Anger 101

Anger 101

Anger is something we all feel from time to time, though very few of us understand it. In this article, counselor Alison Pitts helps us understand what anger is, why it happens, and how to handle healthy anger in a constructive way.

In this Article:

  1. Anger vs. Aggression
  2. Healthy or Defensive – Telling the Difference
  3. Dealing with Anger

About the Author

Let’s talk about anger.

I think we all know those people who don’t handle anger very well. We’ll say they have “anger issues” or that they are “hot tempered,” like the person who overreacts when the waiter gets their order wrong. But when we read the Bible and find moments in scripture where God gets angry it seems different than just “anger issues” or an ill tempered deity. It seems different because it is different. When I think about anger, I put it in two different categories. The first kind of anger is defensive anger, and the second kind of anger is healthy anger.  
God gave us the ability to experience anger to let us know when something is not right or unjust. Anger lets us know when the image of God is being violated in us or in someone else. The reason anger is so important is it lets us know when we need to set a boundary. Defensive anger, on the other hand, is the quick reaction to something that we perceive as dangerous. The issue with defensive anger is that if we primarily react that way the issues we are facing are unlikely to resolve and there is potential for causing harm in relationships.

Anger vs. Aggression

I think it is important here to differentiate between anger and aggression. Anger is the emotion that lets us know something is not okay, and aggression is an unhealthy expression of emotion that can be harmful to ourselves or someone else. Although my hope is to help clarify and understand anger, what I am not doing is trying to justify any unsafe or harmful behaviors. Our actions and our emotions are separate things. We may not always be able to control how we feel, but we can always control how we respond to those feelings.  

Healthy or Defensive – Telling the Difference

So, how can we tell the difference between healthy anger and defensive anger?

Defensive anger is reactionary and not always helpful. For example, we might feel angry in response to another more vulnerable emotion. So if someone I love says something to me that hurts me, I may react in anger by saying something equally hurtful back. In that moment it feels easier to express how angry I am than how hurt I feel. This kind of anger is defensive anger. It’s coming up in a way to protect the part of me that felt hurt. This kind of anger can perpetuate the problem and it is amplified quickly. 
Another way of thinking about defensive anger is by picturing an iceberg. Defensive anger is like the small percentage of mass we see above the surface of the water, it is the piece of the iceberg that is the most visible. What we don’t see of that iceberg is the other larger mass that is below the surface of the water, but that is holding the visible part in place. Some of those under water emotions could be hurt, sadness, fear, or disgust. Understanding what is below the surface of the anger will help in working towards resolving our emotions.
Healthy anger enables us to set healthy boundaries, as well as acknowledge when a situation or interaction is violating or harmful to us. By engaging with healthy anger we are able to better live in congruence with ourselves and with our communities.
In the Bible, God demonstrates healthy anger. All throughout scripture we see that God becomes angry when His people worship other gods, or when someone is harming His people. We also see Jesus in the book of Matthew (chapter 21) throwing people out of the temple and overturning tables! I imagine He was pretty angry at that point! Jesus was demonstrating passion for a pure faith by expressing His healthy anger. Healthy anger can be a motivator for a sense of justice and righteousness.

Dealing with Anger

If you find that you have a hard time managing your anger, the first thing is to give yourself space to calm down if needed. It is so helpful for us, and those around us, to take a breath so that we can understand our anger. Second, I would encourage you to ask yourself a few questions like, is there any other emotion underneath my anger? Is there something about the situation that violates the image of God? Are there any boundaries here that I need to set to keep myself safe? 
No matter how we understand our anger, it is still always important that we treat others with kindness and respect. So that means we may need to ask ourselves, “how do I need to care for my heart in this so I can still treat others well?” Just because our anger is normal and even sometimes healthy, it will never be an excuse to treat someone poorly. 
If anger is something that is difficult for you to manage, any of our wonderful counselors are here to help you walk through it well!

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