Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Anger Management or Anger Engagement

            Can anger be your friend?  It depends.  Anger is what I call a "surface" emotion.  Anger is only a messenger of a deeper inner message.  So, yes, if you are willing to be vulnerable enough to find out what that message is and respond appropriately, anger can actually be your friend.  If however, you allow your anger to turn to bitterness, resentment, rage, or revenge, anger can become the most destructive enemy imaginable. 
            People feel anger in different ways, with varying intensities, and for different reasons.  Feelings like disappointment, frustration, annoyance, irritation, aggravation, and infuriation are a normal part of the human experience.  But when these valid feelings of anger are rooted in things like self pity, critical judgment, or selfish ambition, invalid transgressions follow.   When, as a student for example, you receive a C grade on a test you thought you aced, being upset is valid, but it's your actions in response that identify your motivations.  If you respond by complaining about the test conditions, blaming the teacher, or justifying your incorrect answers to the questions on the test, the experience is likely to become a defeat.  If on the other hand, you receive the lower-than-expected grade as a motivator to improve your study habits or to seek help to understand the material better, the same experience can become an opportunity for growth and development. 
            Being aware of your behavior and making changes for the better (anger management) is a good thing.  But even better is making yourself vulnerable enough to explore origins of the anger feelings and engage resolution with a higher power outside yourself.  The deepest inner person growth occurs when you not only manage your responses, but you discover and root out the negative core thoughts and beliefs driving the feelings and actions.  When you believe your inner voice telling you that "You're not capable," "You're no good," "You'll never amount to anything," "You're not lovable," "You'll never belong," "You'll never get it right," etc., you will most assuredly act to fulfill those beliefs.  No matter how hard you try to change your behavior, if you do not change negative core beliefs you render yourself powerless to achieve the most lasting change for healthy growth. 
            Every human wants to know love and belonging.  What we believe about ourselves (self-concept) is shaped primarily by our experiences meeting needs of love and belonging. Our deepest hurts have to do with lack or fear of lack of sustainable love and acceptance.  To the degree we perceive this scarcity we become angry with ourselves or our world until we can regain enough perceived worth to go on.  Hence, when you grant yourself the vulnerability to feel beyond the surface of anger, the emotion of shame is the most revealing. 
            A topic big enough for another conversation is the role of shame in our belief system.  Shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown defines shame this way, "Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging" (see her book Daring Greatly).  Shame is an emotion packed with pain and a powerful motivator.  All negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves are connected somehow to lack of self-worth which presents itself as shame.  Shame is different from guilt.  Guilt is based on what I do, whereas shame is based on who I am.  Confusing the two has the effect of meshing our performance with who we are as a person.  A perosn's  worth is not based on his performance, but solely on the fact that he is human.  
            When sorting out anger responses, it is essential to make this distinction.  Are you mad at a person's actions (whether yourself or another), or have you fused his actions with who he is as a person?  Are you perceiving him as transgressor or jerk (guilt-based or shame-based judgment)?  A person can behave differently to correct guilt, but performance cannot correct shame.  Love corrects shame.  Humans are wired for love and belonging so that love and belonging corrects shame.  Shame expressions in things like self-pity, critical judgment, or selfish ambition mentioned above are often very hard to detect.  We are good at hiding shame.  Expressing anger is Ca very common way of masking shame.
            When you catch yourself being critically judgmental of a person (instead of just his actions) here is another scary thought.  This shaming of the person is the result of your very own shame being tapped into.  You cannot shame another without first shaming yourself.  To condemn another is to condemn yourself.   If you are serious about being a more courageous, compassionate, and connecting person, I highly recommend reading the book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are  by Brene Brown. 
            Our world seems to present more opportunities for disappointment and anger-producing feeling every day.  One of three choices will determine your future.   One, denying anger only sets you up for bigger problems later.  Two, managing anger provides some temporary coping mechanisms.  Three, engaging the underlying emotion through vulnerability will banish or dissolve anger's destructive flames. 
            For followers of Christ anger is not  automatically conquered when you first welcome God into your life.  The ultimate act of vulnerability is to receive God’s son Jesus, not only as the One who frees from the guilt of transgression, but also bears our shame (Isaiah 53:3).   Growing in your relationship with God involves growing in your vulnerability and surrender to God's ways.
            It's okay to feel.  It's okay to feel uncomfortable feelings.  It may seem scary to let yourself intentionally feel your anger in order to find deeper feelings of lack and unworthiness, invalidation, powerlessness, incompetence, unlovableness, loneliness, fear of not belonging, self-rejection, and other shame-based thoughts and feelings.  May I encourage you to be vulnerable today.  Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness.   It takes courage to meet the weakness of anger with the strength of vulnerability.  No one else can do this for you.  Put anger in its place, each time it tries to invade your space.

                Note:   The book Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart discusses themes of dealing with disappointments, offense and finding freedom in forgiveness.  This book is designed to help people (especially in the Christian faith)  to discover and dislodge things in life that lead to defeat. Don't miss out on your chance to use this book as a helpful tool in discovering Refuge in Christ. It can be purchased by clicking here: .

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry