure client of Dr. Vaughan’s struggling with and not even being able to recognize anger in myself to being a confident counselor and life coach teaching others about anger. Once I realized that no one is immune to feeling angry and that anger itself is not a sin, I was able to accept having angry feelings as a normal part of my life and taught myself how to respond to angry feelings in healthier ways. I’m not saying I have arrived to never have any issues with anger. In fact, just a day or two ago an incident occurred where I vented on my husband, and later had to apologize to him for the way I had handled my anger. I would call anyone who says they never have any issues with anger a liar. I believe everyone has a threshold of anger where they are tempted to overreact negatively to angry feelings.
Anger also can be a symptom of a different, and sometimes deeper issue that may be masked by the anger. For example, anger is one of the five stages of grief. Another example from my own life, anger was an indicator of unfinished business and of an unforgiving heart.
ABC’s of Anger Management
Based on my experience and research, I believe managing angry feelings effectively in a healthy way involves four primary paths: Adjusting attitudes and thoughts; Building healthier behaviors; and, Communicating more constructively. Of course, the “s” represents spirituality, which I believe affects every aspect of us and is the most important means of dealing with angry feelings. Thus, my referring to this section as the ABC’s of Anger Management. Let me expand further offering examples under each category:
- Adjusting attitudes and thoughts—according to Segal and Smith (2018), “anger problems have less to do with what happens to you than how you interpret and think about what happened.” (Tip 2: Be aware of your anger warning signs and triggers; Identify the negative thought patterns that trigger your temper section, ¶1)
- Cognitive restructuing, also known as reframing, is where someone changes their attitudes, morals, or beliefs to result in a changing of his or her behavior. For example, self-talk—I use self-talk when ever unwelcomed thoughts or temptations enter my mind. Typically, I will start repeating and reminding myself of favorite Scripture verses, such as Philippians 4:13 or 2 Timothy 1:7
- Defense mechanisms, defined by the American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary (2002), are “Any of a variety of usually unconscious mental processes used to protect oneself from shame, anxiety, loss of self-esteem, conflict, or other unacceptable feelings or thoughts, and including behaviors such as repression, projection, denial, and rationalization.” (defense mechanisms in Medicine, definition 1)
- Building healthier behaviors—incorporate relaxation techniques; exercise; timeouts or short breaks; and times of laughter into your daily life.
- Relaxation Techniques—APA (2018c) recommends three relaxation techniques:
- Exercise—According to the Mayo Clinic Staff (2018), “Physical activity can help reduce stress that can cause you to become angry. If you feel your anger escalating, go for a brisk walk or run, or spend some time doing other enjoyable physical activities.” (Tip 3: Get some exercise)
- Timeouts—Mayo Clinic Staff also reported, “Timeouts aren’t just for kids. Give yourself short breaks during times of the day that tend to be stressful. A few moments of quiet time might help you feel better prepared to handle what’s ahead without getting irritated or angry.” (Tip 4: Take a timeout)
- Laughter—Adding laughter, or humor to one’s life is a great way to manage anger and any stress resulting from anger. I’ve always heard “Laughter is the best medicine.” Laughter has both short and long term health benefits, according to Mayo Clinic Staff (2016):
- Short-term benefits of laughter include:
- Laughter can trigger the following physical changes in one’s body: increased oxygen intake; energized effect on one’s heart, lungs, muscles, and brain (increases endorphins).
- Laughter can stimulate and relieve the stress response in one’s body, resulting in a relaxed feeling.
- Laughter also can improve circulation and help muscles relax. These effects help lower the physical indicators of stress.
- Long-term benefits of laughter include:
- Increased immunity to illnesses
- Pain relief
- Improved coping skills and personal relationships
- Elevated mood, lessening depression, anxiety, etc..
- Short-term benefits of laughter include:
- Communicating more constructively—”People often jump to conclusions when they’re angry, and they can say the first (often unkind) thing that pops into their heads.” (APA, 2018c, Strategies to keep anger at bay; Improve your communication skills section, ¶1) This ought not be the case. I offer the following tips to improve communication skills in the heat of the moment that can lead to healthier relationships long-term:
- Think before you speak. For example, count to 10 allowing your emotions time to cool off before responding.
- Avoid the “blame game”. Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements. “Be respectful and specific. For example, say, ‘I’m upset that you left the table without offering to help with the dishes’ instead of ‘You never do any housework’.” (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2018, Tip 6: Stick with “I” statements section, ¶1)
- Rather than focusing on the source of your anger, brainstorm for possible solutions to the problem. Compromise, if appropriate.
- Agree to disagree, if and when appropriate. My husband and I have a few areas theologically where we differ on our interpretations of Scripture. We know what these issues are, and have agreed to disagree. In such cases, we no longer bring up the topics with each other knowing that our spouse is entitled to his or her own opinion. This avoids arguments and strengthens our relationship.
- Avoid holding grudges that can turn into bitterness. Offer forgiveness.
- Spirituality—Is anger inherently good or bad? According to John R. Ballew, a Licensed Clinical Counselor in Georgia, much ambivalence exists in spiritual traditions regarding how anger has the potential to bring about good yet also carries warnings about how anger can lead to evil. (Ballew, 2017) According to the Scriptures, anger is not a sin (Ephesians 4:26). This is supported by the fact that Jesus became angry at unrighteousness (e.g., John 2:13-25). However,
Christian tradition also teaches that anger has the potential for becoming fixated and distracting us from our relationship with one another and with God. A Christian understanding of anger would seem to ask, “Does my angry response draw me closer to my community and to the Divine, or does it create destructive divisions?” (Ballew, ¶5)
Dealing with Anger in Others
While most of this article has dealt with our personal anger, I would be amiss not to discuss how we should approach anger in others. One of the first key lifesaving points I learned early on in recovery is that while I cannot make a person behave a certain way, what I can do is change how I react to his or her behavior. I believe the same can be said of anger. While I do not have control over whether someone gets mad at me, what I certainly can control is how I respond to their anger. As Dr. Tim LaHaye and Bob Phillips wrote in the book entitled Anger is a Choice (Zondervan, 1982), I believe, “anger is a choice. You decide which way it will turn.” (p. 22) You alone decide whether you will respond to another person’s anger at you by returning the anger, dismissing the anger, or walking away from the angry individual.
Segal and Smith (2018) offer five tips to responding to anger in a person you love. These tips are:
1. Set clear boundaries about what you will and will not tolerate.
2. Wait for a time when you are both calm to talk to your loved one about the anger problem. Don’t bring it up when either of you is already angry.
3. Remove yourself from the situation if your loved one does not calm down.
4. Consider counseling or therapy if you are having a hard time standing up for yourself.
5. Put your safety first. If you feel unsafe or threatened in any way, get away from your loved one. (If your loved one has an anger management problem section, ¶2)
Favorite Quotes Related to Anger
Though I know from personal experience there are theologians out there who will disagree with me, I want to reiterate that anger is NOT a sin, but an emotion, a feeling. Feelings come and go, and can be fleeting. What one does with anger determines whether an individual has sinned. Anger alone, like other feelings, is not right or wrong.
As a Christian, I believe the best way to handle anger is by giving it to God. Allow the Holy Spirit to have control over and guide your responses to anger, just as He should have control over every aspect of your life.
Before closing, I also want to point out the importance of everyone realizing that all of us mess up sometimes in the face of anger. When that happens the keys to restoring internal peace and peace with God are repentance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior. He alone knows best what to do with anger. Give those angry emotions to God. You’ll have no regrets.
*American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary (2002). Defense mechanisms. Retrieved June 10, 2018 from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/defense-mechanism
*American Psychological Association (2018a). Anger. Retrieved June 8, 2018 from http://www.apa.org/topics/anger/index.aspx
*American Psychological Association (2018b). Home//Psychology Topics//Anger//Controlling Anger — Before It Controls…. Controlling anger before it controls you. Retrieved June 8, 2018 from http://www.apa.org/topics/anger/control.aspx
American Psychological Association (2018c). Home//Psychology Help Center//Strategies for controlling your anger. Strategies for controlling your anger: Keeping anger in check. Retrieved June 9. 2018 from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/controlling-anger.aspx
Ballew, J. R. (2017). Spirituality and anger. Retrieved June 11, 2018 from https://bodymindsoul.org/articles/spirituality-and-religion/spirituality-and-anger/
LaHaye, T., & Phillips, B. (1982). Anger is a Choice. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Anger-Choice-Dr-Tim-LaHaye/dp/0310242835
Mayo Clinic Staff (2016). Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke. Retrieved June 11, 2018 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456
Mayo Clinic Staff (2018). Home/Healthy Lifestyle/Adult health. Anger management: 10 tips to tame your temper. Retrieved June 9, 2018 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/anger-management/art-20045434
*Segal, J., & Smith, M. (2018). Anger management: Tips and techniques for getting anger under control. Retrieved June 9, 2018 from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/anger-management.htm