- a no-no word for women in the south
- an off-limits emotion for women in the church.
- emotion a therapist never feels because they are always calm and serene
Despite these cultural definitions of anger for women, Christians, and therapists, I found myself a year ago venting ferociously in a small group. One of the women in my group finally spoke up and said, “You’re angry.”
My heart dropped. I realized she was right. I started freaking out. Thoughts such as, “I’ve never been angry in my whole entire life”, “Why now?”, and “What am I doing wrong?”, raced through my mind. At that point I knew nothing about anger. I just knew I didn’t want to feel it. How am I supposed to be a good woman and a good Christian if I’m feeling angry?
Then I began to learn about anger. If you know the truth the truth will set you free right? Here are some freeing truths I learned about anger.
1. Anger is often the result of a blocked goal or desire
This was the very first thing I learned about anger. Let me tell you when I did, I was blown away. My feeling of anger all of the sudden made sense. At that point in my life there were significant goals and desires being blocked. Once I learned that anger often stems from blocked goals and desires I was able to reflect on what was stirring in my heart. In that reflection I was able to see the desires that were good and needed a little more patience to see them through. I was also able to see the unrealistic goals that needed to be let go. Now when I feel angry, I ask myself, “What am I aiming for?”
2. Anger is an umbrella emotion
The second thing I was told about anger was to imagine that the anger is an umbrella. Imagine pulling the umbrella down. What’s there? Anger is an emotion that covers up numerous other emotions we are feeling. Another way of describing it is that anger is the tip of the iceberg- there is always something underneath. Common things underneath anger are: disappointment, rejection, offense, regret, worried, hopelessness, and jealousy. The next thing I ask myself when facing anger is, “What I am really feeling?”
3. Anger can fit the facts
Anger can be an appropriate response to your situation. Anger can be a knee jerk reaction when an important goal or desire is blocked, you or someone you care about is attacked or hurt by others, or the integrity or status of your social group is being offended or threatened. When appropriate one can fight back as long as it is not in a way that is emotionally or physically harmful to others. Fighting back can look like being an advocate for an important cause or lovingly confronting the person who hurt you. One can also take a break and step away to cool off or maybe it’s a sign to remove yourself from the situation all together. The last thing I ask myself when I am feeling angry is, “Is this a situation where anger is trying to protect me?”
Lastly, I would like to set a few things straight by correcting a few myths:
Myth: Anger is a sin.
Truth: The word of God tells us to “Be angry and do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26)
Discovering what’s underneath our anger may actually be an important step in managing sinful behavior. Anger unexamined will eventually come out somehow. Anger is not always negative- sometimes anger leads us to overcome obstacles to our goals, protect the defenseless, or stand up for what is right. Other times when unexamined and not utilized effectively it comes out through things like becoming a nagging wife, overbearing mother, a steam-roller at work, or just an overall bitter grouch.
The anger isn’t the sin- it’s the ineffective ways of dealing with it that is. The rest of Ephesians 4 goes on to talk about not letting the sun go down on the anger and not tearing one another down with our speech. In summary, the word is tells us to deal honestly with our anger and not treat one another poorly because of it. Putting the umbrella down and taking a look at what’s underneath your anger can simultaneously give you a better understanding of what your values are and the areas of your character that need to be fine tuned.
I’m a southern Christian woman and therapist in training who has found her anger. Now it’s time to go out and find yours! Exploring your anger can lead you to make positive changes, fight for the right things, and help you catch yourself before you act on it. Remember the anger isn’t sin- unexamined anger is the bad guy.