- Emotions associated with anger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Some of us come from a long ancestral line of people with tempers, some of us just have tempers ourselves (without any ancestors we can blame), some of us are going through temporary circumstances that are difficult to handle and tempers flare, and some of us are an easy-going, peaceful kind of people. How I wish the world was filled with easy-going, peaceful people. (My husband is one of them and I appreciate that so much about him.)
Before going any further, for the purposes of this article I want to define my own perspective of the difference between reactions and responses. (This is not necessarily an “English dictionary”, “scientific” or “psychological” definition, but rather a clarification of semantics as I use them. “I need to learn to respond rather than react.”)
Reaction: an instinctive, immediate attitude and behavior that comes out as a result of one’s circumstances, what another person has just said or written, or how someone has behaved that indicate one’s feelings and emotional attitude.
Response: a thought-through, deliberately chosen reply or behavior that comes from self-control and a sense of personal responsibility for one’s own actions, attitudes and behaviors.
Psalm 37:8 “Stop being angry. Turn from your rage. Do not lose your temper – it only leads to harm.” (NLT)
On March 21st I wrote part 1 of this series. The verse above is apropos for each of those situations. Each of those people chose anger and rage and what happened? It led to harm. Our choices impact not only ourselves, but those around us. Psalm 37:7 talks about people deliberately doing harm to you and then Psalm 37:8 says that you should stop being angry in response to those who hurt you because it (your anger and rage) only leads to harm.
But, they were unkind to me! He was beating me up! He abused me! She broke my trust! They were telling lies about me. She’s always nasty toward me. Alright… there is sin in this world and people who are control by their sinful natures. There are people who make choices to do harmful things to us. Does that mean that we need to lose all of our own self-control? What does God say about that?
Proverbs 19:11 “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
There are so many ways in which anger can control us or, (let’s be real), how we allow it to control us. And unless we have a deliberate way of controlling our reactions and thinking through appropriate responses, we cannot have freedom from anger.
Ephesians 4:26 “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”
There’s nothing wrong with emotions, themselves. They are neither negative nor positive (as we try to label them). They simply exist. We all feel emotions and that’s natural. It is what we do with those emotions that can become negative or positive. Anger is one of those emotions. (Click on the picture above to enlarge it and see all of the things that can come along with anger. It’s an eye-opening picture.) If we hang on to that anger and mull over it, dwell on it, and feed on it, it can become something uncontrollable. It’s important to deal with it right away. Whether you exacerbate a situation or calm it down is your choice. There’s a great deal of wisdom in the Bible in regard to anger and our choices. We can choose to just let it loose and not control it or we can choose to have self-control. And I believe that God expects us to do our part and develop self-control.
Ephesians 4:31 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form on malice.” (NIV)
With self-control, we are to get rid of the life of anger and angry responses. God doesn’t say, “Let me take it from you.” No. He tells us to do our part. “Get rid of it.” We need to throw it off. This is the “bad habit” we need to get rid of, and in it’s place…
Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.” (NIV)
Wow. This is the complete opposite of anger. And it says a lot more than just these words. In order to do these things, we have to give up holding on to grudges, overlook the faults of others, and choose to be caring when someone is unkind to us. The author of Colossians also talks about this.
Colossians 3:8 “But, now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk from your mouth.”
So, I talk to someone else about the woman who did something against me according to my perspective. Do you know that God calls that? Slander. Or, I’m angry enough to swear, take the Lord’s name in vain, or say how I REALLY feel about someone and how they’ve behaved in an extremely unkind way. No… God calls that obscene talk. Get rid of it. If you have a problem between you and someone else, go make it right with them. Don’t gossip about that person and tell everyone he’s a rat.
Self-control is more than just controlling your anger. It is controlling yourself in every way… controlling your tongue and how you talk about people, controlling your attitude and how you choose to feel about people, controlling your behaviors and how you treat people and controlling your feelings and whether you allow them to fester in your mind or whether you deal with them in an appropriate manner. Again, feelings are neutral. It’s what you choose to do with them that turns into something positive or negative.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “anger is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.” But, it can be far more than that. Uncontrolled, it is a lifestyle of reaction to little things that are out of your control with an angry attitude and reaction (yelling, saying something unkind to someone, hitting, throwing things, getting in someone’s face, etc.). If it becomes a lifestyle, it’s no longer just about someone who you feel has deliberately done you wrong. It flows out into every area of life and it’s flowing out of you. Take responsibility for yourself.
Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath. But harsh words stir up anger.”
Reactions are learned, as are responses. Think of them as habits. It’s possible to unlearn bad habits and learn good habits to replace them. If you’re someone who “lets” anger control you, my first suggestion is to find out what the foundational problem is and deal with that. But, there’s a second part to that. You must choose to have self-control. OK… so you’re angry… choose not to react in that moment. Yes, it is possible. Take one step at a time and chose, in that very moment, to say nothing and do nothing. Or better yet, choose a soft answer to diffuse the situation. Every time you do that, it is one more step toward self-control.
Proverbs 15:18 “A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.” (NIV)
The Bible is full of verses that talk about anger, what God thinks about it, and how we need to deal with it.
I still have much to say on the topic. Come back and read Part 3 to learn a little more about my own personal experiences in my battle with anger.