Some interesting statistics about anger: Men lose their temper twice as often as women (men an average of six times a week, women, three). Women are more often angry at people, while men usually become angry with things (tools, delays, etc.). Single adults are likely to get angry twice as often as marrieds. The most common place for people to get angry? Home. The most likely recipients of that anger? You guessed it, the people we love the most.
Given the stakes, we would be wise to consider the Bible’s seven-step plan for dealing with anger in a constructive way:
Step #1: I must understand why I get angry. Proverbs 19:11 says, “A person’s wisdom gives them patience…” The better I understand myself and others, the better I will be able to control my anger. Why? Because anger is never the real problem; it’s an indicator of something much deeper that is wrong. Typically, there are three causes for anger:
- First, we get angry when we’ve been hurt. Our natural response will be to lash back, which is why conflict escalates so rapidly.
- A second underlying cause of anger is frustration. When things don’t happen according to our timetable, it’s easy to lose our patience and get angry. Think about how you felt the last time you were in a traffic jam or had to wait in a long line.
- A third common cause of anger is insecurity. We get angry when we feel threatened, which is why we want to avoid backing an animal (or a person!) into a corner.
The first step to dealing with anger constructively is to ask yourself why you are feeling angry. Once we identify the cause, we can begin to formulate a plan to remove it.
Step #2 in an effective anger management plan: I must look to God for my self-worth–not other people. A sense of self-worth is essential to controlling anger. Why? It goes back to the third reason people get angry. Insecure people are easily angered; confident people are not. When we depend upon others to define our value and they put us down, we feel insecure and angry, but when our sense of self-worth comes from God, we can handle the hurts and frustrations that come our way. The place to discover our value is not in a human-authored, self-centered philosophy, but in a personal relationship with God. It is only there that we come to realize that our value as a person is not tied to what others think of us, but to what God thinks of us. Proverbs 14:26 tells us, “Reverence for the Lord gives confidence and security…”
Step #3: I need to stop and think before I react. Ever notice that when you get angry your mouth runs faster than your mind? I’ve learned the hard way that a sharp tongue is the quickest way to cut my throat. Proverbs 13:16 says, “Sensible people always think before they act,” and the key word in anger management is think. How many times have you said something, only to ask yourself a few minutes later, “Why in the world did I say that?”
And to those who say, “This all sounds nice, but when I’m angry, I can’t control my temper…” Yes, you can! Here’s proof: think about a time when you were at home having a shouting match with a loved one. You were stewing and spewing and out of control. Then the phone rang. You picked up the phone and said, “Hellooo…” in your sweetest voice.
Why did you change when you answered the phone? Because you wanted to change. Anger is a choice! Events and other people don’t make us angry–we make ourselves angry. That’s essential to understand if we want to break free of a bad temper. Let me say it again: events and other people don’t make us angry–we make ourselves angry.
Step #4: I need to count the cost of uncontrolled anger. There’s always a price tag for losing our temper. The Book of Proverbs says: “A hot-tempered person starts fights and gets into all kinds of trouble” (29:22). “Anger causes mistakes” (14:29). “The fool who provokes his family to anger and resentment will finally have nothing worthwhile left” (11:29). We could continue to quote Scriptures, but here’s the point: Whenever I lose my temper… I lose.
Step #5: I must learn to relax. Proverbs 14:30 says, “A relaxed attitude lengthens a person’s life.” Have you noticed that when you’re uptight you’re more prone to anger? Temper and tension always go together. If you want to reduce your anger, slow down. Schedule things into your day that are relaxing. Learn to lighten up and have some fun.
Step #6: I must release my anger appropriately. Some people think that we have a certain amount of anger and that if we can get it out–if we can vent it–we will feel better. Various methods (e.g., Primal Scream Therapy) have been introduced to accomplish this venting. There’s only one problem–it doesn’t work. Why? Because we don’t have just a certain amount of anger in us; we are factories. We just keep on producing it. Study after study has proven that aggression only produces more aggression–anger feeds on anger.
The only appropriate way of releasing our anger is to confess it in a way that avoids the negative actions that will further damage our relationships. We move in that direction by taking the seventh and most important step in anger management: We must re-pattern our mind. Romans 12:2 says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The way I think determines the way I feel, and the way I feel determines the way I act. If I’m acting angry, it’s because I’m feeling angry, and if I’m feeling angry, it’s because I’m thinking angry thoughts.
Where do these angry thoughts come from? What we allow into our minds. We live in a culture that constantly teaches us inappropriate ways to deal with anger. If you doubt that, turn on your TV tonight and do a little channel surfing; notice how anger is dealt with: You’ll see anger lead someone to use a gun or beat someone up or say something cruel, and we are being programmed to think this way ourselves. Anyone who says that the media does not influence our thinking is either naive or dishonest. For better or worse, what we read, watch and listen to affects us.
Now the good news: since anger is a learned response, it can be unlearned. How? By re-patterning our mind with truth. If we are serious about managing our anger, here’s something simple we can do immediately that will have positive results: we can be more discriminating in what we allow into our mind (movies, internet, TV, books, magazines, games, radio). When we turn our thoughts to things that are positive and God-honoring and avoid those which are not, our temperament will be changed.
…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV)