How to be angry the right way

Are you angry about what’s happening in our country? How can you be angry in the right way?

No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger than its weakest people, and as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise.

Marian Anderson

I’m angry. Most of us are.

The temptation when you’re angry about something is to prove that your perspective is right and convince everyone to agree so you can stop feeling angry. But there’s a bigger issue than being angry. It’s being angry in the right way and for the right reasons.

For example, what should you do about all that Facebook banter or the texts you sent or the tweets you’ve re-tweeted with a vengeance? We’re all angry about what’s happening in the world, but few of us are able to stay engaged in these important conversations without causing division or feeling attacked and hurt. We have trouble being angry in the right way because we’re just too dang mad.

So here are a couple good questions to ask yourself about your anger.

  • What are you angry about?

You might be angry about Covid-19 restrictions or the fear of getting sick. Your anger could be about taking down the Confederate statues or leaving them up. It could be empowering protestors or empowering the police.

We are mad about a lot of things that are polarizing our communities, churches, friends, and families. Be sure you can name the thing that is making you upset (it might not be what you think it is). Most importantly, ask yourself if you are angry at a person or a situation.

Usually, when we’re mad, we take it out on a person. Although someone could be involved in the problem or be responsible for a conflict, you still can’t solve the issue without unwrapping what it is that’s making you so angry. You have to find out why something feels unfair or unjust (these are not the same thing, but that’s another discussion).

  • Why does this (thing or person) make you angry?

You could be thinking, I just told you. But that’s not exactly true. Events may spark anger; but the source comes from something deeper. Anger is produced when something feels wrong to us. It really doesn’t matter if the wrong is perceived or actual. When something feels unfair or unjust, anger develops inside of us because God has designed us as images of himself, and God is a God of righteousness (making things right). Injustice makes God angry (He doesn’t care about fairness–that’s a human problem.) Jesus’ stated purpose in coming to the earth and offering salvation was to make wrong things right. The word translated as righteousness in the Bible is often also translated as justice. Justice is making something that is wrong, right again. Whenever we perceive that a wrong has been done and it might go unpunished or unsolved, we have feelings of anger.

So, why are you angry? What do you think is wrong, and why do you want it fixed? Wanting something fixed because it’s sin is justice. Wanting something fixed because it’s unfair is selfishness.

  • What should you do about your anger?

God designed anger as an emotional trigger, a catalyst to protect you and direct you toward making positive changes. It is not wrong to be angry; it’s wrong to be cruel, vengeful, disrespectful, or abusive. (If you want to pray for vengeance, click here.)

God himself was angered regularly throughout the Bible—at injustice. We can mistake God’s anger for hatred or impatience when we read that He punished someone or allows a death, but that is a misapplication of God’s methods and a misunderstanding of God’s character. God cannot hate people because He is love; It doesn’t make sense that God desires to kill or harm people—He died to save us! God hates sin and injustice; His grace provides renewal and regeneration to injustice. That’s the plan.

If you are angry, ask God what He wants you to do about our anger. This is where God’s will is revealed. His general will is for everyone is to receive Him and share His love with the world. His specific will for each of us is how we are designed to share God’s love. Artists draw, inventors create, analysts solve, teachers instruct, pastors comfort, speakers inspire, etc. Whatever you were designed to do will benefit the kingdom of God if your goal is justice and not fairness. Justice looks out; fairness looks in. (If you want to pray about being angry, click here.)

If, however, you make decisions in anger and hate, you will step outside your designed purpose. Maybe you attack someone verbally or physically. Maybe you stay quiet and do nothing. Maybe you criticize or judge how others are getting involved. All of these are a misappropriations of anger. We all do these kinds of thing, and we are always hurt by them when we do.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

How holding on to anger hurts us

Here’s the problem with unresolved, suppressed anger: it grows.

It grows into bitterness, resentment, prejudice, and violence. It learns how to justify any words and actions that pour out from it. While we hope to hurt someone else with our anger, we just hurt ourselves.

As human beings, we are not designed to remain angry. Our bodies can’t handle it. When we hold on to anger, we develop all kinds of physical, emotional, and spiritual problems. We can suffer from stress in various forms, which may culminate in manipulation, judgment, coercion, dread, paranoia, or control. The physical toll of anger and stress is striking. Unaddressed anger results in insomnia, depression, anxiety, ulcers, high blood pressure, abdominal pain, headaches, heart attack, or stroke.

We all know these things are true. Some of us take medication to control them. Without fixing our anger problems, however, we will never experience healing or lasting peace.

Anger must be a catalyst for change, not a goal in itself. It must release itself in a productive, Spirit-filled way, or it will grow out of control and consume you.

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Mahatma Gandhi

How to manage your anger

1. Unpack your bags. Find out what makes you mad and why. The underlying issue is likely something inside you, rather than something that’s happening in the world. Address the issue honestly so you can fix it.

2. Open your mind to new information and a new perspective. You have nothing to lose by considering a different perspective. It’s possible you have believed something that isn’t correct. Read books. Watch documentaries. See a professional. Listen to the opposition.

3. Find a safe place to talk about your anger. Go to counseling. Talk to an unbiased friend or mentor. Don’t excuse it—be honest and vulnerable.

4. Identify stress triggers and avoid them. Do you feel enraged every time you associate with a certain person? Adjust the environment and ground rules for interaction. Talk about the tension. Or just remove yourself.

5. Address your anger every day and manage it. Keep a journal, read Scripture, do something proactive instead of reactive. Make yourself accountable to someone over this issue so you don’t get off-track.

6. Extend the hand of friendship to someone you view as an enemy or a threat. Grace and kindness eradicate anger. Kindness might actually resolve the tension between you.

(Click here to read “How to control your anger.”)

I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.

Abraham Lincoln

How to avoid a mis-step

Here are some words of wisdom. Take it or leave it. (I’ve mis-stepped a lot, so I speak from experience.)

  1. Don’t send messages when you’re fired up. Write it. Save it. Pray about it. Sleep on it. You’ll probably think a bit differently later.
  2. Talk through your anger with a trusted friend (as unbiased as possible). There’s always a good chance you’ve misinterpreted something or are over-reacting.
  3. Role-play difficult conversations before you have them. Talk through the confrontation or discussion you feel you must have with a trusted friend before you approach someone who angers you. This can help keep your emotions in check and prevent you from saying or doing something harmful.
  4. Do the Romans 12:9-21 test (I’m warning you—it’s a tough one). Are you showing love, respect, generosity, inclusion, forgiveness, unity? A secular version of the same test is the THINK acrostic (ask–Is it True, Honest, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind?)
  5. Develop a strategy to fix the problem. If you’re angry over injustice to someone else, your anger should motivate you to action over a cause, not hatred against a person. Find like-minded people and discuss ways to eradicate the injustice in a caring and respectful way. (Emphasis on caring.) If your actions are harmful, violent, or unfeeling, go back and re-read “How to manage your anger.”

It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe it. And it isn’t enough to believe it. One must work at it.

Eleanor Roosevelt

The angry soul must be heard and recognized. Then it can channel its anger into productive change. You can learn to redirect your anger toward the places it should go: fixing injustice. When your mission is the work and the unity you were created to do—God’s will gets accomplished. And that’s when we will experience unity and peace.