Everyone experiences anger. Some acknowledge when this feeling is present and some do not. Whether anger is recognized or hidden from ones’ awareness, it still resides inside the heart of the individual. The presence of anger is not inconsequential~ therefore each person must deal with it in some way. Each of us has a learned response to the feeling of anger that developed early in life. Most children are not taught how to recognize or express anger in a healthy way~ therefore the subconscious mind learns to react automatically when this feeling arises. Most people deal with anger the same way throughout their entire lives. And since the majority do not cope with it in a healthy way~ having and expressing anger becomes a hindrance rather than a helpful instrument provided through the Lord.
So what are the ways that we have learned to express anger? There are four main approaches: passive; passive-aggressive; aggressive; and assertive.
In my experience with people, the passive approach to dealing with anger is the most common. Many children learn, whether directly or indirectly, that the feeling of anger itself is wrong for them to have. The parents may be modeling this same approach, by keeping anger inside no matter how upset they become. There are also situations where the parents express anger very aggressively, but do not allow the child to respond in kind. And then there are times where one parent is very passive and the other aggressive. Which way will the child go in this case? Usually to passive, because often the parent with aggressive anger invokes fear of free expression. Christians are especially prone to coping with anger in a passive way. In the Christian home, there is often a misconception of what the Bible says about anger. Many have been taught that it is sinful to have anger~ versus that it is only when it is wrongly expressed does it become sin. So it is learned that suppressing anger is the right and Godly thing to do.
Anger expressed passively is very destructive. There is a night and day difference between quiet wisdom when one is distressed:
in quietness and trust is my strength (Isaiah 30:15)~ and silence that causes anger to eat away on the inside:
When I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long (Psalm 32:3). Quietness in the Lord when anger surges up inside helps us not react impulsively. The Lord will then give His wisdom about whether to speak up or to remain quiet, because He knows what is best in that particular instance. Silence brings a false sense of peacability~ when really it is an intense fear of conflict. Silence may mimic meekness, but is more likely self-preservation.
For some, their anger will be seen by others but not themselves. They may turn beet red, but never acknowledge that anger could be anywhere within them. Otherwise they would need to deal with the shame of having anger as well. They cannot be real about how they feel because they have bought into the lie from the enemy that silence is the way to getting along with others. In truth, it is a way of trying to make sure others never get angry with them. They would rather have all the force of their own anger turned inward, than experience someone showing any form of disapproval. But despite the lack of outward expression, this does not mean there are not many resentments built up inside from over the years.
The fears that drive the suppression of anger are very real for the passive individual. Whether or not they are truly unsafe in their current circumstances, they were likely unsafe in some way as a child. The passive approach to dealing with anger remains because it is all they have known. The fear of expressing any form of anger is very strong~ even in the kindest human encounter. When it comes to choosing relationships, this person would have a strong tendency to gravitate toward what is familiar~ either a person who is greatly suppressed themselves, or someone who is very aggressive in their expression of anger. Either way, it would lend to staying stuck right where they have always been.
Passive-aggressive expression of anger is also a very common approach. As with the passive, there is a strong fear of confrontation and conflict. So the person with passive-aggressive anger expresses it~ but in an indirect or disguised manner. Some examples of indirect would be: off-handed comments purposely said within earshot; rolling of the eyes; moping; dramatic heavy sighing;
under the breath comments/jabs; loud closing of cabinets or doors, stomping or other tantrum-like behaviors~ all of these for others to notice. These are more on the milder end of passive-aggressive expressions, but are all quite detrimental. Depending on how severe this show of anger has become, it can be much more destructive such as: kicking an animal or hitting a child because they are angry with someone else; letting the air out of or slashing someone’s tires; egging someone’s house; sabotaging something important in the life of the person they are angry with; causing injury to the person themselves such as tripping them; or at the extreme end of the spectrum~ hiring someone to harm or kill them.
Examples of passive-aggressive anger that is direct but disguised in some way are: sarcastic joking, teasing, or personal digs portrayed as funny (there are different degrees of these, but in general they are rooted in anger or resentment- the reality is, sarcastic comments, teasing, and digs are hurtful, embarrassing, and sometimes humiliating to the other person whether they admit it or not- often the person feels they must go along in order to avoid further criticism or be accused of having no sense of humor or being too sensitive); practical jokes (there are times that practical jokes can be fun and stay fun, but more than not- they digress where one or both people are not having fun anymore. This is where it becomes resentment based, and the jokes get meaner and meaner); and mind games, tricks, and manipulations (many times angry people will use these tactics to gain control). The disguised method is becoming more and more used in our society, as we see mean
humor on the upswing. As more and more people have gone this route, it has become acceptable and treated as mainstream. For example, it is very difficult to find a comedy movie to watch these days that is not full of passive-aggressive anger, disguised as humorous and fun-loving.
As you can see, passive-aggressive expression of anger is also quite destructive. No matter what degree of masked aggression there is, it is extremely unhealthy for that person as well as for their relationships. There may be some form of gratification in releasing some of the anger in these ways, but because it has been done in such a non-productive and even harmful way~ nothing good has come from it. The person remains a very angry person, but also causes damage to their relationships. The person with passive-aggressive anger will typically gain a lack of respect from others~ as this is a cowardly way of dealing with people. Ironically, this person fears conflict and rejection, yet experiences people pulling away because of these very behavior.
When a person in leadership has passive-aggressive tendencies, whether in a home or workplace, there is often suppressed anger that develops in the family members or employees. And the possibility of passive-aggressive anger becoming like yeast in the home or place of employment is very great. The passive-aggressive approach leaves all feeling helpless, uncared for, and frustrated.
A person who has learned to express anger passive-aggressively is still a hurting person, but the behaviors are so undesirable that it is difficult for others to have empathy for them. The original feeling of anger may have even been righteous in nature, but the approach in dealing with it only makes the situation worse~ or at a minimum unfruitful. In short spurts of contact with others, the person may tell themselves that people like their ways, but over time the behaviors wear on those with whom they have more personal or consistent contact. There is a sort of aggravation and needling effect that develops inside the recipient of these passive-aggressive mannerisms.
The aggressive approach in the expression of anger is certainly on the increase in our world today. More and more people are simply spewing their anger on anyone in their path. There are more and more stories of people just losing it~ even harming or killing others with no apparent motive. But overall, aggressive anger is not the first course of action or the main approach that most people take. For those who do use this approach as their primary way of dealing with anger, however, these are some ways it is displayed: yelling; screaming; cursing; name calling; physically intimidating, such as pointing in someone’s face or getting in their face in some other way; punching through walls and doors; and hitting. The list could go on and on into the continuum of abusive behaviors that can take place when anger is expressed aggressively. This form of anger is more obviously destructive than passive and passive-aggressive. And in reality, unless the passive-aggressive approach becomes severe, the aggressive approach simply is the most dangerous. The effects of aggressive anger on a person and their relationships is devastating. Unfortunately, if not addressed, the aggression worsens over time. The greater majority of people have a line that they typically do not cross when it comes to anger, no matter what approach they have learned. But a person who comes into their adult life with a pattern of aggressive anger~ it only deteriorates over time unless actively dealt with.
The person with the aggressive anger has either learned no skills in dealing with their own feelings, or they purposely use anger to control those weaker than themselves. An intervention of some type is typically necessary to avoid further harm to all involved. The person who has not learned to deal with their own feelings really does lose control of their anger. They are impulsive and have what many call a short fuse. They are still responsible for their behavior, but truly do not know how to live differently until new ways are learned. With all human behavior, however, it is interesting that depending on how high the stakes are~ somehow just about anyone can curtail a behavior if they believe they will have a strong consequence. Unleashing anger on someone else is always abusive~ but this form of aggressive anger can be helped quite successfully with an honest desire for change. This person typically will feel guilt over their behavior even if they feel justified. Their conscience says it is wrong, and it is not the way they want to behave.
The person who uses anger to control is not out-of-control. In fact, they are very much in control. They even plan how to abuse to make it less detectable to outsiders. This is always going to be a domestic violence situation. This person generally has a seared conscience, and gains great gratification from keeping others under their thumb. God has the ability to help this person as much as anyone with any issue, but unfortunately it is rare that this person will allow themselves to be helped.
Assertive expression of anger is the healthy approach. Especially after writing all of the grim outcomes of the methods above I THANK GOD that there is a way to having anger, and expressing it, that is of Him! He <emis the way. In the Bible we read of God and Jesus having anger and expressing it. Their anger, of course, is always righteous, motivated by love, and used for the good of the Kingdom. These key points can be used to see where our own anger is coming from.
Righteous anger means that what we see someone else doing is against God. Anger arises because we love God, and He has given us a disdain for evil. We also become angry with the evil one for what he is trying to do to harm the people of God and His Kingdom. For example, when David was appalled by the words of Goliath, it was because he was taunting the armies of the living God~ which really meant they were taunting God Himself. David had a passion for bringing Goliath down, not as a personal vendetta, but as an act of love toward God and His people. David knew that Goliath’s words were not personal to him as David, but personal to him because he was truly a man after God’s own heart. In this case, David also got to see justice. He saw it not because he took matters into his own hands out of anger, but rather that he followed God into battle and did things His way. The Kingdom of God rejoiced that day as God’s glory was seen by all.
When anger is about self, it is doomed to go nowhere good. And this is where all three ingredients really must be there in order to deal with anger in a Godly way. When someone does something purely evil, our anger may initially be righteous in nature. But if we take it personally, we will likely react out of self-protection versus love for God and the other person. If we take our feelings to God we cannot lose. He understands how we feel, but He is going to get our focus on Him and His power and His purposes in the situation. If we are truly motivated by love for God and others, we will delight in however He chooses to deal with the situation. We may desire to see justice, but we will not need to see it, because it is between God and that person.
If we are secure in the Lord, and clear about why we are here on this earth, other people’s evil behaviors will be seen as sin against God, not us. In addition, if we are hung up on how we are feeling about what someone has done, we are more likely to feel hurt or resentful than concerned about the sufferings of that person. How will we pray for others if we are spending our time feeling offended? How will God be glorified if we are acting like wounded people instead of reflecting grace, love, and forgiveness. Again, God does know the struggle we can have when we feel hurt, but the more we see it as about God and that other person, the more infrequent hurts will arise. We will see the whole thing from God’s perspective instead of our own.
As our intimacy with God grows and grows, we will be very much in touch with what is going on inside of us. Not in a self-absorbed way~ but the Holy Spirit will help us see what we are thinking and feeling at any given time. We will be aware when we are angry, and God will help us to know exactly where it is coming from, and exactly what to do with it. When it comes to expressing the anger, God will show the way. He certainly will not have us stuff it inside of spill it out on others in some unhealthy or abusive way. At times He will have us express righteous anger directly to someone, but it will always be with a heart of love from God, for them. There will not be a personal agenda to teach a lesson, but rather speaking the truth of the Lord through His guidance. God knows that this person is suffering in some way and is in great need of Him. It may be something very bold and difficult to hear on their part, but that is because God is using you and the instrument of anger to penetrate truth into their heart. This will always be for the purpose of God drawing the person to Himself for their good and the good of His Kingdom.
What approach have you learned to use in dealing with anger? This is not necessarily a black and white answer, but you definitely have a strong tendency toward a particular approach. You could call it your automatic default. For example, a person who typically is suppressed may blurt out something more aggressively from time to time, but this would be fairly uncommon for them. There are also many people who were very suppressed most of their life because it was unsafe to express. This person may fluctuate in adulthood between being primarily passive or shut-down, but under duress lets the anger out passive-aggressively or aggressively. This might actually feel very freeing, but in reality one unhealthy way is being exchanged for another. This person definitely needs to become un-suppressed, but this will be done through leaning to take feelings to God and expressing them freely there. This is where true relief will come.
Whatever way or ways you have learned to cope with anger, God will teach you His way as you turn to Him. Just as with God and Jesus, your anger will be righteous, motivated by love, and for the good of His Kingdom~ and believe it or not~ God will be glorified in your expression of anger!