Agghhhhh, I’m gonna kill you!” I heard my son screaming at the top of his lungs. I knew that he’d be coming in shortly to give me an incident report—and that his sister wouldn’t be far behind. Funny things like these happen many times a day in any household with kids—or people, for that matter—but anger is no joke. It happens to all of us.
First, let’s define anger. Anger is a morally neutral, but emotionally charged, response of protective preservation. In other words, when we get angry, it is our way of protecting ourselves and those we care about from some situation we’ve encountered.
Morally neutral? The Bible contains a number of warnings about anger, for example:
“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).
“An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins” (Proverbs 29:22).
“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered” (Proverbs 22:24).
These verses seem to paint a negative picture of anger, but did you know there are two kinds of anger? Yes, there’s the bad kind that can be an unhealthy and destructive emotional reaction to perceived hurt, frustration or personal attack. But there’s also the good kind that motivates us to correct attitudes, behaviours or injustices that we perceive as wrong. Even Jesus got angry, but He didn’t sin. He was good and angry.
The furious four
From what I’ve seen over the years, there are four types of angry people:
Spewers: They feel that anger is necessary and are aggressive both verbally and, sometimes, physically. They don’t have a problem getting angry and showing their anger. In fact, anger is the main way they express themselves.
Stuffers: They feel that anger is wrong, so they stuff their emotions down deep. These people can be very passive in the way they interact with others, thinking that others’ ideas, feelings and rights should be more important than their own.
Leakers: They feel that showing anger is wrong, but they have a problem completely hiding their anger. These are the people we sometimes call “passiveaggressive”. They shoot little stinging verbal and behavioural darts at you and say things like “Oh, just kidding” or “What? I didn’t mean it like that! Don’t be so sensitive!” Yet you can be sure they meant every word.
Schedulers: They recognise that anger can be a normal, good emotion. They recognise it for what it is and take steps to kindly, respectfully and consistently inform and communicate the true problem. They seek to build respectful, healthy and happy relationships with others.
Ineffective anger management has been shown to affect many aspects of life. Physically, individuals can suffer from migraines, increased risks of heart attack, high blood pressure and even cancer. Issues with insecurity, broken relationships, spirituality and higher incidences of mental health issues can also occur if anger is not dealt with in a healthy manner.
That’s the bad news. However, there are things we can do about it!
Three ways to stay free from toxic anger
God has a three-step method for learning to effectively manage anger, found in James 1:19,20, which says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: 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.” Let’s break it down:
Be quick to listen
Our immediate response to others, circumstances and our anger is to be “receptive listeners” not “reflex reactors”. The key question that we need to ask ourselves is: What is this anger telling me?
Be slow to speak
Before we angrily shoot our mouths off, we need to “think before we speak”. The key question we need to ask ourselves is: What must I do to prevent a knee-jerk reaction?
Be slow to anger
Our life-changing response to anger begins when we replace reaction with reflection. We should take time to think and, if possible, pray about the things that upset us. The key question that we need to ask ourselves is: What root issue is behind this anger?
Where the rubber meets the road
It is possible to be good and angry. The only way to do that, though, is to learn to deal with our anger responsibly. Everybody deals with conflict, but not everybody deals with it well. I’m sure you’ve watched your share of reality TV, haven’t you? The airwaves are, unfortunately, littered with examples of people who don’t know how to manage conflict effectively. So, I’d like to discuss ways we can:
Find the Right Time
It sounds silly, but you may need to schedule your conflicts. Don’t ever try to solve issues when hungry, angry, lonely, tired or sick (HALTS for short).
Set the Scene
If appropriate, agree to some simple ground rules (eg, everybody gets to speak uninterrupted, no name-calling, no blaming, people can take a break if upset, etc). Make sure that others understand that the conflict, not the person, is the problem and that you’re trying to solve the problem because you care about having a better, more respectful relationship with that person. Emphasise that you’re presenting only your perception of the problem. Be calm, be patient, have respect.
Remember, listening is not agreement. Here you are only trying to identify the underlying interests, needs and
concerns. Ask for the other person’s viewpoint and confirm that you respect their opinion and need their cooperation to solve the problem. Try to understand their motivations and goals and how your actions may be affecting these. Also, try to understand the conflict in objective terms: is it affecting family relationships, disrupting family cohesiveness, etc? Be sure to leave personalities out of the discussion. Listening can help you see the conflict from the other person’s point of view. In other words, seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Identify issues clearly and concisely. Don’t lay blame on the other person or try to tell them what their emotions and motivations are. Instead, take ownership of your emotions, decisions and actions by using “I”-statements: “I’m feeling frustrated because . . .”, “When that happened, I decided to . . .” Use active listening skills, such as good body language (leaning forward slightly, making good eye contact, lowering your voice and slowing down the speed of your speech).
Agree on the Problem
Often different underlying needs, interests and goals can cause people to perceive problems very differently. You’ll need to agree to the problems that you’re trying to solve before you’ll find a mutually acceptable solution. Sometimes different people will see different but interlocking problems—if you can’t reach a common perception of the problem then, at the very least, you need to understand what the other person sees as the problem.
Brainstorm Possible Solutions
If everyone is going to feel satisfied with the resolution, it will help if everyone has had fair input in generating solutions. Brainstorm possible solutions and be open to all ideas, including ones you never considered before.
Negotiate a Solution
By this stage the conflict may be resolved. Both sides may better understand the position of the other and a mutually satisfactory solution may be clear to all.
In the midst of this process, you may also have uncovered real differences between your positions. This is where a technique such as win-win negotiation can be useful in finding a solution that, at least to some extent, satisfies everyone.
Let’s show others in our community that there’s a better, happier, healthier way to live. Let’s seek to live our lives good . . . and angry.
Omar Miranda is a healthcare professional, regular writer and proud parent. He lives with his family in Georgia, USA. The original version of this article appeared on the Insight magazine website. Used with permission.