Anger: The Thief of Joy
One of the most common human emotions is anger. We all have occasions when we feel it and express it. For some folks, anger is present all the time and has a significant impact on their lives, while others seem unaffected by it.
Anger is not productive in leading to stability and peace within our relationships. Anger does have some positive qualities but more often for us mere humans it eats away at any positive in our world and robs us of the possibility of joy.
Anger can be defined as a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility. Just those three descriptive words indicate the spectrum from mild to extreme on how anger can be experienced at any given time.
The source of our anger is often attached to our sense of justice, either toward us or someone we care about. We may also feel disappointment, annoyance, or rejection. Those who have studied the impact of anger on humans show that it has a very real impact on the workings of the brain.
The sources of our anger are often referred to as ‘triggers’. These situations or interactions can spark anger that sends a message to the amygdala, an area in our brain involved with experiencing emotions. Once activated, it signals the hypothalamus, which coordinates the activity of the autonomic nervous system, then it moves onto the pituitary gland, which controls such things as body temperature, hunger, and thirst as well as emotional activity.
So, when all these parts of the brain are activated, one will feel it in their body because hormones are released such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. All of these are thrust through our bodies and brain to prepare us to deal directly with a perceived threat. What we have often heard of as Fight, Flight of Freeze.
Not All Anger is Bad
Not all anger is bad. In fact, it is a highly motivating factor for good in many cases. As we interpret the world around us such as our workplace environment, political trends, or societal injustices, we often are motivated by anger to make the changes that will relieve pain and suffering for a better world. In our relationships, we may discover something about ourselves or other people that needs to be addressed for the betterment of all.
Through positive communication, anger can facilitate real change. Ephesians 4:26 says “be angry, but do not sin, don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” In context, this section is encouraging believers to show the changes that have been made in their hearts in relation to other people. There are situations where anger is justified, but there is a strict warning attached, that if allowed to fester and grow it can be an opportunity for the devil to bring one down.
To avoid this trap, one of the most practical bits of advice ever given with regard to relationships is the phrase, “don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” In reality, the things and people that make us angry are the ones close to us and when we can put the harmony of that relationship ahead of our anger it will serve us well.
The Anger Cycle
There is a cycle to anger that indicates the progression of this very real human emotion. The first thing is a triggering event that gets us upset and this leads quickly to negative thoughts that can be about ourselves or another person. These thoughts can be very dangerous because they may not be entirely rational.
Besides being directed at someone else, they are often directed at oneself with self-put-downs, self-condemnation, or self-doubt. When those thoughts enter us they quickly spawn an emotional response such as anger, hurt feelings, fear, or sadness.
If the response is anger, then there is a physical response like a racing heart, clinched jaw or fist, or elevated breathing. Soon to follow is some sort of behavior to the emotional response which usually spills out in something said in retaliation or can be evidenced in facial expressions, or physical activity. We all have our unique ways of handling this stress.
Hurt is likely the real emotion being felt when anger arises. When we feel disrespected, disregarded, insulted, embarrassed, bullied, or rejected. That pain begs a response. Often that response is anger toward someone. The response doesn’t have to be an outburst but could be a retreating through becoming quiet or sullen. Whether we respond by a raised voice, harsh words, physical action like pounding a table, or in a quieter way, it still sends the message that we have been hurt.
Anger will always find a way to leak out. We often feel that it should be obvious what is wrong. We want or expect an acknowledgment of the offense, like an apology, but when we don’t get it, that leads to more hurt and anger. Down we go, deeper into the anger cycle, crossing that line into misery. Any possibility of joy in our life at that moment is gone. How do crawl back?
A key skill in successful living is the ability to self-reflect. Self-reflection requires stepping back from some of our most natural impulses and to ask a few questions that examine our thoughts, motives, reasonings, and emotions. To do this requires a humbling of yourself with the notion that we might not be correct in your quick evaluation. It’s those quick judgments that lead to anger and in some cases hurtful behavior.
Philippians 2:3 states, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” Sometimes it’s little things that can upset us and trigger a series of angry vengeful thoughts at the people to whom we are closest. If there isn’t a pause to reflect and examine ourselves, it will not end well. We often hear a still small voice speak the truth to us and we can reverse that downward spiral of anger.
The cost of anger
The cost of anger can be way too expensive. In our day-to-day lives, often the littlest things can get us angry. Anger can cause a disruption in the smooth workings of a meaningful relationship and go so far as to create a fracture. The words said in anger, and the deeds done in anger are hard to bring back or overcome in the mind of the person they were directed. They develop a history that can build into a case against you that might lead to the end of that relationship.
In some cases, anger can be downright dangerous such as a road rage reaction to someone else’s disregard for safety. The irony is not lost. It can become a cancer that starts small but if left unaddressed can infect all aspects of one’s life. In addition, anger causes an overwhelming stress response in the body likely causing elevated heart rate, shaking, and even brief diminished cognitive functioning.
Anger, whether toward a little annoyance on one end to a big social injustice on the other, says a lot about who you are as a person. It says something about you in the moment and can say something about your core values. Overreacting with anger at a small offense is a sign that we need to examine ourselves.
The antidote? Humble yourself. Fight the impulse to defend yourself and seek true insight into why you are reacting that way. The possibility of joy in this life, peace with our loved ones, and contentment in our circumstances can be possible but an angry spirit will rob us of that possibility every time.
If you are easily angered, it could be related to something that happened to you a long time ago and this current situation revealed that it’s still there. Trauma victims often find that emotions pop up that they find difficult to understand. They may have pushed those incidents back in their minds as a defense and a way to better cope with day-to-day living.
Irritability and anger also are often signs of depression, anxiety, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As you reflect on your life and feel that these conditions describe you in part, seeking help through counseling is appropriate. It would be my privilege to partner with you to get understanding and healing for your life. I can be reached at 509-569-7102.
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