Being angry is not always such a bad thing. It is actually quite healthy to feel and process our anger. The only times that being angry becomes bad is when it drives negative actions or when we allow unexpressed anger to fester within us. When we become physically/verbally abusive or violent in our anger, it causes damage to our loved ones, ourselves, and our communities. In God’s word it says, “In your anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you are angry” (Ephesians 4:26,27 NIV). It is imperative that we do not act out in our anger in ways that might cause physical or emotional harm.
Anger is a secondary emotion that flows from an underlying threat of loss or injustice. Deeper feelings of sadness, hurt, or fear drive anger. Looking deeper at our anger can help us own the feelings that cultivated our outrage. Our anger can oftentimes identify an underlying fear that we may be having. If you have lost a loved one and you become fearful about how you’re going to get along without them. That can turn into anger by thinking, “Well, God has already taken my loved one, what else is he gonna take from me?” That’s an example of anger that is brought on by fear. Once we are able to get to the root of our anger, then we will be able to start exploring our emotions and begin to process them.
In our anger, it is not uncommon to blame others for the things that have gone wrong in our lives. Have you ever been so upset with people in traffic when you are late and hurrying to an appointment, and the car in front of you is driving the speed limit? You want to blame your tardiness on how bad traffic was, but somehow you managed to show up to that appointment with your favorite latte in hand. The cause of the tardiness was your choices, but the scapegoat was the traffic.
The same can be said when we lose our loved ones. We have so much fear, hopelessness, and confusion inside of us that we start blaming people. We blame the doctors because they should have done more. We blame God because he is all powerful but still allowed this tragedy to happen. We even blame ourselves, thinking that we could have done something different to save them. The cause of the anger is fear, hopelessness, and confusion, but the scapegoat is the spot we place the blame. We see this in the Bible when Lazarus died, Mary and Martha both told Jesus that if He had been there, Lazarus would not have died. At that moment, they needed someone to blame. In actuality, they were hurt, lost, scared, and hopeless.
Before we can do anything about our anger, we have to first acknowledge that we are angry. This can be hard for some, because some people have never been allowed to experience real anger, so it can be an unrecognizable and ugly feeling. It is very important that we do not try to hold in our anger and allow it to eat at us from the inside. Depression and self-harm are expressions of internalized anger. It is also dangerous to hold anger and allow it to continue to grow and grow until it explodes. Imagine opening a shaken up can of soda pop, you don’t want to go all in and open it quickly if you know it's been shaken (especially if it’s a ginger ale), you want to approach it slowly, and open it little by little. That’s what we also have to do with our anger. We have to go within to deal with it, unpacking the emotions buried beneath the surface.
It is dangerous to hold in anger. Doing so for extended periods of time does not only damage us emotionally and mentally, but also physically. Holding in those emotions can cause diseases (dis-eases) within our bodies such as high blood pressure, which can lead to other chronic illnesses. Here are a few healthy coping skills:
Will the above ideas completely snap you out of your anger? Absolutely not. However, utilizing some of those ideas in your healing process will allow you to grieve with a sense of hope. Christians grieve, but not without holding on to a bigger hope that death doesn’t get the final word.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).
Grief is an acknowledgement that we have loved and there is pain in that loss. As we are honest about our feelings, we can learn to unpack them in safe and healthy ways. Remember, anger is not a bad thing at all, we just have to learn how to properly express it.
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster