“I’ve been an angry man for years. In fact, I was even angry as a child. I’d rant and rave, stomp, pout, hold my breath, and throw all sorts of temper tantrums,” Richard said with a strong, firm voice.
“As an adult I’ve destroyed one relationship after another with my anger. I swear at all the idiot drivers on the road and the stupid pedestrians who think they can cross the street anywhere. I have no patience with sales people, and I don’t trust those in authority. In the past I’ve beaten my wife and children. I just can’t seem to control my temper. How do I deal with all this anger?”
The first step in learning how to deal with your anger is wanting to change. Until a person really wants to do something about the problem, little will be accomplished. The next step is to determine which of the two major divisions of dealing with anger we’re talking about. We can deal with anger either before we have the “feelings” of anger or after we have them.
One of the best ways to deal with anger is “preventative maintenance.” If you can learn to stop anger before it gets started, you will take an important and positive step forward.
There are many different things you can do to work on this area of your life:
• You may find it helpful to establish a plan for reading in your aspect of need. A good start would be with a Bible study on anger, followed by a study on forgiveness and one on patience.
• You may find that you can avoid angry outbursts by avoiding situations that trigger your anger. Agreed, it’s best to resolve anger-producing situations, but this isn’t always possible. In that case, reduce the contact to a minimum. You need to learn to premeditate your pressure points. As the adage says it, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
Do not associate with a man given to anger;
Or go with a hot-tempered man.
Lest you learn his ways,
And find a snare for yourself. (Proverbs 22:24-25, NASB)
• You need to realize that you’re responsible to choose how you’ll respond in anger-producing situations. No one “makes you angry.” Anger is your response to others’ actions. You make you angry. If you’re going to attend a party and know ahead of time that someone will be there who doesn’t like you or whom you don’t care for, you can ask for God’s guidance. He will help you to respond as you should. If you’re willing.
It might be helpful to relax a bit. Perhaps you have been taking life too seriously. Perhaps the problems aren’t as big as you think they are. Perhaps it would be good for you to develop a sense of humor. If we sometimes take a step backward, we can see the humorous side of life and of what we think are impossible problems.
You might learn to ask yourself questions like What would Jesus do in this situations? How would He respond? Do I need to get angry? Will anger help me to handle the issue or conflict any better?
• Ask God to help you to learn how to control your tongue. Someone has said, “The tongue is in a wet place and easily slips.” The key for controlling your tongue is to plan ahead. Decide before you get into a stress situation that you won’t speak to hurt and destroy the other person. God will give you the strength to do this is this is your desire. In James 3:2-18 we read:
“For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they may obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder, wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.
So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.
For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.
Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Neither can salt water produce fresh. Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. for where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (NASB).”
• Determine that you will be honest and loving whenever possible.
Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood.
But who can stand before jealousy?
Better is open rebuke
Than love that is concealed.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend.
But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:4-6)
Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25)
Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice is unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. … But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 13, all NASB)
• An important step in dealing with anger is to face or admit your angry feelings. Recognize and admit the fact that you are angry. This is very difficult for some people to do. From childhood they were told not to be angry: “Anger is a sin. You are bad if you are angry.” So they began to use other words to describe their angry feelings, because it would be terrible to admit that they were angry. Shakespeare wrote, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I would like to say, “Anger by any other name is still anger.”
Listed below are a few of the words we use to express that we are angry when we don’t want to own up to our anger. In reality they only describe the various degrees of anger:
Inflamed Moody… Begrudge … Hot … Enraged … Loathe … Repulsed … Disgusted … Disdain … Sore … Despise … Annoyed … Huffy … Abhor … Resentful … Furious … Kid … Infuriated … Criticize … Uptight … Mad … Scorn … Irritated … Exasperated …Laugh at … Frustrated … Irked …Grieved … Miffed … Worked up … Cool … Hurt … Griped … Fed Up … Troubled … Vexed … Sick … Offended … Crushed … Burned Up … Sarcastic … Incensed … Cranky … Testy … Grumpy … Wounded … Damaged … Provoked … Catty … Bitter … Grouchy … Touchy … Mean … Ill-tempered … Out of Sorts … Spiteful … Cross … Savage … Vicious … Jealous
Dealing with Anger Mentally: Listed below are a number of steps that will help you when you become aware of and admit to your anger. They will help you before you verbalize or demonstrate your angry thoughts and feelings.
• Get more information before you respond. Sometimes we perceive or assume that certain things are happening when they really aren’t. When we get more information, our thoughts and feelings may change. When we have more information concerning an event, many times it will alter the way we feel and respond. We need to learn to ask ourselves, “Are my angry feelings justified or unjustified?”
Technically, an event in and out of itself doesn’t trigger the emotion of anger; it’s actually our perception of the event that triggers the emotion of anger.
The more you perceive that someone is deliberately doing something to harm you or to irritate you, the more angry you will become. If a husband is late for dinner, the wife has a choice. She can perceive or think to herself, “I’m disappointed. I went to all the work to prepare dinner and he didn’t show up on time. I wish things like this wouldn’t happen, but they do. I will live. I’ll get over it. I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose.” Or the wife can choose to say to herself. “He did that on purpose! He wants to hurt me! He wants to get revenge! He knew that I would really feel bad about this.”
If the wife thinks about the situation long enough, she can build up a case against her spouse. If the wife chooses to attack her husband, he will probably respond negatively to her attack and say something sharp. This causes the wife to feel justified in her attack, because “You can see how he responded! He’s so mean!” And round and round it goes.
• Go to the memory file. If you find yourself getting upset with someone, ask yourself, “Who does this person remind me of?” You might ask yourself, “Is this situation that I’m in (and the anger I feel) similar to another situation I’ve been in before?” As you review your memories, you may be surprised as to how much hurt and anger you carry with you, ready to deposit it onto another person.
• Become aware of displaced anger. I personally believe that 80 – 90% of all anger is displaced anger. By this I mean that we’re angry abut one thing, but we take it out on people unconnected with that. There is usually something else annoying us rather than the present event or person.
Displaced anger is exemplified by the boss who yells at his employee, who then goes home and yells at his wife, who then yells at the child. The child kicks the dog. The dog chases the cat, etc. Are you displacing your anger? Are you transferring your anger to your driving? Because of your angry thoughts, do you press harder on the gas pedal? Do you tickle your children unmercifully and not stop when they ask you to?
Are you playing rougher with your dog than you should? Are you short of patience? Do you find yourself wishing people would hurry up and get to the point in their conversation? Then you may have a great deal of displaced anger. Ask God to help you deal with the real cause of your anger rather than taking it out on others.
• Remind yourself that God is in control. God is not caught off-guard by what is happening to you. He doesn’t say, “I didn’t know you were going to get angry.” Sometimes God allows unpleasant circumstances and events to come into our lives so that we might grow and learn to trust Him more.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:3-5)
Dear brothers, is your life is full of difficulties and temptations? Then happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete. (James 1:2-4)
• Tell God how angry you are. In learning to deal with your anger you may find it helpful to read the Psalms. The psalmist often told God how angry he was. He would tell God that he needed His help. The Psalmist is our example of talking to God about our anger.
I said, “I will guard my ways,
That I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle.
While the wicked are in my presence.”
I was dumb and silent. I refrained even from good;
And my sorrow grew worse.
My heart was hot within me;
While I was musing the fire burned;
Then I spoke with my tongue;
“LORD, make me to know my end.
And what is the extent of my days,
Let me know how transient I am.” (Psalm 39:1-4 NASB)
• Learn to deal with the sin of your anger. Face your anger as sin! The giant step in overcoming anger is to face it squarely as sin in most cases. The minute you try to justify it, explain, it, or blame someone else, you are incurable. I’ve never known anyone to have victory over a sin unless he was convinced it was wrong! This is particularly true of anger. Consider God’s commands to Cease from anger and forsake wrath or Let all bitterness and anger be put away from you.
• Confess every angry thought or deed as soon as it occurs. This is a giant step based on 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (NASB)
• Ask God to take away this angry habit pattern. 1 John 5:14-15 assures us that if we ask anything according to the will of God. He not only hears us, but also answers our requests. Since we know it is not God’s will that we be angry, we can be assured of victory if we ask Him to take away the habit pattern. Although secular man may remain a slave to habit, the Christian must not. We’re admittedly victims of habit, but we need not become addicted to patterns of conformity when we have at our disposal the power of the Spirit of God.
• Think only good, wholesome, and positive thoughts. The human mind cannot tolerate a vacuum; it always has to dwell on something. Make sure your mind concentrates on what the Scripture approves, such as things that are “Honest, … just, … pure, … lovely,… of good report, … virtue, … and praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8, KJV). People with such positive thoughts are not plagued by anger, hostility, or wrath. It is basically a matter of subjecting every thought to the obedience of Christ.
Anger is a habit —a temperament-induced, sinful habit —ignited through the years by distresses and unpleasant circumstances that can control a person as tenaciously as heroin or cocaine, making him react inwardly or outwardly in a selfish, sinful manner. Unless you let the power of God within you change your thinking patterns, your condition will gradually ruin your health, mind, business, family, or spiritual maturity. In addition, it grieves the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), robbing you of the abundant life that Jesus Christ wants to give you.
Deal with anger verbally: Some anger can be dealt with in our own minds, just between ourselves and God. Other anger needs to be dealt with verbally. Dealing with anger verbally isn’t learned over-night; it’s a process.
When it comes to expressing angry feelings verbally, it will be good to remember some of the following thoughts:
• Learn to discipline your mind. Think about what you’re going to say before you say it. Don’t just start talking, because it might be the best speech you’ll ever regret. Proverbs 10:19 reads in the New American Standard Bible, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” The Living Bible reads, “Don’t talk so much. You keep putting your foot in your mouth. Be sensible and turn off the flow!”
• Don’t put off expressing how you feel for long periods of time. If something is bothering you and you don’t share this with the person involved, you may find your angry feelings festering. your feelings of mild irritation can grow into the poison of bitterness. “If you are angry, don’t sin by nursing your grudge. Don’t let the sun go down with you still angry— get over it quickly; for when you are angry you give a mighty foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27, LB).
• Make it a habit not to withdraw into silence. I’m persuaded that 99 per cent of the problems we face will not go away by themselves. They may go underground, but they don’t go away.
• Be open to criticism. No one enjoys criticism. It is painful and humbling to receive. But the truth is, we could be wrong. “It is a badge of honor to accept valid criticism”(Proverbs 25:12, LB).“If you refuse criticism you will end in poverty and disgrace, if you accept criticism you are on the road to fame” (Proverbs 13:18, LB).
Someone once said, “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” “Don’t refuse to accept criticism: get all the help you can“ (Proverbs 23:12, LB).
• Share only one issue at a time. We usually let things build up until we’re about to explode & don’t usually share how we feel at the time something happens to us. When the time comes to talk with the other party involved, we have a tendency to back up our emotional dump truck and proceed to empty the entire load. Ask God to help you to stick to the main point or issue. Ask Him to help you to resolve conflicts one at a time.
• Don’t use the past to manipulate other people. It’s easy to bring up past issues or past mistakes in order to make the other person feel guilty for something that’s bothering you now. The past is past! Deal with the present issue. Sometimes we bring up past issues only because our present argument isn’t strong by itself.
• Learn to express your expectations for others verbally. The guessing games must stop! When expectations are expressed, the other person can tell you whether he thinks he can reach them or not.
• State your hurt or complaint as objectively as possible. Try to keep as much emotion out of the conversation as possible. Don’t call the other person names as you’re trying to express your disagreement.
• Share your complaint in private, not in public. No one appreciates talking about personal issues when other people are around. In fact, Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins, go and reprove him in private: if he listens to you, you have won your brother” (NASB).
• Avoid a win-lose situation. Remember that it’s possible to “win a battle and lose the war.”
• Don’t make threats to terminate or leave the relationship. Threats are usually an intimidation technique used to get the other person to conform his or her behavior to your way of thinking. Stop making threats; they don’t help to solve anything. Determine not to run away from the relationship. Commitment is a quality that’s needed in relationships.
• Don’t accuse or attack the other person. Learn to use “I words” rather than “you words.” I words” are assertive and confronting: “you words” are aggressive and attacking. —“You make me angry! You always do that! you never do anything right! You did that on purpose, didn’t you!” “You words” make me defensive. They make me want to fight and don’t settle issues, but instead stir them up. Robert Alberti and Michael Emmons suggest in their book Your Perfect Right that we use “I” statements such as—“I am very angry”, “I am becoming very mad”, I strongly disagree with you” “I think that’s unfair”.
• Don’t exaggerate the issue. We sometimes exaggerate the issues in order to prove our case. Deal with the facts, not what we think the motivation of the other person might be. Try to look at the issue from the other person’s point of view. Allow the other person to have his feelings in the same way you have your feelings. Don’t interrupt the other person when he attempts to explain his side of the issue. Listen, and don’t try to prepare your case while he’s talking; you’ll miss what he’s trying to say to you.
• Look for a solution. Seek reconciliation in the relationship. Is there a way to settle the issue? Ask God to help you find a solution. In James 1:5-9 we read,
“If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask Him, and He will gladly tell you, for He is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask Him; He will not resent it. But when you ask Him, be sure that you really expect Him to tell you, for a doubtful mind will be as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind; and every decision you then make will be uncertain, as you turn first this way, and then that. If you don’t ask with faith, don’t expect the Lord to give you any solid answer” (LB).
• Allow for reaction time. If you’re the initiator of a discussion, you have the advantage. There’s an advantage, because you’re thinking about the issue for some time before you approach the other person. He’s at a disadvantage, because he most likely hasn’t been thinking about the issue. Give him some “think time.” He needs some time to talk with God and get his own attitude right. Put yourself in his shoes. Would you lie a little reaction time? Extend to him the same courtesy.
The above article actually came from an older version of the book, Anger Is a Choice by Tim LaHaye. There’s now an updated version which we HIGHLY recommend to anyone who’s dealing with the issue of anger. There are so many illustrations and additional information that we weren’t able to give in this edited version of a portion of the original. The updated edition is published by Zondervan Publishers. In this book you’ll find real life examples and self-tests and a section on temperaments which can be very eye-opening. It doesn’t just deal with the symptoms of anger, but helps you to get to the root cause of your anger. But most of all this book gives hope of real change and lays out a process of getting there. It’s the type of book you’ll refer to time and time again as you work to deal with this issue in your own life.