by Gary J. Oliver
Anger is a God-given emotion that can be experienced and expressed in ways that can be healthy or unhealthy. The Bible has a lot to say about the emotion of anger. In fact, next to love, anger is the most frequently mentioned emotion in the Bible (Oliver & Oliver, 2007). It is first mentioned in Genesis 4:5, and the last reference to anger is found in Revelation 19:15. In the Old Testament alone, anger is mentioned 455 times, usually in reference to Godâ€™s anger.
Anger is the most powerful and the least understood of all the emotions (Carter, 2003). Of all of the God-given emotions, anger is the one most likely to be viewed as negative and dangerous. Virtually all of the headlines involving anger relate to its destructive effects. This leads many to assume that all anger is negative and unhealthy; they donâ€™t understand that there can be healthy expressions of anger (Oliver & Oliver, 2007; Lowenstein, 2004).
Of all the emotions, anger is the one most likely to be labeled as something else. What are some of the most common disguises anger can take? When we begrudge, scorn, insult, and disdain others; or when we are annoyed, offended, bitter, fed up, repulsed, irritated, infuriated, incensed, mad, sarcastic, uptight, or cross; or when we experience frustration, indignation, fury, wrath, or rage, we are probably experiencing some form of anger. Anger can also manifest itself in criticism, silence, intimidation, hypochondria, numerous petty complaints, depression, gossip, sarcasm, blame, and passive-aggressive behaviors, such as stubbornness, halfhearted efforts, forgetfulness, and laziness (Oliver & Oliver, 2007).
Unhealthy anger also has physical effects. A rapidly growing body of research strongly suggests that ignoring anger has detrimental effects on your health. Blood vessels constrict and heart rate and blood pressure increase, eventually leading to the destruction of heart muscle (Hightower, 2005). A 12-year longitudinal study of 10,000 people revealed that those who suppressed anger were more than twice as likely to die of heart disease as those who expressed anger in healthy ways. A 25-year study showed that people with high hostility scores had higher incidence of heart disease; they were also six times more likely to die by age 50 from all causes of disease than their low-scoring counterparts. Other research over a 20-year period correlated higher hostility scores with increased rates of not only coronary heart disease but also cancer, accidents, and suicide (Wright & Oliver, 2005).
Anger and Sin.
Of all the emotions, anger is the one most likely to be labeled a sin. However, Paul destroys the myth that all anger is sin when he says, â€œBe angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunityâ€ (Eph. 4:26-27 NASB). Paul makes it clear that it is normal to experience anger and that we can choose to express that anger in ways that are not sinful (Chapman, 2007; Oliver & Oliver, 2007).
What is anger? Anger is a strong feeling of irritation or displeasure. It is a state of readiness. Anger is energy that can involve emotional, physical, and mental arousal. When we experience the emotion of anger, adrenalin and noradrenalin are pumped into our central and peripheral nervous systems. Our body goes on the alert.
What causes anger? Anger is almost always a secondary emotion that is experienced in response to one or more primary emotions, including hurt (usually from the past), frustration (usually because of something in the present), and/or fear (usually of something in the future). It can often be perceived as a threat to the self, to someone we love, or to something that is important to us. When people experience anger, they tend to react to that secondary emotion rather than identify and respond to the primary emotion that is the source of the anger (Oliver & Oliver, 2007).
The impact of anger on ourselves and those around us depends on the degree to which we allow the anger-energy to control us. A more healthy response is to invest that same energy in identifying and understanding the cause and to choose a healthy solution. Unhealthy anger reacts and is often driven by bitterness, revenge, resentment, and desire for getting even with or punishing others. Allowing the secondary emotion of anger to control our thinking or our behavior is always unhealthy. Anger can be dealt with in passive ways such as stuffing, suppressing, repressing, denying, or ignoring both the anger and the primary emotions that are causing it (Oliver & Oliver, 2007). Active, unhealthy reactions to anger include turning it in on yourself or dumping it on someone else.
To deal with anger effectively, start by being aware of it. When are you most likely to experience it, and how are you most likely to express it? Determine at the outset whether you are going to let the anger energy control you and push you to react or you are going to listen to your emotions and find out what the anger might really be about, which will help lead to a healthy response. The next step is to define itâ€”identify the primary emotion and triggers. Then choose your response (Carter, 2003).
Healthy anger responds rather than reacts. It is constructive. It is proactive and not merely reactive. It sheds more light than heat. The energy of anger, when wisely invested, can provide greater focus and intensity and lead to greater productivity. Martin Luther said, â€œWhen I am angry I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations are gone.â€
Carter, L. (2003). The Anger Trap: Free Yourself from the Frustrations that Sabotage Your Life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Chapman, G. (2007). Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way. Chicago, IL: Northfield.
Hightower, N. (2005). Anger Bursting 101: The New ABCs for Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them. Houston, TX: Bayou.
Lowenstein, L. F. (2004). Angerâ€”has it a positive as well as negative value?: Recent research into causes, associated features, diagnosis and treatment, 1998â€“2003. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 93(3), 21-40.
Oliver, G., & Oliver, C. (2007). Mad About Us. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House.
Wright, H. N., & Oliver, G. J. (2005). A Womanâ€™s Forbidden Emotion. Ventura, CA: Regal Books.