Anger: How to Deal With a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way
Anger can be an overwhelming emotion. In his book, Anger, Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way, author Gary Chapman shows how to deal with anger from both a Christian and a Psychological perspective. I believe we all have something to learn from both approaches.
A Christian Perspective on Anger
The first perspective on dealing with anger is the Christian one. In this view, anger is a part of how we are made in the image of God. Anger is designed to help us stand up for justice, to defend goodness, truth and fairness.
Anger is something that we feel. We should use that feeling as a reminder to go a place of calm within ourselves before we speak and before we act. When we do speak and take action, we make sure that our words and actions are coming from a place of love, with the intention to leave yourself and the other person in a better place than before.
The other person is not your enemy. They are your spouse, your teammate, your coworker. If anger becomes too high, too fevered or uncontrolled, the other person becomes your enemy, your opponent. From this frame of mind, it is very difficult to achieve a positive outcome, and reach the just and balanced situation that anger was meant to help us achieve.
Anger is the energy needed to take action to resolve a problem, typically an interpersonal problem. It is the energy that you need, coupled with the motivation to take action. However, it needs to be controlled, because otherwise you can't think.
As an example, a woman said to her superior at work, "I told some of your subordinates some things which caused them to go in a different direction than you had intended. I don't understand why you're not angry at me, because it will take some time to get things back on the course.." Her superior replied, "I find that when I'm angry, I can't think. And when I can't think, I can't solve problems."
So anger may alert us to the presence of a problem, and motivate us to take that needed action, but we have to direct that action based on our values and the goal of reaching a common good. When you are angry, it can be difficult to keep an open dialogue with the person with which you are angry. It can be helpful to remember that what you want to come out of the interaction is greater love and truth between persons.
When anger becomes too strong or too personal, it will draw out anger in the other person, and it will take the whole conversation off topic. Attacks can become personal, rather than objective, making it more difficult to address the issue that caused the anger in the first place.
Proverbs 15:1 says, "A gentle word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger"
A Psychological Perspective on Anger
From a psychological perspective, anger follows a predictable pattern.
As anger escalates, there comes a threshold beyond which we're no longer able to view multiple perspectives. For me to be right, the other person must be wrong. For them to be right, I need to lose.
To avoid the trap of win-lose thinking in an argument, one good tactic to de-escalate the situation is to validate some point of the other's thinking. Give them the experience of being understood first, even in a small way. This can help reset, or de-escalate, the argument, so that you can face each other as partners, rather than opponents.
In a research study conducted over 15 years on 135 couples, they had the couples try out a certain tactic. When an argument began to escalate, they encouraged the couples to say either internally or to each other out loud, "let me give you the experience of being understood first." And that means, I'm going to take the listener position, and you will take the speaker position.
The listener may understand fully right away, but it's just as likely that you'll have understood only 1/4 of what the other meant to say. Continue listening until the speaker confirms that they feel fully heard and understood. The listener should also convey that they see the good in the other's opinion or position.
Then it's important to switch places on the same topic, and allow the speaker to become the listener, and the listener to become the speaker, until both parties have been heard.
When to Schedule an Anger Management Counseling Session
If you are having trouble dealing with anger either with your spouse, with a coworker or family member, it can be valuable to make time for yourself, and speak with an anger management therapist.
My approach to anger isn't to help you block or ignore it. I can help you understand it, and put it to use in ways which are constructive, which build you up without tearing others down, and even as a motivating tool live a more balanced and connected life.
All the best,