Anger tends to be a reactive emotion that we experience and express when we perceive, or are actually threatened and we sense or fear that we may not have the ability to create safety for ourselves or control the situation (or person) that triggered the anger in the first place.
Being reactive in nature, anger is called a “secondary emotion” because it is often the heated passion that we feel and express when we experience surges of emotional hurt, pain, irritation, frustration, vulnerability, fear, injustice, grief, selfishness or shame. A good rule of thumb to go by is “whenever you see the “fire” of anger, know that it is usually fueled by the “primary emotion” of hurt, pain, frustration, irritation, injustice, fear, shame, etc.
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” – Ephesians 4:26 – 27 (NIV)
There is nothing wrong with feeling the emotion of anger. In fact, per the scripture above, we are encouraged to experience and express anger. However, it tends to be how we express or attempt to manage our anger that may determine if we are successful in resolving the issues that initially prompted the angry response in us.
Research (American Psychological Association, 2003) tells us that men tend to express physical aggression, passive aggression and tend to be impulsive when feeling angry, while women are less prone to express or display their anger, tend to hold on to it longer, leading to resentments (the French word Resentir or “re-feeling the feeling”).
Contextually, it is likely that unresolved anger connected to life experiences or relationships could become a catalyst for engaging in self-medicating or addictive behavior in an attempt to not feel either the primary or the secondary emotions that our anger is “covering up.” This is why it is so important for us to become aware of our emotions and to try to learn what our emotions are telling us about ourselves, our needs, then subsequently, how to meet our needs effectively. More on that later, but for now, let’s see what scripture has to say about this word.
Scriptural Insight (Zodhiates, 1996)
- Cain and Abel (Genesis 4: 1 – 8): The Hebrew word is “HARAH,” (v. 6), and means to burn, like a matchstick, to be kindled and incensed. The word points to a fire or the heat of anger just after it has been ignited.
- Moses returning with the Ten Commandments (Exodus 32: 15 – 20): The word is ‘AP’ + HARAH” (v. 19), and means to be angry, however, it conveys the picture of the physiological aspect of anger: one whose nostrils flare as well as one whose breathing becomes intense when anger is experienced. Please note in this passage of scripture that Moses displayed this deliberate maliciousness after what must have been an intense experience with God.
- Saul’s jealousy of David (I Samuel 18: 1 – 11; 20: 30 – 34): The word is “RA’A” and describes how the expression of the emotion has moved far beyond anger and into evil, with an additional explanation that this is any activity which is contrary to the will of God, and indicates an attitude which has rejected God’s direction and guidance.
Note how Saul’s anger led him to attempt to murder his son Jonathan. In addition, take note of the fact that Saul and his son Jonathan engaged in a process of hurling hurt, anger and rage at each other, because of the shameful actions that were connected to Saul’s behavior. Please note that rage is projected shame at another person. Unhealthy and toxic shame serves to dehumanize another person, and when a person is seen as less than a human, then it becomes easier to treat them as if they are less than a human being, which could lead to the greatest act against humanity, which is to take away their life in a fit of rage.
- Jonah, after the Revival: (Jonah 4): The word is a compound of the Hebrew words “RA’A + HARAH + ‘AP,’” and is descriptive of Jonah’s selfishness, which was preceded by his compulsivity, his “geographic” (an attempt to escape God and what he perceived the problem to be; unfortunately for him his geographic was in the belly of a fish), as well as his suicidal ideation and his faulty belief system.
- Jesus healing on the Sabbath: (John 2: 13 – 17): The Greek word is “ORGE,” and means anger, however, it gives the picture of a rational and calculated display of anger.
- Jesus cleansing the Temple: (John 2: 13 – 17): The Greek word is “ZELOS,” (from which we get our English word, “zeal”), and it describes a person as being fervent, or very hot and passionate about that which (s)he believes is honorable and excellent.
“Sometimes you have to get angry to get things done” Ang Lee
As you can see, even some “righteous dudes” that we respect a lot (i.e. Jesus in the last two examples above) felt anger and demonstrated behavioral responses that on the face of it, looks like He lost his cool.
Keep in mind, Paul encourages us to be angry, but not to “sin” behind it. We will explore some positive ways applications as we look at these verses in-depth in Part 3 (Ephesians 4:26-27 Communication Tool), but for now, I think it important to reiterate that it is ok to be angry, but to try to channel it against unhealthy and unjust situations (i.e, intervening with bullying, domestic violence, and possibly crimes that you may see committed against another human being). These are healthier responses to anger, however, what would we observe if we saw unhealthy expressions of anger?
“Whatever is done in anger ends in shame” – Benjamin Franklin
Signs and Symptomatic Behavior of Anger (“What am I likely to see when I see anger?”)
- Overreaction of hostility to insignificant irritants and the “pancaking or stockpiling” of resentment.
- Explosive and aggressive outbursts out of proportion to any precipitating stressors, which could lead to violent acts or the destruction of property (see I Corinthians 1:10).
- Swift and harsh judgment statements made to or about others (Sarcasm, from the Greek word “sarke,” which conveys the picture of “biting flesh”).
- Body language of tense muscles, clenched teeth, fist/jaw, glaring looks or a refusal to make eye contact.
- The use of verbally abusive language.
- “Beating oneself up” for not living up to either your own value system or someone else’s.
- The use of passive-aggressive interaction patterns of behavior, which include withdrawing socially, lack of compliance in following rules and directions, complaining about authority figures behind their back, and non-participation in meeting expected behavioral norms.
There are many, many more unhealthy ways that we may express our anger, and In Part 2 of 4 (Experiencing and Expressing Anger) and in Part 3 of 4 (Ephesians 4:26-27 Communication Tool), we will look at suggestions from scripture to hopefully cultivate healthier expressions and experiences around feeling our anger and also managing our anger effectively.
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