By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
I am really angry! I’m angry with what’s happening in our world. I’m angry with what’s happening to our nation. I’m angry with what’s happening to my friends and family. I’m angry with what’s happening in my own life. Help me!
I think that the best way to answer your question is to start with a humorous story. If you read it carefully, you’ll see that it speaks about anger in several different dimensions.
A man with glasses was drinking in a bar on the top floor of the Empire State Building. The more he drank, the more mean and angry he became.
Another patron decided to cheer him up. He told him that life was really great, and he wasn’t going to leave until the angry man started to smile.
The more they talked, the angrier the man with glasses became. He just wanted to be left alone. Finally, the angry drinker pointed out at the skyline and asked the unappointed cheerleader if he knew what happened to the winds when they swept through the big city’s skyscrapers.
The angry man growled, “When the wind sweeps through the buildings of a big city it creates powerful updrafts. Sometimes, like today, they are so strong that you can hardly throw anything off the building without it being blown right back up to the top.”
He walked out onto the penthouse, climbed up onto the wall, and said, “Look, I’ll show you.”
Before the concerned man could stop him, the man with glasses jumped off the building. The cheerful cheerleader looked over the edge as the man fell past the 80th floor, 70th floor, 60th floor, 50th floor, and sure enough, down about the 40th floor, the man’s fall slowed and gradually he began to come back up to the top of the building. He climbed back over the ledge safe and sound.
The cheerful patron was stunned. He said, “That is the most incredible thing I have ever seen. Do you think I could do it, too?”
The angry patron said, “Of course you can.”
So, the cheerful man climbed up on the ledge and jumped. He fell like a rock, 80th floor, 70th floor, 60th floor, 50th floor, 40th floor, 30th floor, 20th floor, 10th floor – splat.
As the mean and angry man went back to the bar and ordered another drink, the bartender turned to another patron and said, “That Clark Kent really gets mean when he drinks.”
Think about this for a moment. What are some of the principles about anger that you see in the above story?
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How Anger Works in the Brain
The amygdala and the hippocampus are parts of the lower brain which, though they operate in our unconscious, are intricately involved in the generation of human emotion.
Anger always begins with a “trigger event” which kicks off our “fight or flight” response. Adrenaline and cortisol begin to flow. This results in rapid heart rate, raised blood pressure, sharpened senses, and other physiological responses.
Concurrently, the amygdala and hippocampus send messages to our pre-frontal cortex, where much of our conscious decision-making occurs. At this point, we have the ability to choose how we are going to respond to the anger trigger. We can choose to try to calm ourselves down, or we can let the process continue all the way to rage.
But don’t miss this; the release of adrenaline into your system will always override the prefrontal cortex unless we learn how to stop the “snowball” of anger from spinning rapidly down the hill before we have the chance to process it and decide how to respond.
It's vital to learn how to “catch” our anger trigger early, do whatever is necessary to think properly, make wise decisions to calm things down, and take the necessary steps to solve the trigger issue.
Why the Terrible Twos Are So Terrible
The neural pathways from the amygdala and hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex do not come ready to run. The connecting process begins to occur near the end of age two. This gives us some insight into the Terrible Twos. Without these neurons in place, the child has difficulty controlling his/her behavior.
Mom and dad can encourage the growth and strength of the neurons.
The more the parents help their child learn to control rage and anger, the stronger and more numerous are the neurons. Thus, those children are better able to control anger as adults.
A child left to himself/herself not corrected, patterned, and disciplined in early life, will struggle more with anger as an adult. This is because they have fewer and weaker neurons.
It’s important to note that the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until ages 21-25! So continued wise parenting, modeling, and patterning are vital throughout childhood and even early adulthood.
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Violent Video Games and Those Who Play Them
Research now reveals that consistent exposure to violence serves to encourage the development and quick response to anger triggers, as well as more frequent aggressive behavior in the future.
One study showed that children who were originally low in aggressive behavior and who were given free play experiences with aggressive toys became significantly more aggressive in their behavior after playing with those toys.
Playing violent video games does not drain away anger. Rather, it opens up new ways for expressing anger and for translating anger into hostility.
It’s worth limiting exposure to violent video games as your child’s mind develops. You will help him or her learn to control anger triggers in the future.
So, let’s talk about anger as an adult.
Is It a Sin to Be Angry?
The emotion of anger is not sin. Experiencing anger triggers is not sin. Jesus experienced anger triggers all the time! Consider His time with Satan in the desert. Or His confrontations with the Pharisees. Or His righteous indignation in the Temple.
Anger does not become sin until we translate it into aggressive and hostile actions—or activities destructive to the self.
“A quick-tempered man does foolish things” (Proverbs 14:17).
Properly utilized, righteous indignation is always acceptable
Righteous anger is the anger that arises against those who are hurting others or causing actions which jeopardize the life and well-being of others. We are right to be indignant over the sins of those who are doing wrong.
God was filled with righteous indignation because his Israelite people who were living in the midst of godless sin and debauchery.
“He unleashed against them his hot anger, his wrath, indignation and hostility” (Psalm 78:49).
Blow Up or Clam Up? Both Are Damaging
In Greek there are two words for anger:
"Thumos" describes the flash flame which comes from dried straw being quickly ignited. It is the anger that blazes up quickly and dies down just as fast.
This type of anger may feel like a release to the angry one; unfortunately, it often devastates everyone around them.
"Orge" is the long-lived internalization of anger. We clam up, stuffing down the emotions.
This response rots away the insides of those who nurture it. This deep-seated misery also impairs relationships over time.
Which type most characterizes you?
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9 Things to Do if You Find Yourself Losing Control
Here’s a list that have found very helpful in dealing with anger. I have developed it over years of counseling my congregation and engaging in personal counseling with a godly, challenging therapist.
1. Choose to calm yourself down. De-escalate the emotions of the moment. Be patient, and wait to respond.
Thomas Jefferson: “Count to ten. If that doesn’t work, count to one hundred.”
Mark Twain: “Count to ten. If you don’t feel better by the time you get to four, swear.”
“Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32).
2. Take your thoughts captive before they run away out of control.
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
3. Learn to recognize your anger triggers, and practice short-circuiting them before they begin to snowball.
I’ve found that a journal can help me recognize my triggers. I’ve even placed post-its with lists of my triggers where I can see them and recognize them even as they happen.
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)
4. Ask the question, “Where have I been hurt?”
Hurt and anger are two sides of the same coin. When we get hurt, the emotion which always comes next is anger. Consider what is really going on.
Ask a friend to listen as you share your anger and then ask him/her to say words of comfort to them.
“Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
5. Pray against allowing Satan to get a foothold into your life because of your anger.
“In your anger do not sin do not let the sun go down while you’re still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
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When You Find Yourself Losing Control Continued
6. Meditate on Scripture.
Some of my very favorites include:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8).
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Psalm 103:8)
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
7. If one or more individuals have precipitated the hurt which led to the anger, go through the process of forgiving them.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)
8. Refuse the temptation to get even, and refrain from plotting revenge.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
9. Sometimes, we come out ahead if we simply ignore the attack.
“A man's wisdom gives him patience;
it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).
The Academy Award-winning movie Forrest Gump has been viewed by millions. Most people remember the line, “Life is like a box of chocolates,” but there is another line worth noting.
In this particular scene, one of the central characters, Jenny, returns to her old dilapidated and abandoned home after her father has died.
As she reflects on the sexual abuse that she endured from her dad as a child, she is overcome by rage and begins throwing rocks at the house where she grew. The scene escalates as we watch her rapidly reaching for rocks and then violently throwing them at the house.
Jenny finally falls to the ground in exhaustion and the scene closes with Forrest Gump sympathizing, “Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.”
Many of us struggle with anger. It can stem from a variety of reasons, and some anger seems justifiable.
Yet, unresolved anger leaves us reaching and crying out for more rocks.
The rage is never satisfied, and contentment is never found. Through the power of Christ, we can find the strength to lay down the rocks of anger rather than needing to reach for more.
Well, Scott, I hope this is helpful in handling your anger.
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