Anger—Friend or Foe?

Anger—Friend or Foe?

Responses to last week’s blog about the success of written expressions has inspired the focus on the pros and cons of anger especially involving healing from losses.

Just listening and watching a two-year-old resorting to stomping feet, shedding tears, wailing and running away when things don’t go their way offers a pretty good overview of the normal onset of expressed anger. Reflect on how you normally behave with your forward progress is prevented. And, incidentally, compiling a list of what easily arouses your anger reveals character.

Anger is functional—a facilitator—appearing in all sorts of styles to alert, warn, or announce existing or approaching problems.  Although warnings are annoying, they have a good purpose as you will see. The anger emotion is complicated and requires a bit of unraveling to provide an appreciation of its critical impact. Hopefully, Norma’s story will shed light.

Norma requested that her husband take the longer route to work on this icy morning and avoid the curvy shortcut. “I want you to be safe”, she said as she hugged him goodbye. He chose to ignore her warning and was involved in an auto accident which took his life.

She was shocked, furious, frightened and left with a forsaken feeling. How could he have done this to her? Norma was so grief-stricken that she was inconsolable. The funeral did her no good.

Her pastor who had ministered to her from the ER throughout the funeral assured her that he was always available. She knew his office hours and without an appointment chose to show up one morning. He asked no questions, but simply listened.

The unplanned visits continued off and on for several months. Norma surmised correctly that her anger was in control but she didn’t know what to do with it. The pastor counseled that acknowledging her anger would be necessary for healing and suggested that it might be helpful to visit her husband’s grave and tell him how angry she is and why.

On the next visit with the pastor, Norma shared how the graveyard visit went. She intentionally wore high heels and stomped all over his grave, yelling about how his obstinate attitude had caused havoc, wrecked her life and overwhelmed her with total responsibility for the children. Her life was in ruins and it was his fault. Her anger was so deep it actually trapped her emotionally. Verbal expression began the softening and release from anger and transported her to a rational approach in dealing with her situation so that grieving and healing could begin.

Like Norma, many of us in our idealism (and occasionally in our hostility and cynicism), can build up false pictures of other persons and of situations we expect to encounter. Then, if the persons and situations are not what we anticipated, we have problems coping with the unexpected reality. That’s when anger, along with its pal, resentment, invade our lives which I refer to as the invisible path to cancer of the heart. Allowing anger to do its job of pushing us to action in analyzing exactly what unmet expectations is causing the anger, then, we can deal with the solution and avoid residual resentment.

While it took several years for Norma to work completely through her anger, during that time she contributed to her healing by generously sharing her experience with students in professor John’s college course on Death and Dying.

Whether age, accidents, self-inflicted, fires, and other causes of loss of loved ones, jobs and possessions, the anger emotion will show up and most often to eventual advantage. Anger-out-of-control is swirling all around the world as adjustments have be made with the death of loved ones, elimination jobs or radical changes in our environment caused by the Covid pandemic.

Many people either avoid warning signals until they become insensitive to them, or else they become embroiled with the signals themselves, rather than giving attention to the conditions that triggered the alert.

It can be risky business to ignore or deal impulsively with feelings of anger. In either case, personal relationships are sure to suffer. Conversely, if anger pinpoints the source of the problem by initiating in-depth communication, sturdy bonds of friendship and love are most likely to develop. Anger itself is neither wrong nor negative. It is simply an attitude, a legitimate feeling that gauges something deep inside. How one expresses and handles the emotion is the important consideration.  Responding calmly and confidently to anger alerts opens doors to healing relationships. Acknowledging our anger empowers us to take action.

” If it is possible, as afar as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”  

Rom 12:18 (NIV)

Many groups preach that anger is sin. Not so. Uncontrolled anger can lead to sin, but anger itself is a reminder—a helper. The erroneous teaching that anger is sin encourages parents to teach their kids to stay as far away from anger as they can.  “No, you may not be angry” is a very harmful directive. Much better to encourage children to be honest so they can become acquainted with legitimate emotions. Emotions are God-given to aid honesty and intimacy in our relationships.

We can conclude that acknowledging and expressing our angers by writing or speaking will continue to foster healing as well as improve relationships with dealing with tensions with friends or losses of all kinds.

When understood, appreciated, and rightly used, anger becomes a friend rather than a foe.  The best way to use anger is as the Bible says:

“In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (Eph. 4:26). In scanning the Gospels, one will discover that Jesus was angry many times, but He was never angry with how he was being treated or spoken to but for the inequities and problems that were brought to him. He was angry when followers were unforgiving, dishonest, unloving and faithless. Jesus was angry but totally sinless; His anger was always justified.

See Chapter 7-Constructive Anger- in How to Get Along with Everyone.

Next week we’ll begin discussing the loss of identity and the search for purpose, all results of radical changes.