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3. Handling Anger

How to Handle Anger in Positive and Productive Ways

Seven Steps for Handling Anger
  1. Acknowledge the Anger
    Accept that anger is a natural human emotion. Do not deny that you are angry.

  2. Control Thoughts
    Problems with anger begin with thoughts of self-pity, discouragement, jealousy or other negative thoughts. Imagining ourselves in the other man's moccasins or trying to see the other person from God's point of view can make a tremendous difference in how we feel and will diffuse our anger.

  3. Discern the Causes of Anger
    The cause of anger is not always other people or events. It may be personal fears, limitations, and irrational beliefs and expectations.

  4. Challenge Irrational Beliefs
    If we are frequently angry, we need to challenge our belief structure. It is not healthy to expect children to always be good, cars to always run well, or for one's health never to fail. Everyone should acknowledge that growing old and becoming ill are parts of life. When beliefs fit reality, anger becomes less of a problem.

  5. Do Not Be Bothered by Everything
    Being slow to anger means possessing a mind set that allows people to recognize and accept the normal troubles that come with living and relating to others.

  6. Consider the Goals for Relationships
    In terms of Christian responsibility to love and serve others, holding back anger also means having a forgiving mind set. It is almost impossible to sustain both anger and a spirit of forgiveness to someone at the same time. We may not be able to avoid having hurt feelings, but we can control our feelings of anger and replace them with forgiving thoughts.

  7. Develop Peace of Mind
    Holding back anger and taking time to work at changing angry responses develops a sense of control, patience and peace. We can become characterized by patience even when we are angry. We can have patience in spite of feelings of turmoil.
Slow to Anger: Holding Anger Back
Every angry person needs to learn how to be slow to anger. The usual responses to anger, as we have seen, are to hold feelings in or to let them all out in a display of temper. Even though there are problems with both of these, we can modify them to be less harmful. Angry feelings can be held back and managed, not just buried inside. Dealing with anger may mean developing a mental framework for accepting the stressful situation or deciding how best to express the anger to dissolve the problem. It includes both these elements: (1) taking control of anger by holding back (not holding in!) and (2) dealing with anger by thinking and deciding. This is what the Bible means by being "slow to anger." (James 1:19)

Figure 3-2. Holding Anger Back, Instead of Holding it In

Slow to Anger = Holding Back Anger

Holding in anger and holding back anger are completely different!

In James 1:19-20, being slow to anger is praised because it is the path for preventing more anger. In order to deal with our anger, what is needed is the knowledge and skill of being able to discern if, when and how it is best to express it. It begins with being slow to anger, stopping to think about it, not just sliding automatically from an irritation to a public outburst. The time between the irritation and the response may be short or long while a person is controlling his thoughts, considering his goals and reflecting on his view of life and its purpose. Then he is free to decide what to do next. Communicating anger usually guarantees that the angry person will not need to express anger in hostile, underhanded or devious ways such as through criticisms or sarcasm.

There are also good reasons for not expressing anger (figure 3-3). Sometimes it may be difficult to express anger to others without threatening them or making them feel guilty. Expressions of anger will be of little value if the angry person is not willing to go to deeper levels of solving a problem in a relationship. Proper anger expression is a beginning, not an ending.

Expressing Anger Properly
Proverbs 27:5-6 says that an "open rebuke" or "the wounds of a friend" may be very beneficial. Ephesians 4:25 urges people to speak truthfully with their neighbors about their anger. Verses 25-27 of Ephesians 4 are instructive about the proper expression of angry feelings: "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." In these verses we can see three steps to help people with angry feelings.
  1. There Are Times When Anger Needs to be Expressed
    The time to express anger properly has not arrived until a person acknowledges the anger and the responsibility for it. It is not right to blame anger on others; we are responsible for how we feel.

  2. Anger Must Be Expressed Without Sin
    How can we express anger without sin? Admitting anger and expressing it correctly helps people to avoid more subtle sins such as criticism and self-pity. Also the expression of anger does not need to take the form of temper outbursts or acts of hostility; we can decide to confront it, lovingly.... (figure 3-3).

    Figure 3-3. Managing Anger

  3. Anger Must Be Dispelled Quickly
    We are to settle matters quickly. Even if we don't take "before the sun goes down" literally, the idea is to not let anger have time to fester. The process of being slow to anger should be started, and the person should be deciding if and how to proceed. The greater the anger and the more important the relationship, the less time one can afford to waste in not expressing anger and seeking to heal the relationship.
Next Article: Rules for Confrontations: Be One Who FACES Problems Productively