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Tempering Your Anger
Anger is a natural human emotion like happiness, sadness, and loneliness.  How we deal with our anger is our choice and our responsibility.

Karl (not his real name) was on his way to work.  As usual, traffic was heavy and he was late.  His mind was on all the things he had to do that day when another driver appeared out of nowhere and cut in front of his car, causing him to slam on the brakes.  With his heart pounding, Karl tried to catch his breath.  “What is wrong with this person?”  Karl thought.  “Who does he think he is cutting me off and almost killing me?  This guy is crazy!”

Just then Karl noticed that the guy who cut him off was waving at him.  Wait a minute.  He is waving with only one finger!  “I don’t believe it!  He has no right to do this to me.  I’m not at fault; he’s the maniac.  He should be thanking me for not rear-ending him.  What an awful person he is!  I hate people like that.”

Does this vignette remind you of yourself?  Are you frequently frustrated with other people and the way they treat you?  Do incidents like this make you really angry – maybe even make you want to get even?

It can be frustrating and irritating when people fail to treat us with the respect and consideration that we think we deserve.  It can be even more frustrating when we realize we have no control over the way people treat us.  We can’t control the colleague that embarrassed us in front of the entire office staff.  And we can’t control the friend that promised not to tell – and did.

However, we can have control over how we react when someone hurts or offends us.  We can cry, cuss, or scream out loud.  We can also lie and pretend that we are not angry when we really are.  We make many choices each day and we are responsible for them despite how unfairly others in the world may treat us.

Anger is an emotion with which many Christians feel uncomfortable.  Many of us feel that “good Christians” don’t feel angry, and if they do, they certainly shouldn’t express it!  We feel guilty about angry feelings and hope that if we ignore them they will go away.

Anger itself is not a sin.  In Ephesians 4:25 Paul says, “Be angry but do not sin.”  Jesus showed anger without sinning in His direct confrontation with the Pharisees and with His disciples.  Anger is a natural human emotion like happiness, sadness, and loneliness.  What we do with our anger is another story.  How we deal with our anger is always our choice and our responsibility.

Most people deal with their anger in two general ways.  The first involves trying to hide your angry feelings.  You keep your anger inside, pretending everything is okay, although it’s not.  Keeping those angry feelings pent up doesn’t help you deal with your anger.  Instead you will likely end up feeling worse.  Anger tends to intensify, expanding under pressure like steam in a boiling pot of water.  Some of the anger may seep out, for example, in sarcastic remarks. Then one day it explodes over some minor incident.  Suppressing your anger deprives you of the opportunity to resolve whatever it was that first made you angry.

A second way you may deal with your anger is by freely expressing it in all its intensity, regardless of the impact this might have on others.  This approach results in other complex problems, such as others viewing you as aggressive or hostile and closing themselves off from you.  Although your anger may be justified, you throw away any hope of resolving the issue by verbally attacking someone else who then reacts defensively and shuts down communication.

How can we deal with anger, particularly when people in our sinful world can be rude and disrespectful? 

Psychologists believe the key lies in the thoughts and expectations that we have for others.  When we expect or demand that others always treat us kindly and considerately we set ourselves up to be angry, frustrated, and disappointed.  The truth is people aren’t always kind and good.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise, because even we aren’t always kind and good.  Given our sinful world, this expectation is unrealistic.  Humans are not perfect, and getting angry because of our failings does not change this fact.  When our expectation is not met, it makes us angry, which sometimes leads us to act out our own human sinfulness.

Naturally it is dissatisfying when others treat us poorly.  We need not pretend that being treated with disrespect is okay.  It is natural and healthy to dislike it when someone attacks your God-given dignity.  However, we need to accept others as imperfect human beings and understand that in our sinful world people sometimes hurt us and sometimes we hurt others.  We don’t have to like it, but we can recognize it as part of life.  Just as God forgives and accepts us in all our shortcomings, we too can forgive and accept others.

Exercise your power of choice and the responsibility that goes along with it.  You probably can't change the people around you, but you can change your reactions.  You can deal with your anger without pretending it doesn’t exist, and you can deal with it without lashing out and hurting others.  Don’t hide from your anger.  You can be angry and not sin.  Accept people as they are – less than perfect, just like you.  Open your heart to acceptance and forgiveness, which is God’s greatest gift to us in the form of His only Son, Jesus Christ.

Dr. Colleen Hammermaster has a private counselling practice in Edmonton, Alberta. 

Originally published in The Canadian Lutheran, November 1998, Vol. 13, No. 8.


Used with permission.  Copyright © 2007 Christianity.ca.

 

 
 
 
 

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